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Author Archives: Pastor Pete

A question of where you find comfort

It’s been an interesting last seven days. I’ve had four significant conversations in that time, and when I sat down with the intention of finishing a post about Expectations, I felt a strong urge to write about a seemingly bizarre incident I learned a lot from. That incident had come up in several of the recent conversations.

I might still finish the one on Expectations, but will share this first.

So here it is: https://stmatfirstcrcedmonton.wordpress.com/articles-stories-further-explanations/i-cant-even-die-in-my-own-church/

 
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Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Am I really a “Done”?

In my personal musings I suddenly realized that there was a strong possibility that if I did not do contractual pastoral work in congregations, I’d possibly become a “Done” – someone who still has most of his Christian faith intact, but rejects the institutional organized church as the best place in which to live it out. This recognition shocked me a bit, and I suddenly felt like a kind of hypocrite, challenging myself with the question: “if you don’t believe in the organized church, is it authentic to work within it still?” I have not answered that yet, but by not resigning I guess in some way I have. This post is a beginning to trying to sort out my struggle.

Click here to follow my first round of thinking this through: https://pastorpete.wordpress.com/peteillogical-reflections/am-i-really-a-done/

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

The SCOTUS Decision as a “Come to Jesus” Moment for CRC Middlers in the context of Progressive Liberationism

In this post Paul VanderKlay gets at some underpinnings and deeper currents around the hoopla and angst around some legal decisions in the US recently.

Leadingchurch.com

Progressive Liberationism: The Eschatalogical Doppleganger

  • The narrative of progressive liberationism has become the dominant moral definer in the West. Churches that used to imagine themselves as the deciders of morality are now commonly judged as being immoral.
  • It defines how the West morally categorize history. Even if you switched in 2013, like Hillary Clinton, you still have moral high ground sufficient to decide who was naughty and nice all the way back to the dawn of human civilization.
  • It is the reason the LGBTQ movement has changed the fundamental assumptions of morality with respect to the Christian religion and every other historical religion.
  • It is so powerful partly because it has been able to mimic and replace liberal postmodern eschatology for a secular context. (You don’t need a second coming of Jesus to bring in the eschaton.)
  • It is thoroughly at home with secularism and needs no supernatural divinity at all

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Posted by on July 6, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Reflections and analysis of Pastor Church fires.

I’ve started a kind of home page for my thoughts and reflections about the increasing number of struggles between pastors and congregations and the increase in bad endings.

Capture of Art 17 stats by decade to end of 2014

It will likely be a page that is in constant flux, as I have new thoughts or time to flesh out old ones.

Here’s a link: https://pastorpete.wordpress.com/peteillogical-reflections/observed-common-elements-of-hard-pastor-church-separations/

 

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How Chronic Anxiety derails the church from her purpose

Just read some good stuff in the last few days, and it is so relevant I just had to write it up and share it. In fact, I would say it is essential knowledge for church leaders. If what is described here is active in your congregation, it will help you understand, and both be compassionate and firm with the problem, or even to nudge you to seek help addressing it.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT HOW ANXIETY IMPEDES RELATIONSHIPS IN CHURCHES

and so then interferes with doing God’s work as well.

One of the books I am currently reading explains how a negative emotional dynamic in churches works. It has to do with unhealthy anxiety. Everything I read here fits both my experience and my theories about unresolved trauma in the CRC in Canada. By the way, I will start mentioning that the theory is not a blaming theory, in fact it is quite sympathetic. People at that time did not know what was happening, and they did not know how to deal with it.

By the point in the book these quotes are found, the author has explained there are two kinds of anxiety. Short term, or acute, and chronic, which is always there. Chimes or alarm bells are always going off for the chronically anxious. I will add that they seem to need to be fearful. He has also explained, simplistically put, that there are three areas of brain activity that regulate our behaviour, one is the part we have that is most in common with primitive, reptilian animals, it governs basic functions that keep us alive—survival processes. The next, more advanced part of the brain is the part that deals with playing, nurturing, bonding, and emotional expression –relational processes (my term). The most advanced section of the human brain’s processing centres, consisting of about 85% of the brain matter, deals with analysis, concepts, symbols, reflection, observation and insights. The author refers to it as the “Thinking Cap.” Stress, or anxiety, tends to cut out the second and third level and have the lower one dominate.

In this section the author is talking about Jesus’ parable of the lost son, using the runaway as an example of acute anxiety, and the homeboy as an example of chronic.

