Saturday, January 30, 2010

Kurt Warner Retires

I just posted my thought about Kurt Warner's new career on my Seasoned Believer blog. Some of you may not know I have blogged in this topic for a couples of years. I have promoted the notion of encouraging "Lay Persons" to get deeply involved in practical ministries. My blog tells testimonies about that topic as well as theological and human reasons why volunteering is important to Believers.

We are currently experiencing an enormous increase in Christian volunteering. Just think about one example, Haiti. The situation in Haiti has focused the attention of the world on the importance of ordinary men and women to help victims of natural emergencies. Millions of people have organized themselves into bands of helping hands to gather, organize and send supplies to the people affected by the earthquake.

But something else has also happened. The chronic situation of poverty, pain and abuse has been suddenly revealed to millions of TV watchers. For most it is the first time they ever heard of the decades of evil just a few miles from America. Who would have thought that there is widespread child slavery a stone's throw from the wealthiest and freest nation on the earth?

I heard on TV that between 45,000 and 50,000 Americans are in Haiti at any time. What are so many Americans doing on that tiny country? Many if not most are volunteers from US charitable organizations. WOW! That is incredible.

Here is another amazing statistic. Some 80% of the Gross National Product of Haiti comes from charity. Here is my question. How much of this volunteering and charitable giving comes from Agnostics and Atheists?

How much comes from secularists?

How much comes from Christians?

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Myth of the Expert

Anonymous left a comment on the previous post asking, "What is The Myth of the Expert?" Good question. I left the following comment on the blog but want to add some more content to it for clarification.

The Hopper brothers wrote in the book "The Puritan's Gift" that the key to our economic, social and spiritual strength was the approach to work and relationships we got from the Puritans. The were all ready and willing to pitch in and get "their hands dirty". In Britain and Europe, managers did not ever do practical work so they did not have practical knowledge.

Over the past few decades the USA has developed a "professional class of experts" that is out of touch with practical knowledge. This leads us to rack and ruin because the top bankers have never loaned anyone anything. They are theoretically trained in economics not banking so they ruined the financial industry.

The same is often true in counseling, religion and family life. Experts rely on fuzzy theories not practical life. For years such counselors recommended divorce to women who were frustrated with marriage. Then, the wrecks of millions of divorcees started showing up in their offices and those "experts" started to change their minds.


In the book "The Churching of America" social researchers Starke and Finke say that there is an inverse relationship between seminary graduation rates and church growth. Since the days of the American Revolution the churches with fewer seminary trained Ministers have out planted and out grown those with "experts" at the helm.

In the Seventies I started doing research for a Doctorate on the best ways to train Christians to care and counsel. Much to my surprise I discovered that lay persons (Peers) were as effective or more effective when compared with Professional "expert" Counselors.

The West seems to be hurdling toward making expertise and education even more central to education, business and especially medicine. The medicalization of all kinds of moods and attitudes is not good for the country and it is driving much of the current increase in medical costs. Counselors made a pact with the "expert model" when we started taking third party payments for our work. Those who pay the piper calls the tune so now we have to pretend that it is our expertise and theoretical education that make us better Counselors. That is a major part of the "Myth of the Expert".

One last point. When Universities started programs for Masters in Business Administration, companies started moving away for requiring managers to have common sense and knowledge of the businesses they were in. This was part of the growing "Myth of the Expert" and leads the USA down a road to bad management and a lack of understanding of the way companies and workers operate.

Unions bought into the "Myth" and started demanding that their members got better jobs based not on skill, understanding and abilities but on "seniority". The term "fairness" replaced the need for someone who really knew the business.

I know of churches that selected Senior Pastors on their ability as "Motivational Speakers". In some cases the person had never himself worked in a church and knew nothing about Sunday school, committee work, hospital visitation, etc. Just as the Chris Farley character on Saturday Night Live was a poor leader so were these men. They had no practical knowledge of how to manage a congregation.

You can buy Hope and Change for Humpty Dumpty at Author House.

NOTE: I am not anti education. I have several advanced degrees. The issue is having practical people and management skills along with the theoretical knowledge.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mentors, Coaches, Counselors and Disciple Makers

Authors Steve Griebling and Gary Sweeten

What is the difference among all these titles? According to the "Myth of the Expert" there is a lot of difference. However, according to research on influence and change over the past fifty years there is little difference.

