One of the big things about Family Systems Theory, which I also preached about on Sunday morning, is that the system generally wants to stay stable. So if the the system change (like from this workshop) threatens some people's place in the system, they will work hard to bring it back to the way it was.
Perhaps they will do this by complaining to everyone except the Pastor about all that happened in church that day. Perhaps they will see if others will still listen to their negative speaking.
Hopefully, and this so far seemed to the be the case here, those desperate for a new way of doing church will have learned what they needed to learn Hopefully, even if it is imperfect and timid, those people will be sure Pastor knows who is complaining about what. Hopefully, Pastor is having a good day and is able to go directly to the people who complained, listen to them, and work with them to solve a problem of lack of education on a topic.
Hopefully the system begins to change. Be aware this can be a slow process, but so is all renewal work, and we trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us, and that this newfound knowledge will help us notice things and do things differently.
With any renewal project, there are always both internal and external things that a church needs to work through. Some self-reflection is always in order, but it can be hard, and sometimes threatening. Sometimes, in a very small congregation, the church is the size of an extended family, and works like one.
That's why people have put together this idea of Church Family Systems. Understanding church as an emotional unit, and understanding how we impact one another with our words and actions. This is new for many churches, and it is a new concept for mine. Below, you can read about how we went about understanding this with our 1st of 4 workshops. The congregation ended up doing some really intense emotional work on themselves during the workshop, in amazing Holy Spirit led ways. Also, because we were playing, there was laughter and fun the whole time.
If you decide to do this, please comment below (with permission) a picture or screen shot of the reaction of your treasurer/reimbursement person when you submit receipts from Toys R Us as ministry expense.
Part ONe: BIble/ Prayer
In July and August, our congregation studied a Bible story together every week for six weeks. You can read about that here. We started the workshop by reading Mark 4:35-41. Then, we listed in two columns The Disciples and Jesus. Under each heading, we listed together on the marker board things that each person (let's pretend the Disciples are one person for ease of writing, grammar, and because that's how the story is written) did, said, and may have felt. We concentrated on action words at the beginning like "going across". Then, we drew arrows from the Jesus column to the Disciples columns to talk about how their feelings and actions impacted each other and what each other did next. We talked about the group as an emotional system, and how anxiety traveled from the storm (outside influence) to the disciples, to Jesus. We noted that to survive a storm, Jesus must be in the center.
I spontaneously prayed for our group, what we would learn, and thanksgivings based on the previous conversation. If anyone needs me to script a prayer that might work, let me know in the comments and I'll add one.
Part Two: Stories of Churches
We read pages 13-19 of the book Creating Healthier Church. I have reached out for copyright permission to post it here, but we'll see if I get it. It is the story of two churches who both have broken boilers, and therefore no heat, on Sunday morning. Because of the coldness, snow, and ice, several Sunday school teachers call in sick. Finally, because the sewer drains back up with snow, the preschool at one church and the daycare at another are flooded on Sunday morning. There are calls and conversations between the custodian, head of the property team, director of the preschool/daycare, pastor, and head of the Sunday School.
In one church, each person owns their own feelings, and decides what they can do about it all. At the end of the day, everyone likes being at that church, even though it was a wild morning.
In the second church, each person blames someone else for the problems, people staring calling and gossiping, and lot of stress and anxiety gets passed around.
We made a list of the differences between the churches.
From Creating a Healthier Church by Ronald W. Richardson copyright © 1996 Fortress Press, admin. Augsburg Fortress. Reproduced by permission. No further reproduction is allowed without the written permission of Augsburg Fortress. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Part Three: Teaching
As feelings and stress get moved around our congregation, they are amplified and changed by the person listening. Person B can change the course of the car, like the wheel. The car would fall off the track if not for the wheel. What kind of emotions do we want to send around our congregation? How do we want to respond to things? How do we take problems and feelings seriously, while amplifying joy and positivisty?
Part Four: Practice
Everyone has their own Hot Wheels car, and there is a pile of straight and curved track in the middle of the table. People are paired off, and the pair each make some kind of track with at least two pieces connecting. Laughter ensues. Since each person also has their own car, the pairs practice sending the cars back and forth to one another for awhile. Then, attention focused on a noticed reality. We noticed that toys were left in the kid's toy area after all the kids and parents had left. We attempted to say it using only factual words, which turned out to be pretty difficult. People tended to use value or blame words, and it took us awhile as a group to come up with a fact. Any example will do here. You may want to use something people complained about in a different congregation.
