I am reading Viginia Satir’s The New People Making. Published in 1988, it’s hardly “new” anymore. Her insights, however, are timeless.
I am not aware that Satir, a pioneer in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy, ever professed to be a Christian. But her writing indicates that she “got” grace more than many who profess Christ and espouse the Christian theology of grace. For all our talk in the church about grace, I find that a good deal of our Christian systems are more shame-based and performance-oriented than manifestations of grace. But I digress.
Satir’s book explores the role of the family system in shaping and forming the individuals within it. It’s an extensive and exhaustive expose. In reading it, I’ve been struck with the idea that her concepts and processes make for good practical theology for church life. Let me share a few examples:
“Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere in which individual differences are appreciated., love is shown openly, mistakes are used for learning, communication is open, rules are flexible, responsibility (matching promise with delivery) is modeled and honesty is practiced–the kind of atmosphere found in a nurturing family. It is no accident that the children of families who practice the above usually feel good about themselves and consequently are loving, physically healthy and competent” (p. 26).
What she states about the family is true for the church. Imagine a church operating from a relational system such as she describes. She provides us with a great definition of a culture of grace. Sadly, too many churches operate from a shame-based and shame-producing culture. Specifically, communication is not open. Only acceptable, agreeable statements are welcomed and tolerated. Rules are rigid, harsh and unforgiving. Mistakes are dealt with punitively. We seem more intent on making others wrong and making sure they are put in their place. Honesty is preached about, but pretending and keeping up an image are modeled. I agree with Satir, a church that can practice what she is promoting will produce people who are good with themselves, loving, healthy and competent.
“Some styles of parenting are based on comparison and conformity” (p. 34). How many pastoral styles are based on these? What if we as pastors could shift away from this and be comfortable with uniqueness, diversity of view points and individual expression of gifts. Seems like the Apostle Paul had a similar vision of church life.
“Eyes clouded with regret for the past, or fear for the future, limit vision and offer little chance for growth or change” (p. 64).
How true for us pastors and our churches. This speaks to the courage it takes to embrace forgiveness, grace and faith. What would our lives, our ministries and our churches look like if we allowed the God of grace to free us of these fetters? How would our vision expand–what could we see and what possibilities would we pursue?
A final quote, “Spending time on any kind of blame just makes you ineffective and limits your energy for change. Blame is an expensive, useless, and destructive way to use your energy” (p. 211).
Ever notice how much blaming can go on in congregations? Among pastors? I wonder what it says about us when we blame others, our church board, the contentious parishioner who gives us fits, denominational leaders and/or political leaders? Whatever generates blame, one thing is sure. Blaming keeps us stuck in the process and mires us in continuing to be part of the problem.