Monday, December 19

Nurturing an Enmeshed Family

Despite my obvious math issues, "nurturing" has become a four-letter word in my vocabulary. Within my church family, this word has been beaten to death in the last year or so. Despite my tone, it is a very important discussion we have been having. It's origins are based in how relationships look at PUMP. There are those who feel that, at PUMP, and in churches at large, we are not well practiced at nurturing (there's that word), especially with family members. This conversation has gone all over the page...Is it a generational issue? A problem mostly felt by singles? Who is it that is not feeling nurtured? And what would a nurturing family look like for them? Do those who feel good about their own personal relationships just have a lesser need for intimacy or are they finding their connections elsewhere (e.g. biological family)?

After reading Mike Cope's blog today, I was really struck with another option. This is an idea that could hurt, so I do not make the analogies lightly. Mike discusses the differences between nurturing families and enmeshed families. He is referring to biological units in his writing, but it immediately appeared applicable to church families as well.
A nurturing family is one that empowers family members to have a strong sense of self. Children are loved and drawn into the nurturing center of the family--but without losing their sense of self and outward mission.

In an enmeshed family, children are loved and drawn into the center--but often at the expense of their sense of self and outward mission.

In an enmeshed family system (which is more common than you might imagine), parents are dependent on each other and/or their children to make them whole, happy, and loved. In biblical terms, it's a form of idolatry: trying to find life in someone or something other than God.
I wonder if those who are crying out for more nurturing within churches are actually asking for an enmeshed family. I recently told someone that I'm not sure PUMP should ever be the family that some are asking us to be, but I have not been able to articulate well why that is. I wonder if some are looking to the church family to fulfill them in ways that just aren't healthy. And when the church tries to fill that place, there is a constant sense of not meeting expectations, all the while, encouraging dysfunctional relating. For everyone involved, the worst part is a distraction from building deep, powerful personal relationships with the Lord that can truly fulfill.

Definitely more worth thinking about here..


Steve Maxwell said...

Great post Kristi! I went to Mike's post and it was great! Being a part of PUMP I have felt some of the things you mentioned and it has led me to another comment in Mike's post:

Differentiation is such a wonderful word. We do our best job as parents when we teach kids to "hold onto themselves" in this world -- to live before God as the source of real life while being in community with others without being enmeshed in those relationships.

I think teaching people "to live before God as the source of real life" is a lost art. It is one that takes more time and "the right" effort to do than I think people want to sacrifice. I am definitely trying to learn how to "reflect" Jesus instead of trying to replace what Jesus could mean in someone's life. I see that as enmeshing and I don't want to do that nor do I want to be in a relationship like that. The first verse I think about is Philippians 4:13 where Paul says he can do anything with the strength of Christ. I think the key to 4:13 is verses 11 and 12 that talk about finding true contentment in that same Christ instead of other relationships. I think Mike's blog is a fresh look at something we at PUMP are working on and I encourage others to read it. Thanks Kristi!

KMiV said...

Kristi, I enjoyed Mike's discussion and was able to chime in. I think that the problem is not that people expect too much--it is that churches do not know how to nurture. In the churches of Christ we have focused on a doctrinal approach for many years. We have been effective at teaching and learning the scriptures. We have become the opposite of enmeshed--we have been disengaged. We have become emotionally stunted.
One example of this is the recent study that 1 in 3 men in the churches of Christ have admitted to having a pornography problem. The root cause of pornography is intimacy. This exists because, as men, our male Christians do not know how to lead men to be like Jesus. We know how to lead men to be like the preacher Jesus or Paul but not like the nurturing Paul of 1 Thess. 2:8-12. This is also evidenced in the recent emphasis on elder training in the churches of Christ. Our most popular elder books (and the one forthcoming in 2006) have to do with shepherding/pastoring from a relationship perspective. We are acknowledging that something is wrong.
And--I would add that this is why it is easier for us to work with children and convert teens rather than adults (especially men). Statistically we are not evangelizing like the early church (this comes from Stan Granberg and Kairos Church Planting) and this is a reflection of our outreach and nurturing of adults. In all churches (denominations) 1 in 3 members are assimilated into the body in 5 years. The other 2 fall away.
In the past we have blamed those who leave. Yet, maybe we have been disengaged and distant ourselves. As a convert I know that those raised in the church have trouble understanding what it is like to leave your family and depend on the church to be your family. As a person who has helped adults come back to the Lord I have noticed that they left because they were neglected, and I can sympathize. We told them church was not about them but when Paul told us in 1 Cor. 14 that our job was to edify others--at what point did we acknowledge that others needed to be edified--which includes me. And what if God said--when you neglect them you neglect me?
So we have two options. Take a hard look at the evidence and reflect or blame those leaving!
Just some thoughts from a person who left his family for Christ and was told he would have a new family! Can we say we have been that family?

