How Much of the Story Do You Know?

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.

One reply on “How Much of the Story Do You Know?

  • IGalindo

    Thanks, Margaret. Remaining curious is a helpful stance in discovering stories significant to the congregation’s emotional process. But I’ve also discivered that for some reason, congregations (all emotional systems, really) tend to be rather stingy about sharing stories and history with “newcomers”—even when those newcomers are their (pastoral and staff) leaders. Oh, they’ll share anectdotes and stories that make them look good—but it’s amazing how quite they can be about significant events in their corporate life history that relate to emotional process, nodal events, and patterns.

    I was at one congregation for about three years when I overheard a table conversation where members were recalling that the church had fired a staff member who previously occupied my position. I literally stopped that conversation by asking, “What?! You mean to tell me that someone in my position has been fired and this is the first time I’ve heard about it?!” That little tidbit of information was never shared with me by the search committee, my primary committee, by the pastor (who’d been there at the time), nor by any individuals involved. Why was this a secret? But, I was not curious enough for the question to occur to me—and so I never asked.

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