July 1, 1997
Systems thinking is a little like immunology: If the T-cell count plummets, that jeopardizes the body's resistance to disease. One thing affects another. Everything is connected.
To understand the parts, you must look at the whole—that's systems thinking.
In his book Generation to Generation, Edwin Friedman, who died in 1996, applied the way family members related to one another to the way churches and synagogues operate as a whole. A disciple of Friedman, Peter Steinke, a Lutheran (ELCA) minister and counselor, has written Healthy Congregations (Alban Institute), which evaluates the health of a congregation using family-systems theory. Steinke views churches as living, breathing organisms.
Leadership senior associate editor Dave Goetz asked Steinke how systems thinking might help pastors bring health to their congregations.
In Healthy Congregations, you say that disease in a church can
be good. How so?
Peter Steinke: For any system to be healthy, it has to be challenged;
sometimes that challenge comes in the form of conflict. A healthy congregation
is one that actively and responsibly addresses or heals its disturbances.
It is not one with an absence of trouble.
I work with many churches that deal with their problems in secrecy—talking
behind people's back, for example. That sort of behavior doesn't lend itself
to healing. Healing comes with exposure to the light.
How should a pastor resist secrecy?
One way is simply to announce it: "We've had secret meetings. We need to
deal with things openly here."
The biblical injunctions in Matthew 18 are so clear. By going to the offending
brother or sister, taking along a leader, bringing the issue to the whole
community, you are creating exposure.
On the other hand, ...