Allan White said...

What drives me crazy, though, is those who complain about not being "nurtured" yet do little to build relationships themselves. Want to build relationships? Drop a note. Start a conversation. Invite us over for lunch or coffee. Those things require effort, but they start the ball rolling. We should also initiate, and do these things without expecting reciprocity.

I also see that generational and cultural differences are barriers to making these connections. These can be overcome, but it's hard sometimes.

This is a huge topic, and this is only one facet of the issue.

rebecca marie said...

there has been much discussion at my house in regard to the fact that we feel more like we've "been to church" after the home fellowship at our home with friends, than we do after corporate worship. it has such a huge big deal to do with the fact that in our home setting, we are enmeshed with each other as well as nurturing each other.

but i don't think cell churches are the answer. where would people who wake up and just want to "go to church" go?

Johnny said...

Good post. I read Mike Cope's post first and agree that the concepts can apply to the church family as well.
Is it possible to be an enmeshed church family on doctrinal lifestyle issues and yet have little or no relational connection? The following examples tend to lead me to this conclusion. We have expected the church: to provide most if not all of our Bible teaching, the entertaining of our teenagers, and to give us programs so we can "minister" to others. What leader has not had a member come up and ask us what "the church" believes on a certain topic.

Our efforts here to enpower people to serve others on their own, using their gifts, has been met with comments about we don't have any direction.

Finding the balance between closeness and individuality is a constant problem, may God give us wisdom.

Steve Jr. said...

A nurturing family is one that empowers family members to have a strong sense of self. Children are loved and drawn into the nurturing center of the family--but without losing their sense of self and outward mission.

I both agree and disagree with a direct connection between Mike's analysis of families and the church. On one hand, when has the church's job ever been to "empower family members to have a strong sense of self"? If anything, the role of the church is to foster a sense of the salvation of an entire community -- a people -- instead of just the individual. It's about living life out together.

On the other hand, someone told me one time that it is no one else's responsibility to hear from God for anyone else. As a minister, I believe my main responsibility is and will be to teach people how to hear from God and obey His instructions on their own, without a intermediary. This doesn't mean that other humans don't occasionally practice discernment in speaking into the life of another Christian, but it does mean that each part of the body is actively seeking God's will for both themselves and the community, and frequently bringing their revelations before the community.

How often do we see the above scenario play out in most of our churches? Individual parts of the body, who all listen to and hear from the head of the body on a frequent basis, comprise a larger group of worshippers, spurring each other on to praise, mission, and holiness. Nothing about this definition places a idolatrous emphasis on the other, but on God. We spend time with God by spending time with each other -- we see Jesus Christ in our brothers and sisters. In this sense, relying on each other is relying on Jesus.

It becomes idolatrous when we stop pointing up to God and out to others.

Glenn said...

Enmeshed sounds like a school of fish caught in a net, but not yet pulled into the fishing boat. They are still swimming and may not even be aware that they are trapped in the net. Nurturing sounds good, unless it creates dependency. How many times have elders heard the familiar "I am going to leave this church because it is not filling MY needs?" People who have been in the church for 50 years still demand to be nurtured. Yes, we all need to be encouraged and fed from time to time, but some just live to soak up the attentions of others full-time. When a grown person still has to be spoon fed by his parents they have allowed or caused him to be totally dependent. Yet, in the church we have people who continue to demand to be spoon fed and taken care of by others, even when they should be caring for others themselves. In the physical world we expect children to begin to feed themselves about the time they begin to walk, even though the food is provided by the parents. Shortly after high school we expect them to be able to provide their own food and soon to provide food for a family of their own. Yet, in the church there are those who think that we should spoon feed members all of their lives. There may be a few who have limitations which would require this, but not many. We have created a large segment of nurture addicts.

The focus has been upon the Church and what the Church can do for us, rather than depending upon God, Christ, and The Spirit. "Ask not what the Church can do for you, but what you can do for the Church."

I asked a diocese leader in Ruwanda why the Catholic Church lost so many members after the genocide. His responce led us to conclude that their dependence had been upon the church rather than God, and the church let them down. Churches should wean their members to have a reliance upon God which is intimate with but not dependent upon the Church. The Church is important as is the family, but its members need to grow up to be self reliant, while loving the Church and feeding the babies.

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