Tag Archives: body of Christ

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.


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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Live the Adaptive Change you wish to see in the CRC.

With apologies to those who visit here who are not from my tribe, I will engage in some tribe talk.

Fellow tribal leader and smoke-signal sender (blogger) Paul VanderKlay has been addressing the chief’s delegations call for Adaptive Change. See his posting on that if you want background, but I’ll quote the bit I’m responding to below.

His post ends with the one thing I want to address, since I’ve become more and more convinced of this in my work as an STM, (which is really a work of holding up mirrors to congregations (without smoke) and a work of hoping for recognition and change to occur). Here’s how Paul posits it:

Adaptive Change

I also know that no agency or denominational change will be sufficient to turn the tide of our decline. Those changes need to come primarily at the local levels and while a denomination may support local change it cannot cause it or bring it.

I also realize there is no consensus on what changes need to come in local churches. The fault lines within the church run from top to bottom. Some thing churches must be more “affirming and open”, others more hard line. Some think we must be more evangelical, others more confessionally Reformed or catholicly Reformed. Some are just trying to keep the doors open long enough so a pastor they like can do their funeral.

We talk about adaptive change. Do we really mean it? pvk

My answer – briefly put so you can stop reading if you just want the kernel proposition – is: Adaptive change, or Deep Heart Change, can only come to an organization if it’s leadership is practicing it, and as many individuals as possible are engaged.

Trouble is, it is not a program to follow (technical), it is a way of life change, of dying-to-self and especially to institutional needs, in order that something new can continually be born. Sound familiar?

I come to this from my work as a pastor of congregations in transition. Transition is usually precipitated by some kind of crisis,  and the more intense the crises the more likely will be a willingness to enter into adaptive change (up to a certain point, then paralysis and shock will win out for a time). And I come to this from my reading. I had read some background material and had training already in Systems Theory, which is an underpinning in all this. Three books particularly shape this response which I am writing today: “The Leader’s Journey” came across my eyes first, then “Leadership on the Line” which sharpened my understanding of Adaptive Change, and finally “Deep Change” by Robert E Quinn. I haven’t posted any summaries of that, but here is something I wrote in spring of 2012 beginning to apply it to the CRC as an organization. Here is a post I quickly made of how Quinn describes the transformational process of “Deep Change.”

I believe that what Quinn describes has a direct co-relation with the biblical call for “Heart Change” or Spiritual growth (Eze 11:19 and the like). To not be engaged in this is to have a hardening heart. Yet our many institutional constraints (exoskeletal structures, in Pvk’s description) – yes even those that have a preacher of the gospel going political to preserve his job and reputation – must be jetissoned for a necessary new metamorphasis to occur.

You first.


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Posted by on May 31, 2014 in Uncategorized


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12 step 12 traditions adapted to the body of Christ

I was recently reading yet another discussion regarding the difficulty of balancing institution and organism in the church. I went back in my thinking to a time when I worked at an addiction treatment center and began to see that AA — the original 12 step program — had a brilliant way of avoiding some of those problems. These are normally referred to as the 12 traditions. Here below I’ve quickly and without deep thought translated those to apply to the body of Christ. Recognize the wisdom!:

1. Our common welfare as the body should come first; personal growth depends on a healthy body.

2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God that is depicted in the Bible and revealed in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

3. The only requirement for membership in the group is a desire for sanctification.

4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or the body as a whole.

5. Each group has but one primary purpose–to carry its message to those who still struggle.

6. One group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the name of the body to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

7. Every group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

8. The groups in the body should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

9. The body, as such, ought never be organized into an institution; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

10. The collective of groups has no opinion on outside issues; hence the reputation of the body ought never be drawn into public controversy.

11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity outside the group gathering and especially in media.

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever remind us to place principles before personalities.

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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Uncategorized


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