January 7, 2019—The fact is that, despite the warm metaphor we commonly use, a congregation is not a family. A congregation is a localized, institutionalized expression of a larger social system: the organized religious system.1 The relationship clergy have with their congregations often leads to seductive enmeshment—even clergy desire their congregations to be family for them, or at the very least “a real community.” But until you understand what a congregation is, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to provide the leadership it needs.
While it’s helpful to understand that a congregation is not a family, it often is more helpful to remember that your congregation is not your family. Staying committed to doing one’s family of origin work will often provide a corrective to this confusion.
How often has a pastor not been able to challenge a lay leader who is acting out because that person stirs up emotional process issues related to the father-son or father-daughter relationship in the pastor’s family? Or how often has a pastor not been able to provide effective pastoral care for a family in crisis because he finds himself thrust into family emotional processes that strike too close to home? And how many times does a young minister feel crushed and rejected at not being able to be “accepted” by a family size/style church whose members are clearer about family boundaries than the pastor? Unless you are a patriarch pastor of a family-church, it’s helpful to remember that your congregation is not your family.
Adapted from, Israel Galindo, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004), p. 21.
To learn more about family emotional process as it relates to ministry leadership join us in the post-graduate Leadership in Ministry program.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context..
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.