Here is the quote:

“Acutely anxious people regain their perspective. There is a return to the Thinking Cap. They have the capacity to control their reactivity. But the chronically anxious have immense difficulty keeping their hands off their own chimes. They are not self-regulating. And they are not imaginative. Note how the father appeals to his oldest son’s thinking capacity: “It is fitting to rejoice and give thanks. After all, my son—your brother—was lost and is found. Son, everything I have is yours.” There is no response.

“Typical of chronically anxious people, the older son resorts to either/or, yes/no, or black/white thinking. It was either “favor me” or “favor your other son;” it was all these years of obedience versus the irresponsible behavior of the other son. Anxiety-driven reactivity inhibits the use of the Thinking Cap. With little capacity for discernment, the chronically anxious reduce everything to all or nothing. Lines are drawn. It is no wonder, then, that they overfocus on others and their weaknesses. They blame or falsely criticize. The older son, for example, diagnoses his brother—reckless, careless, foolish. By overfocusing on the riotous brother, he is no longer responsible for his own reactive position nor responsive to his brother. To the older brother, the trouble is external to himself. Obviously, the brother cannot think systemically. For when you see yourself as part of all relational transactions, you look in both directions. You understand that in emotional systems everything is mutually influenced.

“The parable of Jesus also clues us to another characteristic of chronic anxiety. There is willfulness. “If it’s not done my way, I’ll show you.” Thus the older son refuses to join the festive party. If the chronically anxious cannot diminish or eradicate their pain by blaming, they’ll rid themselves of it nonetheless through other means. “I’ll make you suffer yet.” If differences cannot be tolerated, they are likely to be persecuted.

“It is the chronically anxious individuals in the church family who are apt to conduct a “search and destroy mission.” They will not hesitate to impose their wills on others. They make hostages of their gifts, attendance, and participation. They employ their stewardship as brinkmanship. Their ultimate threat is to run away from home—transferring or terminating their membership if an action is not rescinded, a person is not removed, or a demand is not satisfied. These tactics are effective in church families that place a premium on peace and harmony. They will exchange integrity for tranquillity. They cannot free themselves from the bondage of others.

“Basically, chronically anxious people have a low threshold for pain. This is why they are in the forefront of the effort to secure immediate relief. They hanker for answers and comfort. Threatened, they make demands, spread rumors, exaggerate circumstances, claim injustice-whatever it takes to lessen their anxiety. Governed by instinct rather than insight, they cannot be stopped by reasoning or appeasing. Mistakenly, those who must deal with them think being “nice” to the chronically anxious will earn cooperation in return. Or that being reasonable will get the reactive forces to follow suit. But the reptilian brain does not respond to nice behavior, clear thought, or sugar and roses. Under the siege of the Automatic Pilot, thoughtful and careful approaches are ignored. For this reason, too, difference itself is not the cause of the friction. Differences are problematic in proportion to the automatic processes. With the chronically anxious, the contentious issue is not at the basis of their reactivity. Even if the issue changes, their chimes are still ringing. They keep adding emotional fuel to the fire.”

–Pg 24-25 How your Church Works

“At times a system becomes aware of the anxiety-generating forces, yet refuses to use its strengths and resources to deal with the agitation. Sweeping the anxious reactivity under the rug, the system proceeds as usual. But “benign neglect” only reinforces malignant processes. Moreover, ignoring is as reactive as placating or attacking. VICIOUS CIRCLES CAN ONLY BE DISABLED THROUGH EXPOSURE. They are enabled by secrecy and avoidance.

“The church family’s relationships are no exception to anxiety. It was as true in the early church as it is in the contemporary church.”

–Pg 27 “How your Church Works; Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems” by Peter Steinke

 

 
 

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What is tugging at my desire to learn more these days

Pardon me for just jotting stuff that seems random, but I’m starting to recognize a kind of loop of interests I keep cycling through, and I’m wondering if writing them out will help me define an uber-interest within the loop.

They all have to do with congregational health, which should be no surprise, since I work as and consider it my calling to be a Specialized Transitional Minister.

When I first did some reading on the distinction between Adaptive Change and Technical Change, I saw something vividly valid w.r.t. church vitality. I saw that we tend as individuals (The Flesh) and institutions to naturally move toward the stasis and predictability and comfort of Technical maintenance. It was clear that after a time of that, as the world around the church changes, a time comes where that approach begins to limit gospel sharing effectiveness. The only way to cycle out of that seems, historically, to require significant upheaval, and in worst cases Death of churches so room can be made for something newly speaking gospel to the culture. One question related to this is: Can Adaptive movement be made part of the ‘makeup’ or DNA of the church? That way the upheaval comes in smaller waves. There is another question that I will get back to.