On the side is a book Steve Griebling and I authored several years ago. I like most of the title but not all of it. I chose the title so I can't blame anyone else. I placed too much focus on that famous character in history Humpty Dumpty, who desperately and unsuccessfully needed healing.

The title works in some ways because Steve and I wanted Helpers, friends and therapists Peer and Professional that not even Humpty was hopeless. We also wanted to let compassionate, merciful people know that it is not necessary to be an expert to be helpful to people who need spiritual and emotional healing, growth and discovery.

The contents of our book focuses primarily on the relational aspects of facilitating positive changes. We do that because both Steve and I have been deeply involved as change agents. Both of us are Clinical Counselors with decades of experience as therapists in hospital and out patient settings. We worked with people with severed addictions, clinical depression, anxiety attacks, Bi-Polar issues as well as psychosis and other categories of diagnosis.

We both have also worked in church settings to recruit, train, organize and release Peer Helpers. These lay men and women served in diverse settings such as Pastoral Care, home visitations, support and recovery groups, Deacons and psycho-education prevention like premarital preparation. We also trained Bible teachers, evangelism visitors, managers, small group leaders and chaplains.

In all these settings we scoured research studies to see what was the most effective way to train Peers and Professionals to be the most effective Helpers. The answer is in our book. I will preview the answers in future posts.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Training Models

I am anything but an expert in blogging and blog layouts. However, I am experimenting with some new ideas and new ways to communicate with the world. Thus, the new look.

Some of my friends are advising me on better ways to get my teachings out. I admittedly have reams and reams of materials that have been taught around the world. I am trying to find easily transferable ways to make it available to those of you who are interested in developing better relationships with God, self and others.

Yesterday I went over to the Vineyard Community Church which is located on the northern edge of Cincinnati. VCC was founded by Steve and Janie Sjogren and currently led by Dave Workman. It is a wonderful group of people who have touched thousands of lives and brought faith, hope and love to hurting people around the world. VCC is co-sponsoring a medical mission trip to Belize partnering with John Kirby who heads outreach at Horizon Community Church.

Pastor Rich Femia and Dwelling Place Church are the spiritual covering for this trip and it is drawing men and women who want to make a real difference medically and spiritually in a very poor country. My job was to send the group off with prayer and encouragement. And, along with medicine and surgery the people in Belize need love, care and counsel to heal the invisible, inner wounds.

As the good news is preached and modeled around the world we need to find new ways to train new and old believers how to best live out a faith filled daily life. We are looking at expanding our Theology Into Practical Ministry training through videos, web pages and blogs as well as video interaction groups with technologies like Skype. For years we have been called to "He heals the broken in heart, and bind up their wounds."

There is a hunger among many Seasoned Believers for additional resources for our speciality, spiritual, emotional and relational growth. I am getting many requests now for Mentoring about ways to live more effectively at home, work, school and neighborhood. For example, how does a Christian boss treat his/her employees and establish a "Christian Community" that is sensitive to all faiths and points of view? How do we pray for a person with a chronic illness?

We do not have all the answers but we do have a lot of good questions and many years of experience. We are also well trained in the best ways to facilitate human growth and healing.

We need your input on ways we can be helpful and topics you would find interesting. You may comment on this blog and by sending me an e mail at

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Healthy Haiti Help

Mature Believers are people who care and who share. The fact that 40,000 American Believers were in in Ministry in Haiti before the earthquake proves this fact. Just think of it. That many people who go for short and long term missions among the poorest of the poor with food, clothing, love and education. They are valiantly trying to tip Haiti, the most dysfunctional nation in the Western Hemisphere, into something like long term functionality.

When governments give aid to a country like Haiti most of it goes to the corrupt leaders. The United Nations and the World Bank throw money at Africa, Haiti and other poor nations but it destroys the economically. I heard on CNN that about 80% of the GNP is from charity! Most of that goes to corrupt politicians.

When Christian ministries take our charitable gifts it goes to help the people. The link above will take you to a mission of mercy that is taking young kids out of slavery and giving them an opportunity to get an education and thus a real life. Check them out.

Discipleship, Training and Equipping the Saints

A few days ago I posted some thoughts on one of the Sweeten Life Board's priorities for one of our next great adventures. We are coming to the end of the powerful, life changing research on ways to best support families with disabled kids and we are gearing up for a new thrust as soon as we develop the actions steps necessary to carry out our research insights.

