Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Systems-Sensitive Leadership: Empowering Diversity Without Polarizing the Church

by Dr. Michael C. Armour and Don Browning

What is the source of conflict among churches in America today? I suppose one could list a variety of reasons from doctrinal differences, personalities (or lack thereof), the so-called "worship wars" to generational differences.

Armour and Browning shed light on differences which run much deeper than doctrine, preferences, and personality. Using the theory of Clare Graves the authors show how human-kind has developed several modes of thinking styles and how different styles lead to potential conflict.

Graves identified eight different thinking systems that form our values. Each different system builds upon the other and people may transition from one system to another as they are confronted with certain life situations. Some may see similarities between Graves and Maslow (in fact, they were friends). Others have pointed out to me the similarities between this system and stages of development postulated by Fowler, Erickson, or Piaget.

Each system in Graves' theory has its own strengths and weaknesses. The goal is not to force transition from one to another (that would be foolhardy and counter-productive) but to encourage health in each system. If approached correctly, the systems can function together in a healthy way.

This is not a light or easy read. The first half of the book deals with Graves' theory and can seem quite daunting. However the description of the theory is essential in order to access the pragmatic advice in the second half of the book.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to understand the nature of conflict (especially church conflict). I believe this holds the best chance for helping churches to learn to live with the diversity of thinking that so permeates their membership.

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