Healing the Dysfunctional Church Family by David R. Mains

Although Dr. Mains did a good job exposing the patterns of family dysfunction in a church setting, he did not provide practical suggestions on how to counter the various dysfunctions mentioned in his book. Mains shared a `helpful prayer’ to break the habit of “blaming and shaming,” but most people were unaware of their behavioral pattern. For leaders to suggest that a church member prayed a particular prayer will only make the person defensive. Mains never said how a church leader could promote change in this area of a person’s life.Based on Dr. Mains’ vague descriptions for compulsive/addictive personalities, it would be nearly impossible to positively identify someone with this trait. He provided these characteristics: habitually sitting in the same pew during services, trying to “control” a business meeting, constant tardiness, and chronically “bad-mouthing” others, however these “symptoms” may not necessitate a compulsive/addictive trait. It was possible that these descriptions indicated that the person was disorganized and was in need of time management training, or the person was just obnoxious and lacked basic manners. Perhaps the “bad-mouthing” individual was simply seeking attention or venting frustration.

In the chapter, “Love That Has to Be Earned,” Dr. Mains listed types of people he found difficult to show “Christ-like love.” His inventory contained vindictive, disloyal, unappreciative or untrustworthy people, and those who have “never-ending needs” (19). His recommendation was for congregations to express “unconditional love” for each other. This was unrealistic, and his supposition that churches become “dysfunctional” because they failed to emulate God’s unconditional love was harsh. He failed to realize that this ideal church would never exist here on Earth because the church is full of sinners.

David A. Seamands contributed a deeper meaning of “perfectionism.” He pointed out that perfectionists possess a “combination of pride and low self-esteem.” They were fearful people will reject them if it was “discovered” that a disparity existed between their “real selves” and “fantasy selves” (119). They had low self-esteem because they “put themselves down” before others can, which protected their false pride.

Mains included another writing from David A. Seamands in the “Living in Denial and Delusion” chapter. What Seamands described was comparable to split personality– when painful childhood memories were repressed (not allowed to be expressed), the emotions “disguised themselves and tried to smuggle into our personalities through another door” (79). He said that if the “buried memories” were released due to “physical exhaustion, illness, or traumatic shock,” then the “dormant child” will “take over” a person’s attitudes, reactions and behavior. The emotions will be expressed as “deep depression, rage, uncontrollable lust, fear or inferiority (80).” He likened this repression to someone who was put into “deep freeze”–the body and mind matures, but a part of the person remained “locked” in a “childhood stage of life” (80).

The book was written from a Christian worldview, incorporating biblical stories or characters and scriptural references into the main body of each chapter. There was a good balance of psychological indices throughout the book, but the signs and symptoms of dysfunctions were presented in “layman’s” terminology. Some of Dr. Mains’ suggestions were not original ideas, but were helpful reminders. For instance, he mentioned that Christians ought to have a prayer partner because the experience of praying with another person made it easier for people to pray spontaneously with others.

There were additional positive aspects of the book. For example, Mains included discussion and reflective questions at the end of each chapter. I found some of the reading excerpts from other books and authors insightful. The inclusion of Sandra D. Wilson’s writing enhanced Mains’ chapter of “perfectionism.” She described this dysfunction to possess an “all-or-nothing thinking,” in which anything less than perfect is “total failure.” As a consequence of perfectionism, this type of person often developed negative characteristics like indecisiveness, self-hatred, and depression. In extreme cases this dysfunction led to suicide attempts or completions (118). By in large, Mains’ book effectively categorized dysfunctional traits. His description of dysfunction within a family setting seemed applicable.

Mains’ objective in informing readers to “stop pretending” was achieved. His main point was to show that there were no perfect churches, ” just as no family was perfect.” His secondary message was conveyed, that Christians were “sinners saved by grace,” but continued to sin. Believers should not “ignore or minimize” sin, but they should not “ostracize” or “blame” people who made mistakes. Mains’ purpose in writing this book was to compel Christians to transform the congregational body of Christ to become a place “where people can come and feel loved, helped, forgiven, and given hope to got out and do better next time.” Maybe if everyone in a church congregation read this book, the love and support people longed for will be realized, then given and received by its members.

Copyright © 2007 M. Teresa Trascritti

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