The USA and the world has a greater number of Christians today than ever before in history. And, many of these men and women has been Believers for a long time. This means they have been in churches, Bible study groups and discussions about faith, ministry and influence for hundreds of hours. "Why are we having such a small influence on culture, evangelism and our neighbors?"

As a teacher, coach with several degrees in education I have some ideas about the answer to that big question. Perhaps we have focused our Christian educational energies on making students more knowledgeable. Unfortunately we have not focused much time on preparing those students how to multiply themselves. There is a world of difference between being a good ball player and being a good coach.

Pete Rose was a great baseball player but he was not a very good baseball coach. No one had to teach Pete to slide headlong and to run as fast as he could to first base. He was a "natural" who assumed his players would do likewise.

Why are our best preachers not always good coaches of parents on child rearing, members on evangelism, leaders of small group, committee facilitation, etc? They are good at preaching not detailed processes.

Why are we such poor evangelists? Why do people think they are evangelizing when they simply shout Bible verses and slogans to people they assume to be unsaved? Preaching is the only model they ever see so they suppose that is the only model there is.

I wrote this on a comment in an earlier post: "After being in numerous discussions among Believers about "How best to evangelize" I am even more concerned about how we too often come across as a "pompous know it all". Have you ever seen a game of "biblical ping pong"? Where we engage in several mutually exclusive monologues consisting of out of context Bible verses that we think support our ill thought out point of view." I am in them a lot.

It struck me recently how we have failed to teach our Christians how to dialogue not just speak in monologues, slogans and Bible verses hurled like spears at another persons' ideas. I wrote a book on this topic called, "Listening for Heaven's Sake" and it has sold over 100,000 copies but I am not sure anyone knows how to apply its teachings very well. Lectures are not the best way to communicate and they rarely if ever lead to conversions. The publisher, Equipping Ministries International, has taken that book farther and currently teaches how listening is a means of evangelizing.

We at Sweeten Life Systems are going to redouble our efforts to train Mature Christians how to live daily with grace, mercy and positive influence. We need a good, easily accessed way to train Believers how to do more than intellectually assent to theology and apply God's truth to life. We call this, TIPS for Theology Into Practical Ministry. Theory into practice is required if we are to overcome the genuine barriers to personal ministry.

Stay tuned! If you are interested send me an email.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to Motivate Christians to Serve and Evangelize

Many of us use statistics in sermons, talks and papers. Sometimes we even use them in our blogs. Unfortunately we often mistakenly misuse the stats and give a wrong impression.

A wonderful article in the online version of Christianity Today explains the proper and improper uses of data and actually clears up some badly misinterpreted statistics from the past. For example, are Christian marriages breaking up as fast as marriages between atheists and other non believers? Are Christian youth leaving their churches at an alarming rate never to return? The article takes on these and other statistics that have frightened all of us.

The proper use of data can help us plan better and reach out more effectively. However, when we misuse data in an attempt to "motivate" Christians to do more evangelism or serve more it is wrong and harmful to out cause. I suggest that we try the methods of Jesus as revealed in Luke 10. He sent his disciples out two by two ahead of him into a lot of villages and towns. He told them to "Bless the people with peace."

It seems to me that encouraging peace is a better motivating factor than fear, anxiety and worry. And, Jesus encouraged His friends to go out with peace, confidence and love. As we can see from the last verses of Luke 10, His method really worked well.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Leadership Skills in Desperate Need

The Procter and Gamble Corporation has selected a new CEO. His name is Bob McDonald and he is a very interesting guy. P&G brings in something like $80 Billion Dollars annually. Think about that for a moment. That is a lot of money.

P&G employs about 130,000 persons who come from almost every nation on earth and now work all over the world. That is a huge number of people to pay, manage and care for. They have many, many products, each one competing against other great products. It is a constant, daily, weekly and monthly task to stay competitive and on top of their competitors.

How do they do it? Well, P&G is the most prolific marketing company in the world, but that is not nearly enough to stay competitive these days. The key is great people with great skills. What kind of person is needed to head such an enormous company?

Take a look at the article in the Cincinnati Enquirer about their new leader and get a sense of what skills they think the new leader had to have in order to take on such a big task. Then go back to my post on The Fruit of the Spirit and re-read what the Apostle Paul said about Christian leaders. (This story in Fortune also talks about Mr. McDonald.)