I next began to learn to pay attention to organizational anxiety. I began to see how a pocket of anxiety can spread, and how it can paralyze an organization or institution, keeping it from making sensible or well discerned decisions. It can keep a church from being healthy, it can spread negativity, create fear of any proposal that moves toward the Adaptive. And it seems that often the people in it do not see what is happening. The right dose of anxiety however, at the right time, can also motivate toward the Adaptive. Attention to that systemic dynamic became part of my reflecting on church health.

Most of my life I’ve had opportunity to observe my own Immigrant subculture. This was enhanced by a move to Europe as an 8 year old child, and then a return to Canada a few years later. A theme that kept surfacing, sometimes in very difficult ways, was the wounding done by our love for what we considered to be reason and good doctrinal answers. This cerebral emphasis on the expression of our faith by way of knowledge of doctrine carried with it a pervasive suspicion of emotion and testimonial experience. Over time, in my adult years, as I learned about this through reading and hearing people’s stories, and worked to sort out parts of my own upbringing, I came to see that aside from what I just stated, WWII had severely traumatized many in my parents generation. This deepened how far emotions were pressed down. Some – based on my own amateur assessment – would probably have qualified as having Post Traumatic Stress Disorders. But such diagnoses did not exist in that day, and people were pressed to ‘soldier on, in faith.’ Those who immigrated to new lands often seem to have had their own family drama reasons for choosing to do so. For eg. they may have been the least favoured child or the black sheep. The immigration itself was massively traumatic on its own for many. The demands of a hardscrabble existence on first arriving here were extremely taxing. And few – if any – had places (or times) where they could ‘process’ those feelings. Working at an addiction treatment center I learned a new piece, namely that a serious childhood or early adolescent trauma that no one helped a person work through would stunt emotional development in individuals. I came to recognize that many who were working to come out of active addiction had such traumas, and were emotionally still eight or twelve years old. Putting this together with the Immigrant experience, I began to formulate an “Unresolved Trauma” theory regarding the Immigrant generation and my own, second generation. It appears to have been helpful to leaders in ‘troubled’ congregations to learn that the 70 year old who is upset about a change might just be reacting to it out of unhealed past trauma, and with behaviour we would expect from an eight year old.

Another strand in this loop of thought is a more recent concern to research whether the perception that ‘hard separations’ (Mainly Article 17 of our Church Order) between pastors and congregations are dramatically increasing in the last decades. Preliminary digging in the data confirms this. I  have a deep interest in both exploring if there are common causes or mitigating factors in these, aiming to find early preventative alarm systems that can be put in place but also in finding healing from the often deeply painful impact on all involved. This in itself would be a lifelong endeavor.

Now, those being givens, when my mind automatically fingers it way through them like prayer beads, I now and then get a sense of a ‘string’ that is holding all those beads together. Yet I can never quite name it. I just keep coming up with questions and theories, not much by way of answers. So, for example, is the unresolved emotional factor what creates much of the anxiety in congregations? Is the radical change of immigration and fear of yet more change a primary force in not allowing our congregations to make necessary Adaptive changes? Are those two – emotional immaturity in senior members and their fear of change – a major contributor to the hard separations? And so on.

Theologically I also believe there is a link between Adaptive Change and what the Bible refers to as a “New Heart.” I also refer to it as Deep Change. I feel a need to do further Theological exploration of that, in which some of the secular writing on the subject can be shown to effectively interlace with God putting a New Heart within us and the Spirit directing us into risk.

So, there, I did it. I jotted out what loops in my mind.

 

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Something I’ve been sitting on and can’t anymore

As divisions and hardships between pastors and congregations continue to pile up, I can no longer sit on a response I first drafted more than 6 months ago in response to an article in the Christian Courier. The Courier had done several good pieces acknowledging the problem of Fractured Flocks, and opening up discussion. At some other time, if time permits, I hope to compile some thoughts more directly on the bigger question. But this is about an article that was titled “Pastors, know your Flock.”

