July 30, 2018—Have you ever heard a pastor say, “Why is it that no matter what church I go to I always end up with the same bunch of @&#* idiots?!” If you’ve had a string of dysfunctional churches, the problem is probably with you and not the churches. One explanation is that health attracts health and dysfunction attracts dysfunction. We tend to be attracted to certain emotional fields of homeostatic patterns because we like what we know and resist change and challenge. We all have our neuroses of choice; we prefer the pain we know. Emotional and spiritual co-dependency often is the tie that binds clergy and congregations together.
The new pastor was getting acquainted with his new town. He stopped and introduced himself to a fellow gardening not far from the church. After some pleasantries the pastor asked, “So, tell me, what kind of people live around here?”
The old gardener asked, “What kind of people did you have where you came from?”
The pastor replied, “Well, to tell you the truth, I found them to be difficult folk. They were unfriendly, tightfisted, inconsiderate, unappreciative, and sullen.”
The old gardener said, “Yep, well then, I imagine those are the same people you’ll find here.”
As author Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “Wherever you go, there you are.” And, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus wrote, “First tell yourself what kind of person you want to be, then do what you have to do. For in nearly every pursuit we see this to be the case. Those in athletic pursuit first choose the sport they want, and then do that work.” (Discourses 3.23.1–2). Focusing on changing ourselves first, working at functioning different, improving our attitude and taking on a healthier perspective tends to also improve the functioning of those around us. Do you want healthier congregational or staff relationships? Change yourself first.
Interested in working on your personal and professional growth? The Center for Lifelong Learning offers several opportunities in its Pastoral Excellence Program. Join us and invest in your growth, and to hang around with a different bunch of idiots.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning and Director of Online Education at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), andLeadership in Ministry.
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.