Let's go back to using Person A and Person B. Person A, the first person in the pair, says to Person B, the second person in the pair, "I can't believe how irresponsible parents these days are. Back in my day I never let kids leave without cleaning up! How could the kids not know? Parents, Geesh!" Person A sends his car to Person B while saying this, and then, as the leader, I ask Person B how he felt hearing that. We did a little debriefing, and to send his car back, he decided to say "I'm disappointed you feel this way, I'm just glad kids are in the church."
We went around the room having Person A of the pair saying something to Person B, send them their car, and then having Person B send a car back with a new statement.
Things We Learned from Practice
Part Five: Bible RePrise/ Prayer
We figured out that Jesus and his disciples, in the storm from Mark 4:35-41 were not in a totally healthy emotional system. When the disciples say "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they are almost blaming Jesus for the storm. They are also making assumptions about him and his behavior. We practiced what might be a healthier response of the Disciples. Something like, "Jesus, wake up! There's a storm, I'm scared we're going to die, can you help us?" In that sentence, the Disciples own their own feelings, as opposed to before, when they assume Jesus doesn't care. What else could the disciples have said? Be sure to write that in the comments.
As we wrapped up, I made an offhand comment about how I'd know the success or failure of the worship based on if the toys were cleaned up by time I was done packing up. Person said that since we talked about all accepting responsibility for things, everyone should help. They went and picked up the toys.
White Lutherans helped pray out loud (this is foreign to most of us raised in white Lutheran churches). I started each round, and for each sentence, we went around the table (you could say "pass") and everyone could contribute to the prayer.
Dear Creator God, we thank you for your creation of Calvary and for all the work you are doing here. We also thank you for . . . . .
Dear Redeeming Jesus, we ask that you help us with . . . . .
Dear Inspiring Spirit, we ask that you give us hope that . . . . .
Thank you for hearing all these things, and also the silent prayers of our hearts. Continue to be with us and help us to be a place that showers our entire neighborhood with your love and blessings. Amen.
And all the People Said Together AMEN!
"Don't use foul* or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them." Eph 4:29 (NLT)
EPHESIANS 4:29 Project:
Is your congregation doing this? How's it going?
Sept. Newsletter aRticle
Although learning a new way of doing things and culture change is hard, I know that we can do it for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of being a place where the Good News of Jesus is communicated to all those around us and all those who walk through our doors. I also know that when we start talking about culture change some people think that they must leave. Sometimes people can feel nervous or anxious, or try to control other things about the group when culture change happens. If you are having a hard time with this, or thinking about this, or even talking about this kind of thing, please, please come and talk to me. I’m always here for you to listen to your ideas and thoughts, and worries about what will happen with Calvary in the future. I know from reading and studying other churches in renewal efforts that having open and honest conversation is important, and that so is culture change.
Many of us were taught as children that to be Christian means to “be nice”. In some churches, that has meant not challenging people who are constantly bringing negativity, speaking meanly to others, using overly harsh or intimidating words, or are looking to blame “out there” and “the secular” for what’s happening inside our churches. I can’t do anything about out there, or parents these days. All we can do together is create a culture of physical and emotional safety inside our doors, and invite people to come. This is a topic that is coming up in a lot of churches this September, so I’d like to invite us into the topic, too. Remember, sometimes the best way to communicate the love of God is to help others understand when they are not communicating that way. A community that is centered on Jesus can help us grow, forgive us when we mess up, and teach us to be in healthy relationships with one another. Boundaries are loving, and they are nice, even if they can bring more challenges in the moment, in the long term, they bring about health and wholeness, along with honesty. Will you please take a moment to read the outline I shared with council and work together with me on this culture change? Thanks! I know from both research, by Bible, and my heart, that learning healthy communication and how to have healthy conflict with boundaries around bullying are one of the best ways churches can grow. Let me know how you’re doing with this. Let’s all keep working together as the community of love that God has created us to be. Thanks for being in this ministry with me!
School is starting and lot is coming out about bullying culture. It hurts people, can sometimes lead to death and mental illness, and leave permanent trauma scars in people’s brains and bodies.
- We need to learn how to recognize bullying behavior and how to stand up to bullies.
