Week 34 in the year of our Lord 2022

Self-leadership and keeping your nerve

13 minutes to read

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9 out of 10 people don’t understand generalities.


Here are some of Michael’s notes from this past weekend’s singles retreat. This is taken from a session entitled, “How to Not be a Neurotic Mess.” (I’ve only lightly edited this, so all mistakes can be blamed on Michael; I was busy writing a sermon, ok? —Bnonn)

A leader is an individual who influences others to accomplish a common goal.

There are all sorts of books, theories, and so forth on key attributes of leadership. The most common thought is leadership is a set of skills or techniques. I think that is wrong.

Skills, while important, in of themselves aren’t the primary attribute of good leadership. They are secondary and flow out of the primary attribute of having the ability to regulate one’s emotions. In his poem If, Rudyard Kipling identifies this as a central mark of maturity. He writes:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too…

This is essentially the thesis of Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve.

Friedman refers to regulating one’s anxiety as self-differentiation or “knowing where oneself ends and another person begins.” He sees leadership as properly managing a system of emotional relationships.

One of his key metaphors is that of cell biology.

A healthy cell has a nucleus which controls its activity. It has a membrane which keeps it separate from other cells when they hang out together to form biological tissue—like, for example, a heart.

A heart cell is differentiated. It knows that its job is to pump blood. It is different from say a brain cell, and that’s by God’s good design. A properly functioning cell “knows” its role and fulfills it.

Now, people work a lot like the cells of which they are made up. They form themselves into groups. Families, companies, churches, and even nations.

(Everything is a body.)

Like a differentiated cell, healthy people can stay connected to others without losing their identity, or without taking on the emotional anxiety of the group.

A differentiated leader can take a well-defined stand, even while followers disagree, and while remaining connected in a meaningful way with others.

The rub comes from the fact that some people in these groupings—families, companies, churches, etc—are poorly differentiated.

They act like a virus. Viruses do not have a nucleus or a core organizing principle, so they cannot exist on their own. Rather they look for other poorly differentiated cells that they can latch on to. One example would be that of workplace gossip, which at first may seem benign, but it actually is them infecting the group with their anxiety.

They cannot handle one-on-one conflict (i.e. direct conflict) with another person. So they attempt to rope in a third person, thinking this will lessen the anxiety.

This is what Friedman calls emotional triangles. And if you are the one being roped in or triangled, it is so tempting to enmesh yourself with the drama. It may even seem flattering: you are being asked to help out in a situation. So this person must really trust you. But don’t get enmeshed. Don’t get triangled, because it only results in getting stuck. It feeds more anxiety into the system, and the infection spreads.

Worse: it’s bad for you. Friedman says the chief cause of stress and burnout isn’t being overworked physically, but getting stuck in other people’s problems, or getting triangled.

But the differentiated leader is like the emotional immune system of the organization.

By being a non-anxious presence, differentiated leaders resist being triangled, which influences others to take responsibility for themselves.

Consider the interaction between Martha and Jesus in Luke 10:38–42. It reads:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Martha is stressed out from “much serving.” She is frustrated that Mary isn’t helping her. Thus, she tries to triangle Jesus and use him to force Mary to help out. Jesus calmly corrects Martha by telling her that her anxiety is her own doing, Mary has made the right call, and he won’t allow it to be taken from her. This a good example of self-differentiated leadership.

This is counter-intuitive for those of us that use chronically anxious organizations. But Friedman says differentiated leaders are able to tolerate other people’s discomfort because this encourages them to take personal responsibility. In the long run, the leader’s non-anxious presence has the result of defusing the anxiety in the organization, allowing it to function in a healthy and normal way.

Now about sabotage. Some organizational systems are chronically anxious. In other words, they have a lot of people who are poorly differentiated. Such an organization will be threatened by the presence of a differentiated leader, because in a way he upsets how things have always been. He pushes against the homeostasis of the organization.

So the chronically anxious organization will turn on the differentiated leader. But according to Friedman, sabotage is a sign that the leader is doing the right thing. And it’s the leader’s non-anxious response to sabotage that defines the differentiated leader. This he says is the key to the kingdom of effective leadership. This applies to all leadership at all levels. The differentiated leadership is not static. It’s a directional focus on a basic sort of self-responsibility.

What is my responsibility before God for myself?

What are my duties in my home, church, and workplace?

You need to focus on those first. That’s not being selfish. It’s being self controlled. It’s being responsible. Think of the example of putting on your mask first during an emergency on an airplane. You do it so that you can help others put on their masks.

Well-differentiated leadership v. poorly-differentiated leadership, from Edwin Friedman’s Failure of Nerve


Well-differentiated men are generally non-reactive.

If you react to every slight, you are weak and insecure.

People made strong and secure by the grace of God aren’t easily offended.

They don’t race to defend themselves.


Negative positivity #

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1)

Note here, there are listed three negatives. These are activities from which the blessed man abstains. He avoids and even abhors them. He has nothing to do with the counsel of the wicked, the path of the sinner or the seat of scoffers.

