by Milton Lewis, Senior Pastor, Northern Hills Church San Antonio TX
syndrome n. 1. A group of signs and symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease, psychological disorder, or other abnormal condition. 2. a. A complex of symptoms indicating the existence of an undesirable condition or quality.
1. The Star Syndrome
Also known as “Tony Dorsett Disease,” this syndrome is characterized by one staff person who needs to be the center of attention. Life revolves around this staff person. The senior pastor and the rest of the staff are always reacting to this person’s concerns, opinions, problems, and needs. This person creates tension and dissension, often undermining the ministry of fellow staff members through subtle and even overt acts of sabotage. A Star is moody. When the Star is in a good mood, everyone is happy (or at least relieved). When the Star is in a bad mood, everyone is tense. Either way, the Star controls the emotional climate of the staff.
Remove this person from the staff.
Removing a person suffering from Star Syndrome usually means losing a bunch of other people as well, as Stars typically attract large and loyal followings. In addition, many who remain behind may hold a considerable degree of hard feeling toward the senior pastor and possibly other staff and lay leaders.
2. The Manageable Size Syndrome
The Manageable Size Syndrome is characterized by the tendency of a staff person or ministry area leader to reduce the size of his or her group down to where the group can be adequately managed. Many staff have an instinctive fear of their ministry area outgrowing them. They find that they function at their best when a group is a certain size. So, for example, a music director may inherit a choir of 50 members, but since the music director does not know how to manage, much less grow, a choir that large, he or she will begin to act in such a way that the choir is trimmed down to 15-25, a size the music director can handle and feel comfortable with. To make matters worse, those afflicted with MSS are often completely unaware of how their style and behavior is working to reduce the size of the ministry area rather than multiply it. They will typically explain their losses as due to people’s lack of commitment.
Fortunately, there is a cure. The cure is through education, training, and learning new skills. If properly motivated, a staff person can learn how to be a multiplier instead of a reducer. Unfortunately, the cure rate is only about 20%, as it is always difficult to unlearn old behaviors while acquiring new ones.
3. The Independent Contractor Syndrome
The symptoms associated with ICS are (1) The staff person believes he or she works for the church and not under the direction of the senior pastor. (2) The staff person sees his or her job as existing in isolation from the rest of the paid jobs of the church. (3) The staff member is unable to see or appreciate the inter-connectedness of the Body of Christ.
The best cure for ICS is prevention. This can be done as new persons are brought on staff. The senior pastor and church personnel committee must communicate in the clearest terms that the staff person is part of a team and works in cooperation with the staff team under the leadership, direction, and supervision of the senior pastor. When a person with ICS slips through the cracks, efforts may be made to re-educate the sufferer as to their role and their relationship to the rest of the staff. If these re-education efforts fail, the best thing for the church is to invite the IC to contract with another church.
4. The Hero-Martyr Syndrome
Those suffering from HMS want and try to do everything for everybody. They do not know how to delegate. They do not know how to involve others in the fulfillment of their ministry area goals. They believe that they are being paid to do a job, not to see that the job gets done, and so they work long hours and become the object of others’ sympathy. Their motto is, “If you want a job done right, do it yourself.” Hero-Martyrs typically suffer from an unhealthy need for recognition and sympathy, and they will go to great lengths to gain it. They have a strong need to be needed, and while they will often accept jobs nobody else wants, they will not hesitate to remind the world of their heroic efforts. They can often be overheard complaining about low salary, poor working conditions, excessive number of hours put in, not enough budget money for their program, and how nobody really appreciates them.
If Left Untreated:
Left untreated, HMS sufferers will burn out.
The Hero-Martyr needs therapy that will help him or her discover other ways of getting ministry accomplished. Through therapy Hero-Martyrs can learn to see that they are paid to involve others in the accomplishment of ministry, not to do it all themselves. Through disciplined behavioral change, they can learn a more “hands off” approach to ministry and acquire the skills necessary to recruit, train, and equip others to fulfill the ministry goals. With therapy, a Hero-Martyr can realize the freedom that comes from knowing that Jesus has already died on the cross, and no more human sacrifices are required. Once they realize that they don’t have to prove their worth to anybody, or die for anybody, then they may become free to use their gifts and graces in much more productive ways.
5. The We/They Syndrome
WTS occurs when a staff organizes itself over and against the rest of the congregation. The staff-congregation relationship is adversarial. The staff finds consolation in itself, while the congregation is viewed as the enemy. The staff sees itself as needing to resist the efforts of the congregation. The staff sees the congregation as unrealistic in its expectations and demands. “They” just don’t understand. “They” aren’t willing to help. “They” are stingy and tight with money. “They” treat us as their hired hands. So “they” must be opposed and resisted. When a staff suffers from WTS, there is a high level of suspicion, distrust, and paranoia. Morale is always low, and motivation for productive ministry nearly non-existent. WTS is highly contagious and is therefore usually characteristic of an entire staff, although in some cases it may be limited to just one or two. The motto of a person with WTS is, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you!”
The cure for WTS is learning good communication skills. The cure involves learning to trust others, learning to love others, and learning to see the congregation as friends rather than enemies. WTS sufferers find some measure of healing when they can learn to give others the benefit of the doubt. Discovering or recovering a theology or original sin helps level the playing field and helps We/They folks see that we all live somewhere short of the glory of God. Since we are all in this together, we might as well work together.
Contributed by Milton Lewis (Milthenry(at)aol.com), Senior Pastor, Northern Hills United Methodist Church, San Antonio, Texas.