The Church as Petri Dish

Petri Dish I’m reading Peter Steinke’s book, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What. Steinke and Edwin Friedman have influenced my understanding of the church and its workings as much as any others. In my view, their major contribution to ministry is their illumination anxiety’s tyranny in churches—while offering helpful ways to overthrow that subtle dictator.

More than ever, Christians and churches are anxious. Steinke notes, “With anxiety intensifying and penetrating more areas of our lives, even in the church, leaders today cannot be as anxious as the people they serve.” This is vital, as the temptation to allow inappropriate and harmful behavior in the church because of our own weariness or inability to tolerate pain in ourselves and others is strong. Based on my service as a church consultant, I would venture to say that 80% of the “problems” churches are experiencing right now are actually “symptoms” of the deeper problem—the inability to make decisions they need to make because they are afraid of offending someone, or afraid of the wrath of an anxious church body. This modus operandi only reinforces the inaction and anxiety of the church, rather than reinforcing much of anything Christian. The church thus simply freezes, and becomes a virtual Petri dish in which anxiety festers—which freezes the church even more…which causes more indecisiveness, which fosters more anxiety, and the cycle continues. Indecisiveness is typically a key symptom of reaction to anxiety rather than responsiveness to the principles of the Kingdom.

Steinke notes: “Edwin Friedman, author of Generation to Generation and a student of Murray Bowen, has claimed: “Actually religious institutions are the worst offenders of encouraging immaturity and irresponsibility. In church after church some member is passive-aggressively holding the whole system hostage, and no one wants to fire him or force her to leave because it wouldn’t be ‘the Christian thing to do.’ It has nothing to do with Christianity. Synagogues also tolerate abusers because it wouldn’t be ‘the Christian thing to do.’’’ Indecisiveness is reactivity.”

I would highly recommend Steinke’s book, and would encourage you to consider what decisions are being made in your life or congregation on the basis of the supposedly “Christian thing to do,” as opposed to the truly Christian thing to do.

Where might your church go if they weren’t afraid of someone else?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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3 thoughts on “The Church as Petri Dish

  1. Once again, a great post. I also love this book. Just recently, we are adding a children’s worship time, and of course, there is some resistance, and the couple who are the leaders of this work told me that if there is resistance, let them know, I told them, if there is I will take care of it, you move forward, and the resistances can deal.