Digging Deeper: Finding new voices to teach us about congregational systems

In my last blog, I outlined the historical and somewhat current application of family systems in the church setting. This application has served us well and has continued to center patriarchal white voices. Yet, there are so many others from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. These voices are emerging, shifting, and creative.

Margaret Wheatly, an organization and leadership consultant, researcher and writer looks at organizational systems through the eyes of nature and science.  Her understanding of these systems brings a new lens to understanding how the people who make up congregations interact with each other.  Her research can also help us create new tools to navigate our relationships and how we embrace change. 

Margaret Wheatly speaks eloquently of her own evolving understanding of how the world works.  As someone who honestly admits that early in her career she believed we could make massive global changes, she now believes that this is not possible.  Instead, she believes that we are all connected to what she creatively terms “islands of sanity.”  We all live in communities where we can work, relate and play.  The good we do in these communities ripples beyond that which we see into the greater world.  She now believes that our focus on our community – however we may define that community – is the most important place for us be in relation and make positive change. 

Wheatly has also evolved from a scientific focus on Newtonian theories to the more modern and dare I say mysterious theories of quantum physics and quantum mechanics.  The Newtonian world is orderly, predictable, and discoverable.  Quantum mechanics teaches us that chaos is at the heart of our world and in this chaos is beauty, depth and connections beyond our wildest imaginations.  Chaos is not the opposite of orderly because in chaos, patterns exist.  But chaos is not linear, and neither is our world.  Our world is messy and beautiful and mysterious.  And as we discover how connected we are, we discover that we are never truly alone or truly void of responsibility.   

adreanne maree brown also looks to natural systems of human and creation in what they have entitled emergent strategies.  Their natural approach to understanding systems and the way humans interact goes beyond the current white normative culture and considers a wider diversity of the human experience.  brown’s focus is on the here and now.  Being present in the moment is a crucial element of our relationships.  They use the image of mycelium, the underground networks that are apart of tree roots to explore the valuable images of connectedness.  This is also rely on the tenants of quantum mechanics.  brown leads us to explore what it means to be a family and what it means to be a community in new and expanding ways.  Both brown and Wheatley guide us to stretch our understanding and imagination. 

These are just two of many voices who have something to offer this conversation.  The field of interim ministry has relied on the low hanging fruit of systems theory for too long.  This low hanging fruit has its gifts. I am not ready to throw it into the compost pile just yet.  But it is only one theory and one perspective.  When we are willing to climb higher into the tree and pick the fruit that is not initially seen, we will taste a sweetness like never before.  I am already nourished by these voices.  And I am confident that there is a lot more fruit higher up in this tree.  I cannot wait to climb higher and see how sweet this fruit tastes!

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