I filled the pulpit yesterday at First Baptist Church of Portland, OR, where I am a member. The text was Genesis 45:1-15, the story of Joseph’s reunion with his brothers (unlike some, Baptists can use whatever text we like!). It had never occurred to me before writing this sermon that there was a multigenerational pattern of conflict and cutoff between brothers in Joseph’s family, going back to Jacob and Esau, and then Isaac and Ishmael. According to Genesis 12, Abraham got lucky: God called him away from his family. But then Abraham had a conflict and cutoff with his nephew Lot. It just goes to show you that multigenerational process is an ancient phenomenon, and the Bible, as always, is pretty savvy about the challenges of human relationships.
What are the implications for church leaders? At least two: 1) Remember that the challenges in your congregation probably have roots in generations past, and it pays to know that history. 2) Remember that your own patterns of behavior probably have their roots in generations past in your own family, and it pays to know your own history. Both of these are long-term research projects. You don’t have to start frantically quizzing everyone you know, but over time a curious stance can bring you a lot of unexpected information, if you are paying attention. How will this help you as a leader? When you know the whole story, you are able to be less reactive, more neutral and more thoughtful about your leadership choices.