Book Notes – Systems-Sensitive Leadership: Empowering Diversity Without Polarizing the Church

Posted: January 29, 2014 by Todd in Books, Ministry
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System Sensitive Leadership


Systems-Sensitive Leadership: Empowering Diversity Without Polarizing the Church

Michael C. Armour and Don Browning – 2000, College Press Publishing Company

Finished February, 2013

Read Paperback c. 1995  College Press Publishing Co.

Chapter 11 is a good summary of the systems.
Preface (Armour)
The 4 c’s:
  1. Change
  2. Complexity
  3. Confusion
  4. Conflict
Work derived from Dr. Clare Graves
Preface (Browning)
Had a personal awakening because of values based systems thinking
Chapter 1: Tension and Diversity in the Pew
Churches tend to have arguments over inane things and not theological absolutes.
3 Recurring Mistakes Make Churches Vulnerable to Polarization:
  1. “Nothing like that would ever happen here.”
  2. Churches pay little attention to conflict-avoidance.
  3. Simplistic explanations of the problem. [more…]
Pastors spend lots of time putting out fires – as much as 40%.  Many blame diversity for the polarization of the church.  Not so, according to the authors.
“The issue of organizational structure is secondary to systems thinking.”  There’s a difference between “going through channels” and “working the system.” (7)
Thesis of book: “Interpersonal systems flow from intrapersonal systems.”
Chapter 2: The Systems Within Us
Principles of Graves’ 8 Thinking Systems (not the principles themselves)
  1. At birth the 8 systems are latent within us
  2. They activate one by one at various stages of existence
  3. No one relies equally on all 8 systems.  Nor do we use them all simultaneously.
  4. Of the 8 systems, one or two will always be so influential that the dominate our personal outlook.
  5. Moreover, any system or combination of systems can be dominant.  The choice is not prescribed.
  6. For that reason, dominant systems vary from person to person.
  7. They also change as we move through various phases of personal development.
Maslow’s Five Categories of Human Need (in order)
  1. Physiological survival
  2. Personal safety
  3. Sense of belonging (love)
  4. Esteem (status)
  5. Self-actualization
Maslow eventually added the level “transformation” between 4 and 5.
Graves never published a definitive articulation of his theories.  Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan is about the best representation produced by Gravesian followers.
As systems get more complex, we tend towards things like abstract thinking, paradox, etc.
Our dominant system takes its cue not from complexity itself, but from our perception of complexity (19).
Chapter 3: Coping With Complexity
Even systems tend towards community values.
Odd systems tend toward individuality.
Core models are the ones we’ve adopted as dominant systems.  They fund the answers to the core question about one’s identity.
Casual modes are the ones we’ve activated, but don’t use as our dominant systems.
We draw on all systems for intellectual questions and dominant ones for existential questions.
Concise summaries of systems start on page 33.  Below are two word summaries:
System 1 – Physical survival – Beige
System 2 – Personal safety – Purple
System 3 – Physical safety – Red
System 4 – Moral-social stability – Blue
System 5 – Personal success – Orange
System 6 – Intimate bonds – Green
System 7 – Averting polarity – Yellow
System 8 – Universal community
 [Colors correspond to equivalent Spiral Dynamics stage]
These systems have emerged as human civilization has grown more complex.
Chapter 4: Dominant System Transitions
When confronted with information that contradicts our dominant (or casual) systems, we tend to shrug them off.  Only when the evidence is so overwhelming do we make course shifts.
Newtonian physics is perfectly adequate to understand certain things, but we need Einstien to understand other things – this is true with systems.
Three relevant (classic) systems principles: (1) process, (2) co-causality, and (3) homeostasis
Chapter 5: Systems 1 and 2: The Quest for Safety
When two people have different dominant systems, that fact alone invites tension.
System 1 is all about survival.  Beyond infancy, this can emerge in the case of natural disasters or terminal illness.  System 1 knows little of hope, but can actually find happiness in mere survival.
In system 2, the unseen begins to emerge.  We can now imagine things.  Little sense of time exists in system 2.  We draw on this in watching tv, drama, etc.  Holy places, tribes, and rituals are important.
{Question: How can systems interact productively with one another?  Should the “higher” speak the language of the “lower”?  Should each speak their own language?  Should the “higher” try to provoke a “step-up?”}
For many figures in the OT, especially, system 2 was their dominant system.
Chapter 6: System 3: The Quest for Power
Rule by might.
Developed and abides by strict pecking order.  Wants respect about all else.  Usually blames someone else when things go wrong.  Ostentatious – loves to show off spoils of victory.  More dangerous than any other system.
