Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Midwives and Shepherds

1 Corinthians 4:1,2
Don’t imagine us leaders to be something we aren’t. We are servants of Christ, not his masters. We are guides into God’s most sublime secrets, not security guards posted to protect them.

This was what I read this morning in the Message. It reminded me of two conversations I had recently on leadership. One was not so much a conversation except that it is ongoing and I am continuing to read one blogger, Nakedpastor, with interest. He wrote a post the other day on being a shepherd. You can read it here. Made me stop and think, and at least, want to have a two way conversation with him. I would love to see what a church, run by a true shepherding approach, looks like over many years.

Anyway, he speaks of a very hands-off approach for taking care of his people. Not intervening much in what God is doing in their lives - mostly only there for simple things. Not making it all about him and his leadership but about them and their lives in Jesus, in community.

This brings me to my second conversation – a real one this time – with Best Friend. We were talking about a friend of ours who, when he was in our church, had a mental breakdown. It really shook his faith. We, in the church at that time, all had a plan of how to help him. It was a confusing time for all, I’m sure. I know the pastors really tried to do everything that they could. It seemed that this guy just could not pull it together or find a way to follow them out of his confusion. He got some medical help and stabilized but soon after left our church feeling like he had failed – failed God – failed leadership. Anyway, Best Friend still kept up the relationship with him and his family. (She never got the shunning memo.) They were just over to her house the other day and she told them that she wished they had been to my house for the 4th. The ability to be together and hang out without judgment was just what she thought he needed - no one trying to fix him and for him to have the opportunity to just be with us the way he was. To have people who would just be there with him and love him while he “labors” with his questions.

It was then, that the conversation switched to brilliance.

She started comparing her role as a midwife to that of a traditional doctor in a hospital. We, of course started seeing the parallels of midwife to shepherd and traditional doctor to that of our traditional pastors.

Some of her points about midwives and doctors were:

Midwife: Has a woman in labor about to have a baby
Dr.: Has a “patient” in labor about to have a baby

Midwife: Comes into your home. Makes herself at home in your place
Dr.: You check into his establishment. You have to conform to his place.

Midwife: Sees the birthing process as an incredibly naturally process – thus no need for invasive monitoring.
Dr.: Sees the birthing process as somewhat natural but also something to be carefully monitored for bad outcomes

Midwife: Comes alongside the birthing mother as a servant. One to help. Not one to direct.
Dr.: Immediately upon arrival at the institution, he starts to tell you what is needed. He is there to direct you and the whole birthing process.

Midwife: Tries as much as possible not to intervene. Only intervenes if there is true danger to the woman or baby.
Dr.: Intervenes as soon as you arrive - with monitors, IV’s, blood tests, etc.

Midwife: Allows the woman to find her own pace. BF said that once labor starts to really kick in, that is the time you really try to not intervene. If you just sit back and let the woman have her space, each woman will find her own rhythm. Each woman will be different. Some just lay quietly and breathe, some will walk the floor and keep their hands busy, some will try to distract themselves, others will internalize and deal with the pain that way. The key to what she was saying though is that each woman, if left alone, always finds her own rhythm that will get her through the hardest part.
Dr.: The ability for the patient to find her own pace is sometimes non-existent in an institutionalized hospital. There is so much intervention going on that the woman often cannot deal with the pain of labor and thus needs to resort to even more intervention.

Midwife: Assumes you will be fine and have a healthy baby – all on your own.Dr.: Assumes that he needs to protect you so that you will be ok and have a healthy baby.

Now, I have been told that statistically, midwives have far fewer complicated births than in the hospital. (Not the screwed up statistics that don’t allow for the fact that midwives, if they suspect a problem will send their patients to a hospital but just the normal births that happen in both places). BF wondered if some of the problems in an institution were caused by the institution that was there trying to prevent them. How many problems are caused by their intervention? I have asked myself the same question about institutional churches. Do we help to cause the problems that people have?