- If kids are experiencing bullies in school, we need to be sure that we, as the adults at church, are aware of how to stand up for ourselves and how to teach them. We also need to be sure that our church is a bully free zone.
- Whenever you hear someone say something in church that might be bullying, these things might happen
- You might feel a little funny flutter in your stomach.
- You might feel your cheeks turn red.
- You might feel warmer.
- You heart rate might slighting increase.
- We are often taught to ignore these things as a system, and they hurt us. It is no ONE person’s responsibility to respond to these things, but it is everyone’s responsibility. I can promise that nearly every time you feel a little funny and don’t speak up, someone else wishes they were brave enough to speak up, too, but don’t, because they think the community approves of the behavior because no one else spoke up.
- Often, when the system has been used to letting these things slide for a long time, it can be really, really scary to learn to speak up.
- Peter was afraid on the boat today, too. (Matthew 14:22-33). Gotta be scared all together, name it for what it is, and learn to speak up all together.
- If you notice that you are feeling one of those feelings above, you might ask someone close to you to grab your hand, and then you can speak up. Here are some choices:
- “I felt funny when you said that, I don’t know if that was ok.”
- “Please do not speak to people that way.”
- I just heard you say that you think this other person is less valuable than you, is that what you meant?
- I wonder how this other person felt when you said that?
- It seems that you need some attention here, can you try saying that more nicely or what you might really mean?
- I read in the Bible that we are supposed to build each other up as the Body of Christ. I wonder if you thought your statement built someone up?
- Please also read the linked article about the kinds of things that can happen when people start to stand up to bullies. Let Pastor Jess know if you’d like a paper copy, and if you want Large Print. http://mindbodyintegrativecounseling.com/tag/bully-retaliates/
- This is an important piece of our system change at Calvary. It will hurt. It will be hard. People might leave over it because they like things the way they are. However, we also must ask how many people have left before because of feeling unsafe or like things were not quite right in the ways we interact? I’m new, I don’t know, but I think we need to be asking the question as I’ve read and learned more about bullying in schools and churches as school is starting and there’s a lot being put out about it.
- Come and talk to me if you need/want to or are struggling with this.
- It’ll be hard, messy, and we’ll likely not be very good at it for a while. Let’s work at it together as the body of Christ, hold each other accountable, and try to pay attention to the larger and often unstated things and feelings and bring them into the open.
- Thanks for being in ministry with me and for us doing this work for God all together!
I’ll be honest, since we’re trying to create a culture of honesty. Part of why we have our covenant is because I have experienced, as have many of my friends, churches who say they want to change and grow, but are unwilling to actually do it. What they mean is that they want people to come because we invited them with flyers or parties, and to be just like us. To worship like us, to think about the Bible like us, to be with us doing it our way. In this congregation, we seem to be comfortable facing the reality, as hard as it is, and as much as it might hurt us, that the old way of being church just doesn’t work. It seems that Calvary is at a point of knowing that we must do something in a radically different way than we’ve ever done it before. We will do it together, and with God as our guide. If our model for discipleship is Jesus, then we have all we need to radically change things, because that is what Jesus did, for the whole world.
It seems that we are willing to focus on the mission of proclaiming God’s love and blessings to the world through our congregation, even if it means things won’t be our way anymore. If this seems wrong to you, please let me know. I’m writing to you today to test what I think I’m hearing and understanding. You’ll have to let me know if I got it right, kind of close, or wrong.
I’m wondering if we might like to try adding a mission community to our congregation. This mission community would be supported by everyone who is already here, and everyone would have a role in supporting it. Your role might be to make food for it. It might be to carry around flyers and invite everyone you meet – at the gas station, grocery store, library. Giving them out wherever you are. It might be simply not complaining about things being different, the church being fuller and therefore messier, and the ways that forming honest and mutual relationships with new people change us. Are you willing to invite those from the mission community to share meals with you? Are you willing to get to know any children who come, and spend time with them outside of church? Even if you don’t like, understand, or get the ways the mission community does things, are you willing to financially, emotionally, and spiritually support it as the mission of Calvary? Will you come sometimes to events the mission community holds, and invite them to come to your events, too? Would you rather the church be the way you like it, understand it, and it has always been, but maybe close in a few years, or open, but different? Different congregations make different choices.