There is a pressure in our culture to only speak using positives. Our words are to always be words of affirmation. We are to speak things that build up. Negatives, we are told, only tear down.

Here are two examples…

Mayim Bialik is a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA, but she is mainly known as an actress on The Big Bang Theory. In her spare time, she writes for several popular websites on the subject of gentle parenting.

What is gentle parenting? Good question. Bialik gives a list of gentle parenting essentials in one of her most-read articles. Here are two that are very pertinent:

“Not for” instead of “no.” The word “no” is not very helpful and using it will come back to haunt you. We’ve used the word “no” very rarely; instead, coming up with myriad ways to indicate “no” and stop undesirable behaviors. We never baby-proofed our home except for power outlet covers, and a stern tone (which we saved for only such occasions) and strong body language did the trick in averting exploration of dangerous things. To this day, neither of my boys have ever said, shouted, or screamed “NO!” at us.

Give a “yes” for every “no”—sometimes two. There are times when we need to and ought to say “no” to a child, such as when a slice of brightly colored, fantastic-looking birthday cake is not vegan. Small people love to hear “yes” even if it’s after “no.” Even if it’s a really disappointing “no,” I’ve found that providing a “yes” to something else can work wonders. So for the non-vegan cake, if the answer is “no,” the “yes” is to our own treat waiting for us at home after the party.

Notice that the goal is to get around the use of negatives as much possible. Bialik admits that in some cases you have to say no, but she frames it as if it should be a rarity. And, of course, Bialik is a vegan and that may lead you to believe that she is part of a fringe culture. This example then would have very little application for the church, right?

Well, here’s something a little closer to home. There is a Christian radio station called K-LOVE that you might have heard of. K-LOVE has over 12 million listeners each week in cities including New York City, Chicago, and Denver. It is also the sixth-most online-streamed station in the world.

Their slogan is: Positive, Encouraging, K-LOVE.

Anyone that has worked in a corporate environment knows that a lot of thinking goes into coming up with your company’s slogan. It’s not something you throw together willy-nilly.

You do market research to determine your key demographic. You come up with several options. And then you run them by test groups to see which one elicits the desired reaction. It generally is a very calculated decision.

K-LOVE, from a marketing perspective, got it right.

In 2013 K-LOVE won the Billy Graham Award for Excellence in Christian Communications and were voted Station of the Year.

They know their audience. They know that most Christians, Evangelicals in particular, are looking for positive and affirming content.

Don’t misunderstand us. We’re not trying to tell you that it is wrong to listen to K-Love. That isn’t the point. The point is simply that Christians are more and more buying into the lie that our religion is all about positivity.

However, we know that isn’t true at all. Scripture commends the use of “negatives.” The Ten Commandments are full of negatives. The New Testament is full of negatives. Jesus says, “Go and sin no more.” Paul says, “Do not be conformed to the ways of the world.”

We need to learn to love God’s no and his yes. They are the keys to a happy life. We see that with the blessed man who loves God’s no in Psalm 1. He cherishes it. He does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, stand in the path of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers! Like David in Psalm 119:104, he hates every false way and therefore he avoids them.

But he doesn’t just love the nos. He doesn’t overcorrect. He loves the positive commands of Scripture.

He delights in the law of the Lord…all of it.


Maintaining frame is not kicking against the goads.  You can’t assert your will without submitting to God’s

Frame and gravitas are intimately connected. Gravitas comes from God; we reflect his weightiness in ourselves. But we can only do that by accurately imaging him in the first place—which means following his law in order to be like him.


Wisdom from Tyrannus Hall (our men’s group): #

I chose to live close to community and have a 30–40 minute commute for work. I don’t regret this at all. I see friends more frequently this way since it’s easy for them to just stop by or for me to make the 1 minute drive or 5 minute walk down the street. I find traveling anything over 15–20 minutes to see friends/family starts to become a hassle and starts to reduce the amount of time spent with friends and family. The other benefit is, if I ever have a wife and she stays home, she’ll still have access to the community while I’m working. Also, I found that if I lived closer to work, I’d still be spending the same amount in fuel - or more since I’d be constantly making the 30 minute drive to see friends, family and church.

Become a member of Tyrannus Hall


If you have to tell someone you’re a big deal, you’re not that big of a deal.


Notable: #

Meanwhile in New Zealand… #

On Tuesday, the high court issued a verdict on a case that was brought against the government by a number of churches. Following a line of prosecution that worked in England and Scotland, the churches argued that NZ’s government had unjustifiably infringed on their right to worship during the covid lockdowns.

NZ’s high court’s verdict about the lockdown order: “The order was not an unjustifiable limitation on the applicants’ rights.”

Bnonn asks for prayer for his country—and for those, like him, called to ministry. It seems inevitable that the government will use lockdowns again for something, and if that happens, this legal precedent makes jail time look equally inevitable.


Talk again next week,

Bnonn & Michael

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