What about Church and Para Church Leadership? What do we need to compete with the world, the flesh and the devil?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Ministry in Russia and Ukraine

There is a YouTube video of "You Have Talent" from Ukraine of a remarkable young woman who does sand painting. It is very emotional and powerful representation of the German invasion of the USSR. Maybe it can assist you in better understanding the trauma of WWII in that region of the world.

I am reminded of a trip Art Gasch and I took to Moscow several years ago. Arthur has a magazine that reviews medical devices for doctors and hospitals. He was able to get a machine donate to our Russian friends that tells how much oxygen is in our blood. It was, as far as we know, the only machine of its kind in all of the former USSR for the common people.

The trauma and abuse the good people of that area have suffered left them with extreme cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The need for inner healing though love, renewed thinking and prayer is very high. Thankfully we have a team of well trained Christians who know how to facilitate God's loving presence.

During one of our training visits Steve Griebling and I were teaching the dynamics of uncovering the deep wounds behind PTSD. One of the young women opened up about her dysfunctional life and shared how the terrible inner wounds had left her unable to develop an healthy relationship with a man. Alexis, not her real name, was beautiful and well educated but could not bear to talk with a man of her age.

We taught the training group how to draw up a genogram with past traumas and dysfunctions and then how to open themselves to the healing power of a loving God. After several hours of teaching,listening and prayer Alexia had a huge load of shame and trauma lifted off her by the Holy Spirit. Thankfully she was not the only one who personally experienced God's healing love. When we minister in groups the Holy Spirit is able to touch every single one of us with faith, hope and love.

The entire team of ministry in Russia continues to grow in maturity at the same time they are facilitating the growth and healing of others. It is the key to healing that great nation because its people, especially the Christians, have suffered so much and so long.

Pray for our brothers and sisters in the former USSR. And, if God leads, send a donation to us for their continued ministry of love. See the web page for an online donation.

C/O Sweeten Life Systems

P.O. Box 498455

Cincinnati, Ohio 45249

How to be a Fruit Inspector at Church

I think it is ironic to see so many men's groups focus on "Accountability". Have you noticed that there are no women's groups that talk about ACCOUNTABILITY? Why?

There is something in the male DNA that longs to come across as macho. "I don't need your stinking kindness, kick me and knock me down a few times and I will get better." The joke in Singapore was, "The caning will continue until morale increases."
The Bible tells us to "Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so you will be healed" James 5: 16. So, we need "Confession Groups" and "Prayer Groups" and "Healing Groups" but do we need "Accountability Groups"? That smacks of criticism and parenting rather than receiving a confession and praying for God's forgiveness and healing.

I have been working with Clergy for many years. I have often asked them about confession to a wife, colleague or friend and I hear the same thing. "Confession? How do you do that? I confess to God but not to men. That is not necessary."

Then why did the Holy Spirit place that statement in the Bible?

The Holy Spirit inspects our fruit to see what needs to be changed. I am not the one who convicts others of sin and guilt. I am not the Holy Spirit. Just as a doctor does not "deliver a baby" but simply "catches her" as she is thrust from the womb, we can receive the confession and take the guilt to God for cleansing.

I don't believe that the term Accountability" is a great word to describe what God has in mind.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Research on Love

Faith, Hope and Love but the greatest is love. I CO 13:

What does it mean to be the greatest?

Growing Healthy Spiritual Fruit

The post above will explain more in depth about what we are doing. Use this Fruit Chart to assess your level of loving behavior today. Take the first Fruit of Peace and its opposite Anxiety. Use the scale of 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 with 0 as extremely Anxious and 10 as Complete Peace in Jesus.
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Grow in God's Love

A list of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit is found in Galatians 5:22ff. It is a way of seeing all the multiple dimensions of Love. Since Love is the greatest attribute of the Christian life, it is important for us to consider how to get more of it in our lives and how to show it in practical ways.

Many writers have explained the various kinds of Love. We know that God's Love is called agape in the Greek Bible. Agape is sometimes explained as "sacrificial love" or "servant love". One of my teachers said it is "Wanting, willing, feeling and doing the best for another person, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, with no expectation of anything in return. That is a long and complicated explanation but covers all the bases.

