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Pastoral Leadership: Why It May Be More About Your Family of Origin Than About Technique and Data Collecting

Family problems can often be resolved by having the parents or partners focus on and work at unresolved issues in their families of origin. By the same token, leaders must not only develop vision, persistence, and stamina, but also understand that the problems they encounter may stem from their own unsolved family issues, their organization’s past, sabotage in response to their effective leadership, or a combination of these factors. (pp. 27-28)
A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin Friedman

Let me begin by saying that Friedman’s book in my opinion is an absolute must read for not only those in any leadership position, but I especially think it’s a crucial read for those in pastoral leadership. The more and more I work with families in therapy, and the more and more I work with pastors in the church…the more and more I see the similarities of issues that are involved. I’m obviously not the first to see this correlation, and in fact, in Friedman’s seminal work, Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, he explores at length this very idea.

There is so much valuable insight in this book, but one aspect that I have been thinking about a lot is something that Friedman says in regards to data collecting and technique by leaders. Friedman says:

It was at this point that I began to realize that before any technique or data could be effective, leaders had to be willing to face their own selves. Otherwise the effect of technique was like trying to build up energy in a spring where the initial twists store up more potential and then suddenly, with one twist too many, the entire spring unwinds. If this sounds similar to the recover problems of alcoholics, there may be more to the association than we would care to admit….the chronic anxiety in American society has made the imbibing of data and technique addictive precisely because it enables leaders not to have to face their selves. (pp. 21)

There is so, so much in that statement by Friedman that needs unpacking, and I will do so at more length in the near future. But let me leave you with a few thoughts.

Is it possible that our hunger as pastors to attend more conferences, read more books, acquire more skills, learn more techniques, and use more technology…is really a means by which we avoid doing the difficult task of looking at ourselves?

As pastors, do we lead with a non-anxious presence (self-differentiated), or does our own anxiety model to our congregation some of the same self-avoiding behaviors that they see in us?

If it is true that leadership is more of an emotional process than a cognitive one (pp. 11), then much of our ability to lead lies in our discovery and awareness of who we are in our families of origin, than in our ability to just know and do more.

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rhettsmith@churchleaders.com'
I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate (MDiv, MSMFT, LMFT-A) and pastor to youth and families. I write about the relationships between psychology, theology and technology.