This response was sent to the Christian Courier, and I was encouraged to hear they are planning future features on this important subject, but, as I indicated to them, if I did not get quick acknowledgement that it or part of it would be used in their publication I would feel compelled to share it myself. Such is the day we live in, where one can do that. I want us to be talking about this subject. And, I want Rev Koops and his definition of the problem and his solution to be discussed, and in my case, challenged

Here is a link to my response to his article: http://wp.me/P4R5s-pX

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Self evident common sense?

This line of thought began at community soccer this past Wednesday evening. As a proud side-note, I lasted a full one and a half hour of running after a ball. The first night a month earlier? – Forty minutes and I had to bow out or get oxygen tanks and a defibrillator. OK, back to the recognition moment. In the game, one of my teammates passed the ball back to the goal keeper (only hockey has goalies it seems) and he picked it up in order to send it back out with a throw or a kick. He was immediately vociferously corrected by at least two players. “You can’t pick it up” and “you can’t pick it up if your own player passes it back to you.” 
The keeper replied that he had not known that rule, and an opposition player said “It’s common sense.”
And my thought was “Really?” And the conversation turned trash talky, as such moments in competition often do.
To a soccer aficionado, steeped in the game, sure, it is obvious, it is normal. To a forgetful novice community soccer participant? Not so much.
What is common sense? What is really self evident? What is evident to me is that the more we are resolutely ensconced in self-evident truths we are used to, we end up in conflict with those who do not hold our truths to be as self evident as we do. Common sense may never have been common. It certainly isn’t now.
As I was putting this post together I read a column by Peggy Noonan in which she explores the same thing with relation to the pitch on which politics is played out: “people grow up in a certain environment and tend to think that environment, and its assumptions, are continuing and will always continue.”
What if, just what if, the best common sense is that our common sense needs flexibility and needs humility, and needs challenging now and then so a new commoner sense can be found?
 
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Posted by on August 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

A starting response to Paul VK on Structure and Culture change

These are some thoughts about and objections to some of what Paul VanderKlay wrote in a blog post linked below.

To me, structure is derived from culture which is created by values.

Let me write that again with bracketed definitions included: structure (buildings and organizational patterns and power controls) flow from culture (behaviour in which values are expressed) which flows from values. So, to me, values are the starting point of everything we do as individuals, congregations, agencies and denominations.

Values, in my experience, come in two categories: idealized or ‘preferred’ and real or lived-out values. Behaviours that reveal the actual values we hold are the real thing, together creating the real culture. Values that we have selected as optimal or ideal are the dream. In between is hypocrisy. See: http://network.crcna.org/pastors/expressed-values-lacking-integrity-lived-values

So, my starting point for any structure and culture conversation and reflection would be the question: What are our real behaviours and what real values do they play out?

The way we organize church leadership in a congregation, for instance, reveals a set of values. “Checks and balances” or “no one person or group having too much power in the organizational system” is one value set.

The way we might invite people to our churches (value: outreach) but then expect them to understand and learn our cultural patterns by osmosis (value: Cosa Nostra, a residual remnant of immigrant preservation) is a values conflict, or a conflict of behaviours that come from values that are contradictory.

The newcomer is likely to assume, in the face of this, that they are not really welcome or that they can only be welcome if they accommodate to the existing values, behaviour and culture, most of which are not written anywhere, such as church dress codes. They tend to then fall away.

So, when others, like Paul VanderKlay, write about structure and culture, I am watching for what I describe above to be evident in the reflections. I don’t find it. Paul’s latest post on this is found at:

http://paulvanderklay.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/can-a-revised-structure-address-current-crc-challenges/

Paul asks:

What do we want from this experiment?

  • We want the North American “in support of” staff to better support the North American church

  • We want denominational staff to be more responsive to cultural changes in the North American church

  • We want to see a new culture develop, more permission giving, less controlling.

All of these are good things.

In reply, I say: “more permission giving, less controlling” will allow the stasis quo (spelling intentional) to continue. The problem, in my view, lies in individuals and congregations not being broken out of their game of believing hanging preferred values on the wall will change their structure and culture. Who – if the congregations are going to keep their autonomy – is going to challenge that denial?

You say, Paul, that “we want denominational staff to be more responsive to cultural changes” but who is going to foster congregational responsiveness to cultural change when their very organizational DNA is preservationist?

How can denominational staff be “supportive” if a prophetic challenge is needed? Somebody needs to be the bad cop. Someone needs to be the prophet calling people back to something essential. But if the congregation has the power to do away with leaders who challenge their false comforts, how will that happen? They are unlikely to fly in a denominational staff person at great expense to be challenged in that way. And if they do, they can easily let the wet sand close over the footprint and forget the impact saying to themselves “that person just does not understand us” not realizing that they maybe need to understand themselves better.