Many years ago the founders of America gave a town on the East Coast a name to inspire the citizens. The name means "brotherly love" and was intended to say, "This is a place dedicated to God's love and loving relationships among the people". Do you know the town that received that nice name? (see the end of the story.)

But the most popular use of Love often has nothing to do with sacrifice or commitment. The term Love to describe a strong liking for things. "I love chocolate" is often heard but that really means hunger and lust. And, when sex enters the scene the term gets all mixed up.

Maybe that is why St. Paul came up with a whole list of things that arises out of God's Love and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. The list in Galatians 5 includes the term Love but expands its meaning to include peace, gentleness, kindness, patience, joy, self control, etc. By doing this the Holy Spirit inspired writers of the Bible came up with ways to expand our awareness, understanding and self analysis. Whereas it gets awfully confusing to try to analyze our "Love Quotient" we can get a pretty good idea how we are progressing toward loving people when we check ourselves on a scale of self control and peace.

So, take a look at the chart above and use a scale of 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 with 0 as the worst of anyone you know and 10 as Jesus to assess how you are doing today on the various aspects of the Fruit. Think about your behavior with the family, friends, co-workers and strangers to get an idea about where you need to ask the Holy Spirit to nudge you forward a point or two.
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Thursday, January 07, 2010

A Model of Healthy Growing Churches

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There are few congregations that seem to understand what is necessary to build a church that actually transforms Unbelievers into Believers who are fairly functional and above average in mental, emotional, relational and physical health. In fact, it seems to me that there are few Christian leaders who even think such a thing is possible or even desirable. Otherwise there would be Ministers and Elders clamoring for someone to show them how to accomplish growth and healing.
The little image above is an attempt to draw interlocking and overlapping circles that show the major dimensions of church systems. Overall we can think of a church as being system of systems. Each system and sub system has different roles and different goals.
First the church is a Hospital for broken, wounded, fallen and falling Christians. A hospital means that the hurting people come to a place where there are well trained and loving people who will assist them in getting better. Every born again Christian has birth defects that can be healed but healing and growth requires a great deal of hard work, expertise and prayer.
Second, the church must be a school. Every other system depends upon the school system to train people who can carry out their jobs with insight, wisdom and skill.
A church is also an army that must be well trained to repel the enemy of our soul and occupy the Kingdom of God.
At the center of all is the family that provides new babies, care, love and nurture.
All there activities are ongoing and concurrent. When every part works together the congregation becomes a healing-growth community.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Why Are Churches so Dysfunctional?

There are several POSSIBLE answers to this question:

1. Churches are NOT dysfunctional; members are holy

2. It is due to bad preaching or short sermons or poor theology

3. The members are not willing to change by submitting to Christ

4. Sin is worse now than ever before

5. Sin is deep and change is difficult requiring God's direct interventions

6. Women refuse to submit to husbands

7. Husbands refuse to love and lead their wives

8. Parents refuse to disciplining their kids

9. I do not know and do not want to talk about it

10. All or most of the above

What do you think? Write me your answers.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Healthy Churches

I have been interested in developing healthy churches for a very long time. I have seen some slight movement toward facilitating health in a few congregations but frankly I am not sure health is a very high priority for most Christian leaders.

Developing healthy churches is dependent upon facilitating healthy interpersonal relationships in the staff, elders, deacons and members. The kids in Sunday school will not likely become good communicators and good at caring for each other is the Sunday school teachers do not model those things. And, even if the teachers are excellent at interpersonal relationships, when the kids go home to chaos, conflict unbridled and miscommunication exponentially growing, how can the kids live healthy lives?

The church is a system of systems; a family of families. It is the sum total of all the family systems that are congregating. Here is my definition of the goals of church members:

A desire to learn how to work out all the problems and conflicts they have not been able to work out on their own at home. Husbands and wives bring to a marriage all the un worked issues carried over from childhood. Those issues are poured into the congregation with the high expectation that God, the Minister and the Elders will help the people get well, healthy or at least better.

This sets us up for grave disappointments. So, when we set the Ministers up on a high pedestal of expectation, they have a very long way to fall when they cannot deliver. But no human can deliver healing so it is unfair to set the Ministers up that way. Yes, but it happens every Sunday.

