A summary of insights from Peter Steinke on churches as relational systems
Hi Glenn. As a medical practitioner with a masters degree in counseling, I’ve seen these issues in families and church. May I add a few thoughts to these important insights?
Point 4c: developing pain tolerance most often requires a healthy “release valve” who is preferably NOT a spouse, but rather a healthy Mentor or Counselor. A Pastor who is innoculated with pain MUST have a Mentor/Spiritual Elder who can walk with them through it in a healthy way. Many Pastor-Parents do not have this resource. There are no quick fixes on this point. And it requires a lot of dying to self and spiritual refinement in the furnace of affliction.
Pt 5c: after determining a direction, the use of “Brief” or “Solution-based” therapy can be a very healthy way for parishioners and Pastor-Parents to move forward. I developed a Brief Therapy course for Small Group Leaders that teaches this form of counseling. It’s a powerful tool.
Pt 7 is nothing short of brilliant! Jesus invites everyone to the table! But it is up to every individual to choose a seat and then partake…and decide if they will excuse themselves from the process or stay for dessert! Invitation to the table is all grace. This should include Eucharist.
Pt 10b: differentiate yourself: this is probably the most difficult to attain skill on the list and will require assistance. It is rare for a Pastor-Parent to innately know how to do this. Empathy means you feel another’s pain. To feel that pain yet remain a safe distance from it is a process of maturity that can take years. Pastor-Parents will need a healthy Mentor, Counselor, or Spiritual Elder to help them navigate the sometimes dangerous waters of empathy and emotion investment vs. distance.
Finally, the only thing missing from this brilliant list is Prayer. I would add that at each point the Holy Spirit should be invited into the process; to bathe the situation and the people with His holy Presence and to reveal Jesus and the cross as the foundation for all solutions, and the Holy Scriptures as the guiding lamp and light for the road forward.
God bless you for this engaging and thoughtful article.
Tess Cox PA-C, MHSC
I saved this to come back and read again. Very rich, a lot to think about. Your first two commenters added some layers also that I think were very worthwhile.
As one of your parishioners (think Seedbed Hymnal) I'm blessed to see, hear and read about your values for the church. As a therapist who is very fond of Bowen and how his principles are clearly found in Scripture, I enjoyed reading your insights. The lynchpin in much of this is differentiation. Tess said it well, "this is probably the most difficult to attain skill on the list and will require assistance." So much of what you and Steinke advocate for hinges on the ability to differentiate, or rather know where I end and the other person begins thus alleviating taking on another's anxiety, emotions, etc.
Bowen gives a great word picture to describe anxiety within a system. Visualizes two herds of cows separated by a road. One cow in the herd on the right gets activated. Its activation results in it mooing and mooing and mooing. Before you know it, the entire heard is mooing. Across the road the other herd, within proximity, is watching without mooing.
Anxiety within systems is like the first herd of cows. One person in the system is activated and ill equipped to deal with it, releases it into the system for others to handle and before you know the whole system is frenetic. Conversely, a differentiated individual, like the cows across the road, can tolerate the reaction of another/remain in proximity to an activated other, without being infected. Knowing what's ours and what's another's, amounts to the difference.
Bowen's concept of differentiation marries well with regulation. I'd argue that differentiated individuals are better able to regulate themselves due to an awareness of what is happening intrapersonally. Dan Siegels's book "Parenting From the Inside Out" is an excellent resource for individuals and parents to explore early, formative experiences that shaped their response/reaction patterns and integrate new ways to respond. Like Tess mentioned, individuals "inoculated with pain MUST have a Mentor/Spiritual Elder to walk with them" and inviting the Holy Spirit into the arduous process.
May "He who began a good work in you (us), perfect it unto the day of Christ Jesus." Phil1:6