by Jeff Newcomer Miller, Albuquerque Mennonite Church and member of the MSMC Dialogue Resource Team
I never intended for this article to be about stress, but my mind is most occupied with stress these days. Our family has made a number of changes over the past 1 and ½ years that have led to some serious stressors. We are currently in what feels like the worst of it and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. We are still a delightful family of five (three boys!) and we get to enjoy the beauties of living in Albuquerque including the Sandia Mountains, great friends and some amazing food; however, we have our fair share busy schedules, work demands and the constant desire to have more and more quality time as a family.
This article is about stress in part because of my own circumstance; however, it seems a fitting dialogue as we discuss the realities of conflict and communication within our congregations and conference. On several occasions I have had the privilege of walking with churches that are experiencing conflict and change in rather severe ways. Whatever the cause of change or conflict, it can lead to a number of reactions for congregations, including stress. Members are stressed about what is happening, leadership is stressed about making good decisions, and those affiliated with the congregation feel the residual stress as it pushes outside of every crack within those church walls. Stress, as some have discovered, leads our bodies to react in rather intense and somewhat destructive ways including: Low energy, headaches, upset stomach, aches, pains, and tense muscles, chest pain and rapid heartbeat, insomnia, frequent colds and infections. This is not an exhaustive list, but it seems striking that the effects of stress can lead to even further and perhaps more severe forms of stress. We are habitually seeking relief from these symptoms and yet at the same time adding more and more things to our lives that inevitably cause stress.
Whenever we do find ourselves in the midst of congregational change and conflict it serves us well to remember that the person whom you are talking with might be experiencing the same effects of stress that you are, or maybe worse. It is similar to getting upset with my spouse (who’s also experiencing stress) and expecting to get some relief (which will not happen), when in reality my duty is to handle my own stress so that when I do talk to my spouse I can be fully present and ready to listen. It’s not rocket science, but it can be a real struggle and one that I’m just learning how to deal with myself.