I am privileged to journey life with my wife, and best friend, Connie. We share the awesome opportunity, to parent our daughter, Ariella. Pastoral ministry was not in the plans but I couldn't escape the call to ministry. I started in SECC as a youth pastor in 2013. I became the Assoc. pastor and then senior pastor at Chula Vista. I love to try and find good food spots, paddle board, and to hang with family. I'm thankful for God's calling on my life, and to join God in God's working in the world.
Lessons on Shepherding with TED*
Experiences that unite each of us in ministry are the joys and challenges we find in interpersonal relationships. Connections that develop through pastoral care and presence. We have found creative and classic ways to do that through this pandemic. The downside of relationship building, however is the pressure we face in relational conflicts and temptation to overextend ourselves. There are a few things I’ve learned in my short time in pastoral ministry, and I would like to share one with you on shepherding with TED*.
Shepherding and Power Dynamics
Shepherd is one of the most correlating images we find of pastoral care in scripture (Ps. 23, Is. 40:11, Ez. 34:12, Jn. 10). Yes, the image is an archaic one in our modern non-agrarian society, but not unhelpful. Shepherds lead and care for their flock. It is where pastoral care and administrative leadership come together. As pastors, we both serve and lead our members.
Thomas Oden speaking to this form of serving spiritual authority said, “Wherever Christians speak of authority or dignity of ministry or headship of the shepherd, those are not properly understood as coercive modes of power, but persuasive, participative modes of benevolent, empathic guidance.”[i]
“Persuasive, participative, benevolent, empathic guidance” is such a descriptive theological reflection on shepherding. However, when theory meets praxis, it doesn’t transfer so easily. When you are trying to push an agenda item through, or you are dealing with a challenging member how do you exert your authority? Oden in recognition of this wrote, “This is an extraordinarily complex, subtle, and highly nuanced conception of authority . . .”[ii]
It can be tempting to abuse our power or utilize unhealthy patterns in our relationships. My lesson deals with a little of both. The ways we can overextend and distract ourselves from the things we need to do. As Shepherds' empathy and caretaking are important characteristics to have. But some of us have to be careful not to form relationships that are enmeshed or codependent. Where we are overactive and overstep our boundaries to fix or rescue. We can create patterns that foster unhealthy levels of dependence on staff, colleagues, members, etc.
This brand of leadership ultimately leads to frustration and burnout.[iii] Stephen Karpman developed the drama triangle in the 1960’s. A drama triangle is where people in conflict take on roles to problem solve. A triangle has three intersecting endpoints, and the three roles are “victim,” “persecutor,” and “rescuer.”[iv] The “persecutor” is the one seeking a change and confronting something they see as problematic. The “victim” doesn’t want to deal with the “persecutor” (director, staff, helicopter parent, etc) bringing the problem and acts like they can’t do anything about it. The rescuer charges in to save the day.
There was a study done that brought some categories to how we might be attracted as leaders to some of these three roles.
“Caretakers who struggle to maintain control by solving other people’s problems and controlling how others work; People Pleasers who are loathe to ever say no and are motivated to remove the risk of conflict; Martyrs who are subject to worry and guilt and act based on their negative worldview; Perfectionists who may suffer from low self-esteem and take mistakes very personally, while holding others to their impossibly high standards; and Workaholics who are generally rewarded by institutions for their appearance of commitment, while they hide behind a veil of unfocused busyness.”[v]
My Experience in the Drama Triangle
Problem solving or conflict resolution through the drama triangle is both unhealthy and ineffective. It takes care of a need but doesn’t fix the problem. The victim isn’t powerless, but they “need” someone else to take care of the problem. The rescuer isn’t “needed” to rescue, but they want a distraction from what they are currently doing or think they can handle it better than the “victim.” The persecutor isn’t a bad person, they are simply trying to take care of a need differently than the person they are addressing.
Over time, we move around in the triangle. An overextended pastor who has been rescuing will feel the need to be rescued and wonder why people aren’t caring for them the same way they cared for others. As pastors, we can also become the “persecutor.” Where our agenda for change has members viewing us as a threat.
I majored in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Oakwood University. I studied on measuring morale and building organizations with thriving cultures, in theory. So, I knew about triangulation when I became the Senior Pastor at Chula Vista Church. However, knowing and doing are two different things. I was thrust into a situation where I was leading a church through the loss of a beloved senior pastor, after only being the associate pastor for 6 months. It was stressful and a feeling of immense responsibility.
