A lifelong teacher tells her confessional story of the time she had a young student in her class who would, as they say, get her goat.
This little boy knew where all her buttons were, and he knew how to push them. One day, she was so irritated by this little boy’s actions she found herself running around the room trying to catch him.
No matter how fast she ran, he ran just that fast and she realized she would never catch him. So, she did the only thing left to do – she sat down. And low and behold, he sat down too.
In a time of pervasive anxiety in an organization, the leader will need to examine carefully his or her role as leader.
A reflective leader will seek to know how they are interacting with the entire church, including the misbehaving members who may be engaged in unhealthy relationships.
Family Systems Theory is abundantly clear that the leader of a healthy organization will necessarily be a non-anxious leader. Or else the organization will take the downward turn into its own overwrought anxiety.
The level of anxiety in the system can be observed through the phenomenon of triangulation.
These are the subterranean connections that are made with the well-known phrase, “one outsider plus two insiders.”
When enough anxiety builds, triangular lines will pervade, and anxiety will tear the system apart.
A non-anxious leader will be one who is calm in their own selfhood and, to use a core family systems term, is differentiated.
Living in one’s selfhood is to be resolute in being differentiated and not merged into the group. This posture by the pastor will result in calming one’s own anxiety.
The pastor can then be less reactive and more responsive. The pastor will then have the power to maintain neutrality in the minefield of triangles and will stay well-connected to all entrenched in the triangles.
This differentiation has the power to de-escalate the pervading anxiety. This is easier said than done and is the core test of the leader. This is so challenging Edwin Friedman called this “a failure of nerve,” in his book by the same title.
The job of effective church leaders is to help keep down the level of anxiety in the emotional system of the congregation.
When things are calmer, people are able to think more clearly about their options amid stressful circumstances and develop a reasonable, workable plan of action.
Effective leaders are able to help people manage their level of anxiety so they can accomplish their goals.
Ronald Richardson uses the illustration of the electrical transformer to show how leadership can coach the church to a steadier way of being.
Transformers function to either slow down or increase the amount of voltage put into them. They enable you to plug a 110-volt plug at one end while 220 volts comes into the house.
Leaders operate like electrical transformers as they can either increase or decrease the voltage. They can actually increase the voltage of anxiety and make things worse.
Other people operate in such a way that decreases the level of anxiety; they tend to absorb it or dampen it so the level of anxiety in the congregation is stepped down rather than up.
In effect, they decrease the voltage and reduce the overall anxiety that exists in the church so anxiety as a result of threat can be more reasoned.
Editor’s note: This is the final article in a five-part series. The previous articles in the series are:
After serving as bridge pastor at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Missouri, during the past year, Herron moved recently to Lawrence, Kansas, where he will continue to minister in interim settings. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).