So, what shall we do? Teach the skills of healing, growth and change to every single member. Teach personal responsibility and how long it takes to bring change. Teach about mercy and grace for self and others. Teach every member how to listen and listen and listen. Teach every member how to take every thought captive. Teach them how to stop all that Stinking Thinking.

Every member needs to be trained to rest in Christ and stop all the performance nonsense.

It is not easy but we can make some steps toward healthier living. Why wait? Start now!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Parenting with Personal and Marital Joy

My friend Linda Watson wrote this article almost 20 years ago. As I was about to leave my position at College Hill Presbyterian Church I had a special class for the staff and church leaders on "Developing Healthy Families" and Linda was in the class.

Her boys were "real boys" with high energy, sibling rivalry and keen insights about how to hassle their mom. Linda was a hard working, overly zealous mother who, like most young moms, wanted to have perfect, peaceful and kind kids. They saw to it that she was in a state of chronic worry because she was "failing" as a "good mother".

After hearing me teach and show role plays about family systems, Linda had an epiphany. "I am rewarding their fights. I must change me to influence them. I shall change my getting in the middle of their fights. WOW! That took courage as you shall see.

The Night I Stopped Being a Referee
Linda Watson

One of the roles I have played for years for my two boys is a referee. My boys are 2 & 1/2 years apart and they often fought other. A fight brought one of them running to me and I became the referee. I thought if only I could become a better referee and come up with just the right punishment, lecture or scripture verse to make them be good Christian brothers, the fighting would cease or at least get better. But it was getting worse as they got older. Joel was 10 and Ethan 8 at the time and I, who swore I would never scream at my kids, was reacting to the conflict as a screaming maniac.

One typical evening, I told the boys they had five minutes to get ready for bed and whoever was not ready with teeth brushed and pajamas on was getting a spanking. (One of my better referee tactics was to set a time limit so short they didn’t have time to fight.)

In a few seconds the screaming and fighting began. Ethan, the younger, came running and said, “Mom! Joel hit me in the stomach!.” I tried to respond by asking, “What did you do…” but Joel said, “Mom, he threw my pajamas across the room. Besides you always let him get by with more than me.” (There was a grain of truth in that accusation and I was stunned.)

My own anger escalated because I failed as a referee. However, I rather calmly said, “You have five minutes to get ready for bed. If you are not ready then you will be spanked. You have to make your own decisions about how you are going to treat each other. I am no longer going to referee your fights”.

They left the room and in a few minutes I heard the usual chaos. “Mom, Joel hit me.” Then, “Mom, Ethan hit me first.” I called back, “I want to remind you that you have exactly three minutes to get ready for bed. If you are not ready you will be spanked. I am not coming in there to referee so you can do whatever you want to each other.”

About three minutes later both came into my room. Ethan was very quiet but Joel fell down before me crying and started to beg me to be a referee again. “Mom, don’t do this please. Just go back to the way you were before.” (I said to myself, “Maybe I have hit on something good here. Is this what we have discussed in Gary Sweeten’s Family Class about how changes cause shock waves throughout the entire system? Is Joel just acting out to try to suck me back into my old patterns of refereeing?”)

When I said I would no longer referee I was unaware I was making such a big change in my pattern and the entire family system. I just needed to do something. I said it more out of desperation than anything else. I was unaware of the role I was playing and how I was getting caught into the triangle between the boys. To Joel I replied, “This is very interesting. Just a few minutes ago you were complaining how unfair I was as a referee. I gave you five minutes to do anything you want to Ethan without getting into trouble and you want me to go back to a referee.”

Joel began to cry loudly and say, “Please Mom; please! Don’t do this! Please just be the way you were. What if we hurt one another or kill one another?” I said, “I guess if you made that choice you would have to live with it wouldn’t you.” I was amazed at how calm I was. I did not yell or scream. I was not enmeshed with him! He was crying but I did not comprehend all the dynamics or why he was so upset but I simply said, “Joel, I am going to change. I will not be a referee any more. We will talk more when your father is home.”

Bill arrived a few minutes later but we didn’t have enough time or calmness with Joel’s weeping to get everything straightened out so Bill just said, “Hold it. Let’s go to bed now and talk tomorrow.”

It had been a good start but I was still pretty anxious. The next day the boys and I were talked in the car but the discussion was too brief for real insights. However, things were smoother. The real test came at supper. With Joel’s baseball game after school we had a tight schedule, just right for a big fight.