There are so many hats to wear as a Senior Pastor. Even more as a sole pastor, which I was for the first seven months, before our Associate Pastor, Joseph Santos, arrived. On top of this, I had just become a father. It had me questioning what to do and how to do it. There was a strong desire to be perfect, or at least get it right. There were self-doubts, and whispers from those who weren’t sure I was ready.
So, when conflicts came to my attention, the instinctual thing was to run and over help. To feel some comfort. Some sense of control. In one of the conflicts, I saw a person with a strong personality and a direct communicator. It would be easy to view them as a “persecutor”. The other person told me they didn’t feel comfortable going to talk with them and asked if I would. I told them I’d help, but my version of help was to replace them in the conversation. It was what they wanted, but not what they needed. I had internalized their problem.
Thankfully, the “persecutor” knew exactly what I was doing and wouldn’t allow me to triangulate. They called out what I was doing, and then went biblical. They informed me I was not following the Matthew 18 principle on handling conflict. I could have doubled down and played the victim. But it reminded me of what I was doing. After apologizing, I promised myself I needed to change how I handled conflict.
TED* - The Empowerment Dynamic
Another incident occurred sometime later that could have easily gone differently. A department director brought me an issue they were facing. It was with someone who had also challenged me. It would have been easy to put all of my baggage in the situation and take over. But I removed my personal experiences and worked to empower the director. They were someone who didn’t like conflict, so we processed what they were feeling together.
Then we began to look at possibilities. I helped them find one they felt comfortable with. Since they didn’t want to talk alone, I encouraged them to call a staff meeting and make a joint decision. I gave them an option of me attending the meeting, but I believed they could handle it with their team. They handled the meeting well without me there. The team affirmed the request from the other individual but decided to continue with the original plan. The other person respected what the group decided even if they did not agree.
It wasn’t a win-win, but it did directly address the situation. They felt heard and that their request wasn’t ignored or buried. The director was empowered to face the conflict with the group. This response shifted the negative triangulation pattern into a positive one. Karpman calls these positive roles, creator, challenger, and coach.[vi] The rescuer becomes a coach. One that doesn’t try to fix the situation for the “victim” but empowers the “victim” to fix it themself. The persecutor becomes a challenger. A persecutor is there to hurt you, a challenger sees something different from you. The victim becomes a creator, instead of being helpless they can create options to move forward.
TED* helps for conflicts between individuals, but it can also help work through conflicts between groups.[vii] Instead of joining one side of the church versus another, we can help coach and empower. We can walk alongside both groups and help bring clarity and understanding. This empowerment dynamic was quite useful as we journeyed together through this pandemic, as church members and leaders felt different things about how to move forward. In our differences, God kept us together and united whether online or in-person.
Coming back to our first images of pastoral care and shepherding. As Oden said, “This is an extraordinarily complex, subtle, and highly nuanced conception of authority . . .”[viii] However, I intentionally left out the ending, “but it is intimately familiar to those who love Christ and listen for his voice.”[ix] Christ’s model of shepherding is both bold and compassionate. He is the good shepherd. He can care and lead. His model handles the deft complexities of interpersonal relationship building and conflict, and maybe includes a little TED*.
[i] Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1983), 53.
[ii] Ibid, 53
[iii] Deborah J. Clark, “Escaping the Drama Triangle: Strategies for Successful Research Administration from the Psychology of Codependence,” Escaping the Drama Triangle: Strategies for Successful Research Administration from the Psychology of Codependence, September 29, 2020, https://www.srainternational.org/blogs/srai-jra1/2020/09/29/escaping-the-drama-triangle-strategies-for-success.
[iv] David Emerald, The Power of TED: the Empowerment Dynamic (Bainbridge Island, WA: Polaris Pub., 2010), 6
[v] Deborah J. Clark, “Escaping the Drama Triangle: Strategies for Successful Research Administration from the Psychology of Codependence,” Escaping the Drama Triangle: Strategies for Successful Research Administration from the Psychology of Codependence, September 29, 2020, https://www.srainternational.org/blogs/srai-jra1/2020/09/29/escaping-the-drama-triangle-strategies-for-success.
[vi] David Emerald, The Power of TED: the Empowerment Dynamic (Bainbridge Island, WA: Polaris Pub., 2010), 44
[vii]David Emerald, 3 Vital Questions: Transforming Workplace Drama (Bainbridge Island, WA: Polaris Publishing, 2019). Great lessons for individuals and groups.
[viii] Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1983), 53.
[ix] Ibid, 53
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Author - Jon Ciccarelli
January 28, 2021