Traditional Pastorate vs Revisionist Pastorate

My view of the pastorate is a parallel to Traditional Marriage vs Revisionist Marriage. The church is the household of God. And like any household, the church has a marriage in its structure. The Whole Christ consists of our Lord Jesus as the Husband and Head and the Church as his Bride and Body. In a local church, the shepherd and his flock represent this relationship and live out relational dynamics akin to a husband and a wife (among other things). A shift from traditional marriage to revisionist marriage goes hand in hand with a shift from traditional pastorate to revisionist pastorate.

The traditional pastor rules and disciplines.

The revisionist pastor coaches and contains.

The traditional pastor is someone people fear. He’s a reverend.

The revisionist pastor is someone people idolize. He’s a celebrity.

The traditional pastor faces outward in confrontation with the wilderness. He guards the frontline between the church and world. He builds the walls and sets a watch to maintain a haven for his congregation to flourish.

The revisionist pastor turns inward on the congregation. He’s not a fan of confrontation. He’s the president of a country club that’s not especially intimidating to the surrounding community. He’ll manage a lot of programs.

The traditional pastor is a passionate yet self-disciplined warrior-poet.

The revisionist pastor is a professional therapist, motivational speaker, and marketing consultant. And the skills of a schmoozer will carry him a long way.

The traditional pastor builds and maintains the house.

The revisionist pastor moves in later and redecorates.

The traditional pastor takes the risks and puts himself in harm’s way first.

The revisionist pastor just works to make the clubhouse a docile safe space.

The traditional pastor takes responsibility on behalf of his congregants. He’s like Jesus bearing the guilt and affliction of his people.

The revisionist pastor distances himself and does image management. He’s like Adam letting Eve go first and scapegoating her later.

The traditional pastor is a father.

The revisionist pastor is a nanny.

The traditional pastor is a man. It’s blatantly obvious why. And not just a man but a man among men. The kind of man women want and men want to be.

The revisionist pastor could just as well be a woman. In fact, women can probably do the job better. Everything distinctively male about the calling has been castrated off. And the good and lawful substance of the revisionist form plays to the strengths of female agency.

P.S. Please, do not misinterpret any of the deformations or shortcomings in the couplets as parallel or analogous to female agency in the last couplet. I did not say that and do not mean that. These are two separate and overlapping issues. If you have an understandable instinct to look for that error, please note that I am not doing that.

Traditional Marriage vs Revisionist Marriage

The traditional view of marriage is natural marriage, i.e. creationistic marriage. Natural marriage is an institution. It’s a public asset. Church and State both have vested interests in it and put their hands to it. It’s a firm linkage of covenant, sexual activity, procreation, domesticity, and economics. It’s intrinsically potent and fruitful by its design. It begets children as icons of the mutual sacrificial love and affection of the husband and the wife. It’s externally oriented for dominion and hospitality in the world. It’s deeply embedded in broader social networks which it supports and supplies and which support and supply it. It’s marked by fulfillment of social obligations to the past and the future.

The revisionist view of marriage is hyper-romanticized. It’s internally oriented, focused on serving as the exclusive source of emotional support and intimacy to the couple. It’s a private affair. It’s contractual. It’s volunteeristic. It’s consumeristic. It’s sterile by default. It produces children as a voluntary and autonomous act of manufacturing. Children are a self-expression to develop and curate the couple’s personal brand identity. It’s focused on making oneself feel fulfilled. It’s self-contained and therefore detachable and mobile in the broader society. It’s optimized to meet the needs of corporations, i.e. expanding their dominion in the world. It’s optimal form is same-sex marriage.

And most married couples (even most self-styled conservative Christian couples) live out the revisionist sort of marriage more than they would care to admit.

Family Systems Theory

I’m an advocate of a systems theory approach to understanding the family. And by a “family” system, I mean any meaningfully significant relational system from natural families to religious congregations to close-knit coworkers within which a person is embedded.

The idea behind any systems theory is that a thing is what it is and does what it does within the context of a system of other things. Trying to understand the individual unit in isolation from the system is pointless. The system is greater than the sum of its parts. When the parts are in proximity, a system is formed and takes on a life of its own.