Chapter 7: System 4: The Quest for Truth
Only becomes prominent when a leisurely class arises.  Relies on abstract thinking.  Likes to make policies.  Big on organized religion.  Likes conformity.  Obeys out of duty.  Very class conscious, yet values the worth of the individual.  Far more passion for “old truth” than “new truth.”  Fear and guilt are principle motivators.
Chapter 8: System 5: The Quest for Achievement
Emphasis on personal effectiveness.  Revolution through innovation.  Likes status, financial reward, material success, lots of options.
Chapter 9: System 6: The Quest for Intimacy
All about egalitarianism and rights.  Rejects the elitism of the previous 3 systems.  “One hazard in system 6 is vulnerability to care-giver burnout.”  Sometimes can alienate other modalities with a “more caring than thou” attitude.
Chapter 10: Systems 7 and 8: The Quest for Holistic Solutions
“Because system 7 thinks so much in ‘big pictures,’ it is not particularly astute at managing details.
System 8: global village
Chapter 11: A Systems Summary
This is a handy reference of all the systems.  I skipped this chapter, except to review systems 7 & 8.  A good place to come back for a refresher or use as a handout for a workshop.
Chapter 12: When Systems Join Forces
Rarely is a group or culture or church entirely one system.  They are unique blends.  A football game analogy is helpful – system 3 is competing on the field and shouting in the stands.  System 2 is chanting rituals on the sidelines.  System 4 is officiating the game.  System 5 is coaching or selling hotdogs.  System 6 is standing by to give medical aid to either side.  System 7 can enter any of the systems at will.
Also, think of it like a telescope, viewing things through multiple lenses (systems).  Once you’ve been exposed to a system, you can always use it as part of your telescope.
Chapter 13: The Multi-System Church
Breakdown of system population distribution percentages on page 151.  Find ways to program for all existing systems (“smelting pot”).
[Question: what should pastors do to provoke or facilitate ‘moving up the spiral’?  One answer may be in reviewing the “change dynamic” options in Spiral Dynamics – probably in third to last segment]
Chapter 14: Learning to Accommodate New Systems
System 4 fears throwing out all “the old ways.”  Systems 5 and 6 get frustrated at the inability to move beyond system 4 and churches get stuck in this frustrating place.
[Note: The system 3 “institution building” of ancient times seems like system 5.  How can we be so sure it is system 3?  Is this a forced fit to make the historic unfolding of the spiral fit?]
Over the course of millenia of church history, system 4 became entrenched as a “divine mandate.”  The Bible has been read through system 4 eyes and given a system 4 type place in our theology – “sola scriptura.”
“The earliest waves of system 5 entrepreneurs and system 6 care-givers were willing to work with (or even preferred) a system 4 church.  In their professional life they might function in systems 5 and 6, but when they entered a worship services, they shifted to system 4.  As a result, churches became complacent.  They presumed themselves immune to the change virus that afflicted others.” (162!!)
Chapter 15: The Primary Systems Conflict
In churches, the primary conflict is between system 4 and systems 5/6.  5/6 want change and 4 fears it if it doesn’t trust it. 4 typically contains some 3 fighting energy.  A few tips: measured change over sudden change, get a system 4 person visible on the side of change, capitalize on disaster, don’t let 5/6 drive too publicly too fast.
On page 181, there is a great discussion advocating “forbearance” over “toleration” as a Christian virtue, helpful to systems sensitive leadership.
Chapter 16: Understanding Resistance to Change
For 1900 years, when the church fought, it was doctrinal.  Not anymore.  More than ever, fights are about issues of style.
Chapter 23: Systems Shifts and Transitions
Downshifting can occur in times of stress, death, divorce, etc.  Acting out can occur in churches (284 ff – connection point here with Generation to Generation & Family Systems Theory)
Some people shift in different contexts (e.g., work at one system, home at another).
Chapter 24: Sustaining System Health
“When we skip a modality, we always run the risk of problems later in life.”
System trying to manage system 3 and having no luck, may be a result of not ever experiencing system 3 one’s self.
“Our goal in both teaching and counseling is to create health within the dominant modality, not move people out of it.”  (296)
Two questions to determine the nature of a health problem in a given system:
1. Is it the result of a previous system that was bypassed or has been left undernourished?
2. Or is it the result of unresolved existence issues in the current modality?
If it is #1, use the dominant modality to develop the underdeveloped one.  (e.g., use bible in system 4 to develop system 2)

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