Don’t Be a P.H.A.T.S.O.
Emotional Health in the Body of Christ

This is NOT about body weight, but it IS about body building as in the 4th chapter of Ephesians. Christ gave leaders so that the body of Christ (The Church) would be healthy. PHATSO is the way I remember Edwin Friedman’s top six challenges for healthy churches. Ed wrote, “Generation to Generation” a powerful textbook for understanding the church as an emotional system. His top six systemic issues for the church are greatly summarized below. I hope it generates your interest to study it further.  “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” Ephesians 4:14.

Process and Content- Churches need to have both clear and excellent content and open, transparent and ethical process. Leaders need to make good decisions and they need to arrive at these decisions with good process. The right decision with a faulty or closed process will not be embraced by the congregation any more than the open and inclusive process that reaches a bad decision.

Homeostasis- A healthy church has a good balance of emotional health and advancement of the mission. A healthy homeostasis is achieved by looking honestly at mistakes and achievements with a sensible balance of following Christ’s great commission. Like a thermostat in your home, when outside temperatures change you make small adjustments to maintain a comfortable atmosphere. Now if a window is wide open, cranking the thermostat to compensate is not a wise strategy, yet some churches will ignore big problems while attempting to counter the imbalance with empty encouragement or rules that are restrictive and coercive. They have homeostasis yet the window remains open.

Anxiousness is a contagion that can run quickly through your church. If there is a threat to the homeostasis of the church, people naturally become anxious. That is normal. Yet, some people are conduits that amplify or exaggerate the issue and put pressure on the leadership to become reactive and driven by their anxiousness. Leaders need to respond to other’s anxiousness with a less-anxious presence and think rationally and patiently. Leaders need recognize the problem yet not “take on” the virus of anxiousness.

Triangles- It is natural for Peter to talk to you about Paul and most of these emotional triangles are not a problem. However, when the intent is to manipulate a decision or make an alliance against Paul, the triangle becomes toxic. You need to break the triangle by telling Peter to go to Paul. The most destructive triangle occurs when you close the triangle and tell Paul what Peter said about him.

Scape Goat- When anxiousness has disrupted the homeostasis of the church to the extent that people are reactive, they seek to bind the problem to something or someone within or outside the system. Instead of owning the problem and taking personal responsibility, they blame the bottom and or the top of the system. So Pastor and Principals, Boards or Councils, who were at first the heroes, soon become the scapegoats to blame. The people who are considered the “outsiders” or “those who never help” are also an easy target. “If they would only participate…” “Society is so broken…”

Over-functioning- When people on staff or in the congregation begin to believe that if they don’t do it, it will never get done. They sub-consciously seek to rescue the church. This over-functioning disrupts their primary relationships. Which, by the way, may be a sub-conscious way of coping with their own family system.  Instead of getting the results they seek, they actually make it worse. Others are not attracted to desperation, perhaps they intuitively understand, and they soon will be the scape goat.

Until Christ returns, we will have to manage the PHATSO. It is unfortunately the reality of our human condition. With God’s help we can work for a healthier church beginning – with ourselves- “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8.

If you find this helpful, you might consider ordering the text -Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (Guilford Family Therapy (Paperback)) 1st Edition by Edwin H. Friedman
And for a more concise yet insightful resource, Dr. Pete Steinke, a student/colleague of Friedman wrote the following: Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times: Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What Paperback – November 20, 2006, by Peter L. Steinke



Kurt Bickel is an Emergent Leader Trainer with 22 years of consulting experience. He is a Certified Professional Coach with the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland (2012) He holds a Masters Degree in Human Resource Development from Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, (1995) and is a Certified Consultant for Organization and Human Resource Development, with The University Associates, San Diego. (1991) He is a Graduate of Concordia Seward, NE (1973).

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