Family systems theory was pioneered by Murray Bowen. My inroad to understanding it came through the writings of one of his disciples, Edwin Friedman who was a rabbi, family therapist, and leadership consultant. Friedman’s major works are Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue and A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

Friedman spoke in evolutionary terms and concepts when explaining his view of family systems theory. However, I find his evolutionary milieu to be incidental, non-essential, and merely reflective of the pervasive paradigm outside of his primary field of research. I’m confident there’s a properly Christian (creationistic) perspective on family systems and the reactivity and interactivity of the people embedded in those systems. I’m also confident this perspective is deeply premodernist rather than modernist, simply because it’s a systems theory and because it’s not mechanistic or materialistic.

Family systems theory is not a methodology. If anything, it’s an anti-methodology, since it views techniques, overwhelming libraries of specialized data, personality types, and other such things to be extraneous distractions to the truly meaningful issues at work in family systems. In short, all family systems operate in the same basic fashion and are relatively simple. However, it’s more of an art than a science to grasp.

The first thing to know about a family system (especially for a pastor or any other world-be counselor) is that anyone who wants to influence a family system has to accept the necessity of being an involved participant in the system. This is a system; people have to participate to interact and produce change. Prepare to get your hands dirty to one extent or another; there’s no avoiding it.

Many of the basic concepts have been expressed by way of analogy from cellular biology, and several key terms require tweaked definitions in this context.

Start by thinking of protoplasm, just living stuff. The first rule of protoplasm is that all protoplasm is attracted to all other protoplasm, whether we’re talking about microbes or human beings. Here, attraction means being drawn to some form of interaction (the formation of a system) when in each other’s presence. It can be casual or constructive interaction. Even being fearful and standoffish is a type of systemic interaction.

The second rule of protoplasm is that it’s an emotive existence. Here, emotive doesn’t mean feelings or affections. Rather it means a rejection of the false dichotomy between physical and spiritual reality. Protoplasm reacts or responds with its whole being; it’s particularly inclusive of what we generally mean by emotion.

The third rule of protoplasm is that it needs a good immunity to survive in a system. The essence of immunity is the ability to distinguish between self and non-self, where one ends and another begins — membranes (boundaries), functions (responsibilities), etc. Healthy self-differentiation exists in between fusion and deterioration. Microbes without an immune response either fuse together or wither and die in the mere presence of larger microbes. Humans aren’t all that different when they lack a good sense of self.

Now, relational systems are not all healthy and perfectly functioning. In fact, given the Christian belief in the radical corruption of human beings due to Adam’s transgression, no family system is pristinely healthy. Family systems are infected with chronic anxiety. Here, anxiety is something broader than what is normally meant by bouts of anxiety in individuals. This anxiety is stress throughout the family system.

Systemic anxiety manifests in countless ways throughout family systems, e.g. squabbling between husband and wife or parent and child, acting out in any number of destructive ways, feuds between congregants, backstabbing and undermining between colleagues. One important note is that any given symptom-bearer in a family system is not the source of everyone else’s grief; the whole system has a problem that’s manifesting most visibly in one member. Engaging with anyone and everyone in the family system has an impact on the whole system and brings influence upon symptom-bearers.

Because no one ever achieves perfect self-differentiation, we form relational triangles between ourselves and others to stabilize the system. A family system looks like a huge interlocking network of triangles between people, other people, and issues. Two people form a relational triangle either toward or against another person or an issue to help stabilize their own interrelationship.

The only useful thing a person can do for himself and anyone else in a family system is regulating personal reactivity to the systemic anxiety. Generally, this means learning to be less reactive to all of the manifestation of the systemic anxiety. The art of masterfully influencing a family system is pretty much entirely bound up in this endeavor. (And I’m certainly no master of the craft. I’m just thankful someone pointed me to this systems theory approach!)

This is where presence and process matter. How a person is being present, how he or she is regulating himself or herself through the course of a relational process is what results in real change for everyone. Process generally matters more than content. An apparent issue usually isn’t the real issue.

We can’t save other people by trying to save them. (And I could tell you horror stories about trying to do so!) We can only learn to have a good presence in a system with other people in order to bring life and health to the system, which resonates with everyone in the system.

On a personal note, my limited experience with exercising a good presence has been most noteworthy in the areas of ongoing depression and spiritual doubt in the lives of friends. I’m very confident that trying to fix depressed and doubting people by trying to fix them head on is deeply counterproductive and anxiety-inducing. It requires being the sort of presence who people want around them in their doubt and despair, the sort of person that brings no additional anxiety upon them.