I served spaghetti for dinner, Joel said to Ethan, “Now that Mom will not referee we can do anything we like.” .He proceeded to fire a fork load of spaghetti at Ethan who smiled and loaded his fork. I said, “I think you have this all wrong. I need to redefine referee. Any food that lands on the table, floor or walls you will have to clean up.”

Ethan promptly picked up one of Joel’s carrot sticks and dunked it into his milk and Joel retaliated. “I said calmly, excuse me but the rule still applies that you must eat all your veggies.” Joel turned and started to say something belligerent when I said, “Another thing has not changed. You may not be disrespectful to me.”

Then we began to eat in silence. I was amazed at my new peace. Maybe they were not having fun but I sure was, but the calm did not last for long. Joel finished first and swatted Ethan on the head as he rose from the table. Ethan took his shoe off and reared back to fling it when I said, (With some anxiety) “Whatever the shoe hits you are responsible for.” Joel retorted, “Yes, and if I get hurt you will have to pay the doctor bills.”

That caused me to question myself. (“What if he gets hurt? What if…?) Will I be responsible for the bills? But before I could go much farther with the ‘What ifs’ Ethan broke in and said, “Mom, you are a Mom, right?” I said, “Yes. Ethan, I am a Mom.” Ethan continued, “Moms are supposed to be referees.” I smiled and said, “Ethan, I am not going to be a referee any more but I am still going to be your mother.”

We had to leave immediately to get to the game on time so I ran to get the car keys. I was really enjoying myself in this new role. But the good feelings did not last long before I heard Ethan screaming. “Oh, no” I thought. “Ethan is probably injured and how can I explain my non-refereeing stance to the ER when my children were trying to kill one another? And, who is responsible for the Doctors’ bills? “

At the bottom of the stairs Ethan was lying on the kitchen floor weeping profusely with loud groans. “I can’t walk, I am hurt bad. Joel kicked me in the leg with his baseball cleats!” My old referee habit immediately sprang into action and I yelled, “Joel! Come here immediately!” Then I saw him peeking around the door with a look that said, “Come on Mom. You can do it. You can be the referee again!”

That look brought me to my senses and I inspected Ethan’s badly bruised leg to find no marks at all. I calmly informed them that as soon as Ethan could walk we would go to the game. Joel complained loudly “I just knew we would be late for the game” but I refused to take the blame bait. Instead I said, “Joel, one of the consequences of choosing to hit your brother is being late to the game.” But, it seemed that Ethan was able to recover quickly so we were able to leave with no delay.

I tried to fill Bill in on these matters while watching the game but not much of the new developments were made clear or understood. I left for my evening commitment somewhat apprehensive that the boys would get out of hand. When I got home and asked Bill how things went he said, “It was fine. In fact, I also told the boys I am not going to be a referee either. To which Ethan replied: “I may run away from home.”

We went into their room to pray for the boys and I said, “Ethan, daddy says that you really don’t like us not being referees any more and you might run away. I want you to know that if you choose to run away I will really miss you.” Joel chose that moment to begin to cry and beg us to return to our old ways. “Please, please don’t do this,” he said. “I want be punished so I can be a good adult, We may kill each other if you don’t go back to what you were doing.”

With so much bombarding us we did not know where to start but we said that we have so many other choices and ways to manage conflict other than killing or hurting each other. There are other alternatives to channeling anger. We also wanted to address Joel’s idea that punishment would make him a good adult. That night we made a promise to ourselves that we would be parents instead of referees or police officials.


There are times when I tend to slip back into my referee mode but I am definitely having more fun as a parent when I play the game of life with my children rather than being on the sidelines with a whistle. So often I was ready to frantically blow the whistle in the midst of a fight but now I have changed. I discovered that being a referee is not much fun but I love being a MOM! Linda Watson 1989 revised 2007

Joel lives in Dayton and Ethan in Denver. During their high school years and to this day are best friends. Ethan was just married and Joel was the best man. Please let people know that if I had not been in your class I would have thought I had made a horrible mistake, especially when the boys did such a good job of trying to get me to take back my old role. I can’t emphasize enough how important it was for me to understand the dynamics that were going on when I made the second order change and the class affirmation that I had in fact done the right and healthy thing!! (Update from Linda, March 12, 07)

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