When They Circle the Wagons…Draw a Triangle!

When They Circle the Wagons…Draw a Triangle!

October 23, 2017—The time finally came to deal with the cold (and occasionally, not-so-cold) war between the Director of Music Ministries and the Organist. Lines had been drawn. Sides had been chosen. It was like someone had given the old west command: “Circle the wagons!”

If You Find Yourself in a Hole, Stop Digging!

For the good and the bad, leaders have the capacity to adapt to chronic irritations, annoyances, and frustrations. This is a superpower; and it is necessary for focus and functioning. But when a chronic situation becomes acute…whether, a tooth ache or a troubled relationship…leaders are motivated to action. However, this may not be pretty; and you can count on reactivity. For some reason, music seems predisposed to become a frequent focus of a congregation’s family system. Perhaps, running a close second would be youth ministry, youth ministers, children’s ministry, money, or property. All may be symptoms of the chronic anxiety swirling in churches.

Always Drink Upstream from the Herd

I had watched the inflammation rise and fall with “the music issue.” Accusation, then retaliation. I had made supervisory attempts to address behaviors. The Personnel Committee (PC) had done performance reviews. All was to no long-term avail. Every church’s polity is different. In my denomination, the Senior Pastor, usually is the Head of Staff. The PC is delegated to oversee staff functioning. In my case, the pastor supervises the Music Director, and the Music Director supervises the organist.

Job One for me was to get clear regarding my role as Senior Pastor, and then clarify how I wanted to function within these intense relationships. Several parishioners were glad to offer advice. This ranged from, “Fire this one and keep that one,” to “Fire that one and keep this one,” to “Fire both and start over.” The wagons were circling. Though, in our polity, the pastor does not have the sole power to hire or fire, that very thing happened twenty-five years before. After the sudden loss of a beloved Music Director, the pastor fired the organist. All was fine for about five minutes; but, soon the pastor, himself, left the church; and the scar tissue of that quick-fix can still be felt in the church’s body. Thus, I knew that I needed to stay connected with the Personnel Committee as we proceeded.

When They Circle the Wagons…Draw a Triangle!

Whenever these situations arise, I go to my office and draw a triangle. According to Bowen Family System Theory, the Emotional Triangle is the basic building block for understanding the functioning of relationships. This is the proverbial “sword in the stone.” It is the lens which gives the leader an observation place to see emotional processes as objectively as possible. It offers perspective in how she or he may address her or his own functioning in any given situation. Sit on the front row of a theater, and you will experience the play one way; but, watch the same play from the balcony and it will change your whole experience.

A triangle is any three members of a relationship system or any two members plus an issue or symptom. Thus, I labeled the triangle’s corners: A=“The music issue,” B=The PC, C=Me. I drew another: A=Director, B =Organist, C=The PC. Plus, there were a few more…including congregants who had chosen sides. This objective exercise got the situation “out of me” and onto the paper. When I did this, my anxiety lowered.

Also, I remembered a few “rules of the triangle.”

  1. I could only change a side of the triangle to which I was connected.
  2. Any effort at changing a side to which I was not connected, could have the opposite effect.
  3. I could end up holding the responsibility and anxiety for the whole thing.

Pray for Stamina, Not a Stampede

Once I had figured-out my part (role and function), choices became clearer. I took the position that it was the Music Director’s and Organist’s problem to resolve in consultation with the PC. However, I would stay connected, yet differentiated with all the parties involved, including the PC. My clarity seemed to help the PC claim its role. Though it took several months, meetings, and a lot of stamina, a lot of “church and ministry” happened in the meanwhile. I saw “a sense of self” grow in the PC. Eventually, the organist left for another job; and then six months later, the music director left. It was a long process, but a healthy one; and the PC was proud of their efforts.

Oh sure, there will be more problems and anxiety hot spots. But back at the ranch, I’m grateful for the gift of occasional insight that gives perspective. I keep a piece of paper handy. It is amazing what drawing a triangle can do.

James E. Lamkin serves on the faculty of the Leadership in Ministry workshop, part of the Pastoral Excellence Program of The Center for Lifelong Learning. He is senior pastor of the Northside Drive Baptist Church.

The Center for Lifelong Learning offers Leadership in Ministry workshops at four locations: Atlanta, Boston, Portland OR, and West Virginia. To learn more about the Leadership in Ministry workshops. Want to learn how to draw triangles? Join us!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.