(Now before you start writing and assuming that I need to give doctors a break – please stop. I have had both. There were times that I needed a medical, traditional doctor desperately. They have saved my life and one of my children’s lives. I value them. So don’t go there. I’m not being unbalanced. They have their place.)

But do you see the parallels of the Doctor/traditional pastor and a Shepherd/Midwife?

Shepherd: Understands that this Christian life we are to live is a natural thing
Trad Pastor: Understands that this Christian life is fraught with pitfalls that he is to protect you from and needs to be constantly monitored for bad outcomes

Shepherd: Is there to come alongside you and walk with you through your journey. A servant – one to help – not to direct
Trad Pastor: Starts at the beginning with a plan, direction, and information about what you need to do to avoid every pitfall that “could” be out there. Heavy direction.

Shepherd: Tries his hardest not to intervene. Only intervenes at crucial periods.
Trad Pastor: Intervention is his middle name – if not his first.

Shepherd: Understands that each person in their walk with God will have to find their own rhythm. Does not think that everyone will look the same – especially in the hardest moments. Does not have a cookie cutter plan for discipleship.
Trad Pastor: Does not understand this at all. Has a dictated plan for everyone that usually looks like the plan that he has found to work for himself.

Shepherd: Assumes that you and God will have a great life together. Knows that it is a natural process and that he can relax and let the two of you work out almost everything.
Trad Pastor: Wants you to have a great life with God but assumes that he is the critical element in having that happen. With out them, you will not be able to navigate that life safely.

BF went on: Doctors have never seen a truly natural childbirth. They have no experience or training in it. They only know what they have been taught and what they have experienced. They only know all the bad things that can happen and how to prepare for and guard against them. (They also have a huge job making sure they are not sued).

But the same goes for the Traditional Pastor. He has probably never seen leadership done naturally. He has never had a Shepherd and was not trained to be one. As a doctor cannot imagine why anyone would want a natural childbirth at home with a midwife, a traditional pastor cannot imagine why anyone would want a natural Christian life outside his institution. Both have been trained to see all the bad stuff and how to prevent it. Neither have seen the other side.

So my theory is maybe we need both. Just as there is a time to go into the hospital to have a baby and take advantage of all there is to offer in truly desperate care measures, maybe we need some sort of traditional counseling people when there is truly a crisis in our spiritual lives. My proposal is though, that we should not have these people be shepherds. Let’s have the midwives/shepherds take care of the daily cares of the sheep and have the doctor/counselors be the ones to step in when there is a true crisis. One person could be both but he/she needs to understand that their primary role is that of a midwife/shepherd and not get the two confused.


Sandy G. said...

Excellent points! Having had all my babies at home with midwives, AND having left the institutional church in recent years, the parallels made a lot of sense to me. Thanks for the insight.

Heidi said...

Wow. Just wow. I will be thinking about these parallels a lot, especially with a dear friend having recently had her baby at home with midwives. Such a great post you've written here, thank you for writing it.

Anonymous said...

As a fan of elucidating similes, I say, "Hurrah!" to you for having found a really good one.

Linda said...

It really touched something inside of me when you described the understanding the midwife has of allowing each woman to find her rhythm and what that symbolizes spiritually. For several reasons, first the respect for individuality, secondly the trust that we can each find our rhythm, and finally the unique innate capacity within each person to express themselves in the best possible way.

I really enjoyed the entire post and all of the comparisons you brought out.

Rob said...

I like this comparison, but I'd also suggest that "parent" might be a good addition. Parents understand that each of their children is different, and has their own pace, their own learning style, their own rhythm, etc.

But a parent also recognizes when boundaries, interventions, and good old-fashioned advice and protection are sometimes warranted.

Great post -- made me think!

PJ said...

Former Leader,
Thank you so VERY much for this post. I'm going to try to add some thoughts about it on my blog. Thank you for your comments on my blog as well. It is good to be able to share with others on this journey. Being a former leader myself, some of our perspectives are different than others from CLB's, but the pain is the same. Thanks for processing so publicly!