“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Self Disclosure and Self-Differentiation as Clergy and Leaders in the Church

Pastor Joelle and I are having a conversation about a comment I left on a blog we both read. The blogger asked a question about the "Appropriateness of Clergy/Parishioner Friendship." The concern centered around being an authentic transparent leader while understanding how much self-revelation was appropriate and when was it too much?

I responded on the blog with this:

1.Don't share anything that would make congregational members think they need to take care of you.

2. That said, there are occasions when the congregation should care about you and show it, such as - when you've been really sick/hospitalized or are on maternity leave, have a chronically ill child or are taking care of aging parents or have had a death in the family.

3. They should not be care-taking for you over every day things and stresses like parenting, other parishioners, issues related to running the church, your marriage - you need a clergy support group, a spiritual director and or a therapist with whom to discuss those issues.

4.You can share pieces of your life that will help them know you better but you will never share with them like you would with a friend....not the depth or breadth or mutuality of friendships.

5. as a church leader you need to always maintain a degree of separation from the emotions and energy of the congregation - it's called "Self-differentiation" a process that allows you to always look at the congregation as if you are an outsider looking in - emotionally - so that you can manage anxiety and stresses without letting them obscure your ability to understand the range of emotions and dynamics at play.

for more on this check out this Alban Institute article.

Also, consider becoming an Alban a member. They have wonderful weekly newsletter articles on every topic under the sun pertaining to church leadership along with lots of books and webinars.

And read Edwin Freedman's book "Generation to Generation" and then "Failure of Nerve"...Freedman is the foremost authority on family systems dynamic in congregations.

We live in anxious times. Our abilities to be non-anxious leaders are taxed beyond measure even as they are needed more than ever. As one colleague I know is fond of saying, "It takes a lot of energy to be a non-anxious leader." We as leaders (lay and ordained) are trying to keep the focus and guide our struggling congregations with passion and compassion. The wear and tear on leaders is tremendous. Especially in busy holy-day seasons.

May you find some respite this Christmas. May this be for you a season of health and peace, in what ever way you most yearn for and need.