So you can see my mind was full of questions at the outset. Until I read “The issues are in the churches and there are multiple challenges.”

At that point I began tracking with you better.

I would say the Cosa Nostra Challenge is actually an outworking of the My Church challenge, as is the Pre-Post Christendom one. Culture war is a hijacking of values by non-gospel agendas and, as you say, a sign the church has lost the radicalness of Jesus rejecting culture wars to establish a Kingdom that operates by out-of-this-world principles. Etc.

In sum, to me, starting the work by changing structure and culture is a work of futility. It is tinkering to avoid the real sink-cause. We need to challenge the values our culture and structure show now, and we need to confront the dissonance between our wall-plaque values and the ones we live individually and congregationally. Structure and culture change will follow that. It won’t create it.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

What aspects of CRC culture might be keeping us from thriving?

I define culture as the actions by which we live out and express our values. As I’ve written elsewhere, we often have a hypocrisy of values, i.e. those we profess publicly are not those we actually live out. When I say values are the basis of culture I am talking about these unstated values. They actually have more influence and power. I have no idea if that is an acceptable definition of culture or near what the Task Force Reviewing Structure and Culture means by culture.

On various media platforms an ‘outside of official channels’ discussion is ongoing about this and related subjects like leadership and how our organizational structure possibly limits us. and even making leadership afraid to speak up. I have linked to two blog posts in the statements above that will give you some idea of the discussion.

All of this has me thinking about many things, and thoughts are coming faster than I can capture. But I find myself returning to a question that I think my experience qualifies me to begin to address. That question is: What aspects of our “culture”  in the CRC might be contributing to a failure to thrive?

I refer to — and depend on — experience as a son of a CRC pastor, as a person who lived in the Netherlands for 3 years just before my teens, as a person growing up (or trying to) in the CRC in Canada in the 70’s and early 80’s, as a King’s in Edmonton and CTS educated pastor who served two churches as a called pastor, and now as a Specialized Transitional Minister on his second contract. A myriad of other experiences, many very difficult, some very educational (working at an addiction treatment center) add to the mix.

I am skipping all kinds of caveats and disclaimers (why do I feel they are needed in the first place? could that be an element of culture?) to simply and concisely as I can share some observations from the pulpit and pew level. I don’t have a lot of interest or experience ‘higher’ up the organizational and institutional ladder.

As an immigrant-based denomination, I see us as having the following never-overtly-stated cultural values but with plenty of actions demonstrating they exist (see first link above). I’ve tried to put them in order of effect, starting with the biggies:
Preservationist – we have grown up with the implicit and explicit value and practice of maintaining something from the past.
Oppositionalist – we are used to being always on guard (defensive) against what we fought about before or against new threats (aggressive). (To me, the external architecture of the Seminary side of Chapel at Calvin College symbolizes this well. It looks like a Fort, with slots for archers or gunners and everything).
1-calvin-chapel-570x350
Relationally challenged: Poor interpersonal and relational boundaries – we don’t know how to disagree and live well together. (These will be made more clear further in the list as contributing factors are named)
Comfort seeking, not in Heidelberg Q & A 1 style, but originally in the familiar practices from ‘back home’ and then in other things. Ironically, we sometimes find comfort in reciting Q & A 1 just because “we know it was important” at one time. So too with Forms and other rituals.
Suspicious of emotion, relying on the brain as an unfallen part of man.
Fake rationalists Under a veneer cloak of reason or rationality, emotion actually runs the debate in many council rooms. So does broken or strained relationships. Another word for it is anxiety or fear.
Low Emotional IQ, in fact deeply emotionally or psychologically wounded. Especially in Canada, many of the immigrant generation were suffering unhealed deep trauma when they came to North America. In a hardscrabble initial existence, and in a religious culture that suspected emotion, emotional and personal and spiritual growth were luxuries no one had time or use for. So, in many cases, the generation now dying off were quite immature and broken. Studies show that my generation, without strong intervention and active engagement in addressing that, can be a bigger mess than the one before.
No longer principled in making choices – as practices derived from principled choice were defended and protected, their meaning was lost, we became living museums re-enacting empty rituals
That is just a start. I realize there are positive ones as well, but I’m looking for the ones that lead to a lack of flourishing.
I welcome feedback or further input.