Recently I was reminded of a Charlie-ism, a saying of the late Charles Siburt, who had a knack of compressing a great amount of wisdom in a few pithy aphorisms. Since I did my Doctor of Ministry work under his leadership, I heard many of his sayings first-hand. One was “Most wounds are self-inflicted.” And how true that is for leaders–at least, I can give testimony of this piece of wisdom.
I wondered if this might also be true of congregations. As I have coach and counselled churches and their leaders through the years, I have come to realized that getting churches to quit doing the counter-productive things was nearly as important as helping them do the right things. For example, if a church is not collecting basic information on visitors, then there can be no follow-up. Or if a church is not tracking individual attendance, then, they cannot be proactive in caring for people who are thinking about leaving.
While pondering the meaning of Charlie’s statement, it occurred to me that Peter Wagner in his book The Healthy Church (Regal, 1996) gave a list of what he called “Church Diseases” and, as I noticed, most of them were self-inflicted. Here is Wagner’s list with a quick explanation:
Ethnikitis happens when a church finds itself in an changing neighbourhood and refuses to adapt to serve the people who now actually live in their community.
People Blindness occurs when we look past the different kinds of people around us. The people are there but we, for various reasons, seem not to be able to see them.
Hypercooperation happens when a church works harder to get along with other believers rather than focusing on God’s mission .
Koinonitis is the disease we experience when our local fellowship is too tight to let new people in.
We suffer from Sociological Strangulation when the potential of growth is there but we can’t keep up with leadership and structural development to support growth.
Arrested Spiritual Development is the condition where long-time “disciples” of Jesus have not progressively grown into becoming like Jesus..
Saint John’s Syndrome is apathy, or “lukewarmness.”
Wagner was being somewhat playful in naming his “diseases,” but his goal was to help us do critical self-reflection and assessment in our work as congregational leaders. My point in sharing is that it’s possible in congregational life for most wounds also to be self-inflicted. And this leads me to another Charlie-ism, “If you can name it, you can manage it.”