If we really believe in our Christian story of death and resurrection, then closing is a faithful choice. Because we’re able to trust that Jesus, through the church, can use the resources to bring New Life somewhere else. It is better to let things go than to hold onto them until we hurt ourselves and others. It is a radical choice to close and trust that Jesus will find a way to bring each person and the resources of the congregation New Life.
We can also decide that our faithful choice is to be radical in our proclamation of the Gospel while open. If we want to do this, as I believe we have the desire and attitude to do, here is what I don’t know: Do we have the energy? Do we have the capacity? Is each person here willing to find their role in forming and supporting the addition of a new community? Is there room for adding something new, and focusing our energy there, while staying grounded in our traditions, our Lutheran heritage, and Sunday Morning worship? With the formation of a new community attached to our congregation, Sunday morning worship would change very little. There would be a solid base from which to live out your faith and the proclamation of the Gospel. Are you ready? How will you help?
Please let me know. Like I said, I’m testing the ideas to see what works and what people think. Also, many of the things I’ve written here I’ve been saying to people at fellowship hour, and I don’t want anyone to feel left out of the conversation. Your voice matters. Your support matters. If most of the people here are willing to name one or two ways they would be willing to support a new mission community, we may have the energy to make it happen. It might be too soon for this conversation for some of us, but some of us are already having it, and every voice matters. Share your thoughts with me and let me know!
Love, Pr. Jess
Part 1 of our congregational renewal was praying every day. Part 2 is Bible study. By reading the same Bible passage each week, we can fully engage the story and discern together what God might be teaching our congregation. We handed out notepaper and people put in the offering plate, or they e-mailed me answers. Questions were published in the bulletin and read out loud.
Question for This Week: *
Mark 4:35-41, Jesus Stills a Storm
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Week 1: July 16: Which word or phrase from this story stands out to you the most?
Week 2: July 23: What part of the story are you most like, or, what part do you identify with the most? Are you most like a storm, the boat, Jesus, the other boats, the crowd left behind, the wind, the waves, the cushion, the calm? Why?
Week 3: July 20: For the part that you named last week, what are the drawbacks and gifts of being like that thing?
Week 4: August 6: What are the storms around Calvary? Where do we most need Jesus to bring us calm?
Week 5: August 13: Based on the part of the story you are most like, what gifts do you bring to share Jesus and calm the storms? Do you create or participate in the storms? How? What learning, resources, conversations might you need to be part of calming the storms?
Week 6: August 20: What gives you the most hope in this Bible story?
One of the fun things about renewal work is finding short term goals to celebrate as a congregation. Our first goal, Part One of our Discernment Process, is throwing a big party for my installation!
We're hoping to fill up our little church for just one day, and to raise $650 toward a new website and/or new lighting for the sanctuary. (The council is in conversation about which we'll prioritize this time. If we exceed the goal, we can do both!)
To see the invitation, to leave us a prayer or blessing, to RSVP, and/or to send the invitation to others, click on the invite below.
To go directly to the donation link, click on the cross below. How will the money help us reach those around us with the life-saving love of Jesus Christ? Comment on this post to share your ideas!
The best thing I learned was this, which is a new way of thinking for many.
We are stewards of our church buildings for our community [and for the Mission of God].
1. What barriers have you heard to this way of thinking?
2. How do you feel about this? Do you cringe thinking about using church this way? Why?
3. What possibilities and drawbacks do you see to this way of thinking?
It keeps me close to God during the day, and also really enriches my prayer life. Another advantage is that my 5 year old can also easily pray in one sentences, so it is good modeling.
I'm inviting Calvary to join in five week of daily three sentence prayers. See the postcards below that I'll be handing out on my first Sunday as part of my sermon, or download the publisher file here to modify it for your own congregation.
Another thing I learned in training was the importance of having short term goals that the congregation and pastor can work on together, especially at the beginning. The first five weeks of this call will be spent preparing for Bishop Wayne Miller to come on June 25 and preside at the installation. We're hoping to have a BIG party, invite everyone we know, raise $650 in donations to kick-start ministry, and fill up our church for a day. Will you join us? Leave us a prayer, blessing, or donation?
Let Calvary know that they are not alone in the Kingdom of God, and that others are praying, caring and rooting for them.
Pastor Jess is all about sharing the life-saving love of Jesus with the world. How she does it is up to the Holy Spirit.
Being "Nice" Christians
Changing Church Culture
Having The Conversation
Healthy Family Systems
Working On It
This work is licensed by Rev. Jessica A. Harren under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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