This week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic is called Kickstart the Resources. Edwin Friedman identified this as a basic tactic leaders need to practice to help bring about healthy change in the system. The second part of this tactic is to contain the toxins in the system—namely persons who are willful, engage in sabotage, and lack respect for boundaries.
I’ve checked with persons who do pastoral interims or who do intentional interim work about a pattern I’ve observed during interim periods in a congregation—that time the congregation is between a called pastoral leader. What I’ve noticed, and these interim pastors confirmed, is a pattern in congregations that enter an interim period (typically lasting at least eighteen months) in which mature and ordinarily highly responsible church members will withdraw soon into the interim period while the most willful and reactive church members “come out of the woodwork.”
Given how critical and potentially exciting an interim period can be for a congregation this is a curious phenomenon. Why would a congregation’s best leaders and richest resource withdraw when a congregation most needs them? One hunch I have is that the responsible leaders are probably burned out if the former pastor’s leaving involved a congregational crisis. These invested members were likely very active during a prolonged period of crisis and conflict. With the resolution of conflict (with the pastor’s leaving), for good or ill, they are tired and want to take a breather. When they recede to the background during the interim opportunistic elements step into the leadership vacuum. It is likely that those opportunistic elements in the congregation were kept at bay by the former pastor. Without a called pastoral leader in the system whose authority is universally acknowledged (if not totally accepted), those forces take advantage of the leadership vacuum. One would think these elements (persons) would be as weary as the members who receded, but the fact is that willfulness has a tenacious streak to it.
A necessary tactic for the pastoral leader is to kickstart the resources inherent in the system while holding at bay those elements that are willful, toxic, and lack an ability to respect boundaries. Doing so provides a healthy homeostasis in the congregation that empowers the healthier persons in the system.
Next week’s Systems Ju-jitsu tactic: “Defect in Place”