August 24, 2012

Magical Thinking

Do you remember the TV show Bewitched

Samantha, a witch played by Elizabeth Montgomery was married to a mere mortal Darrin Stephens, played by Dick York and later Dick Sergeant. Remember the way Samantha would twinkle her nose and all would be well to every embarrassing or uncomfortable situation. Samantha converted magical thinking to produce her desired states through her magical powers. 

Samantha was not a dreamer or visionary. Dreamers and visionaries are active in their communities. Samantha was a magical thinker with her passive hopes magically delivered with no effort but the twinkle of her nose. 

Vital congregations flourish with the contributions of dreamers and visionaries! At the same time magical thinking propels congregations into irreversible decline.

What were the characteristics of Samantha’s magical thinking?

Samantha’s desired states were always less inconvenient and less uncomfortable than the reality of the circumstances that Samantha was trying to change. Through Samantha's magical thinking she was able to control the outcomes by virtue of her magical powers. Due to Samantha’s magical power she never had to make any changes in her life. 
What are the characteristics of congregational magical thinking?

Consider this: For over a decade, a congregation experienced a steady decline in members and pledges with increasing deferred maintenance. The majority of the members of this church in decline kept waiting for former members to return. These former members had left several years before and joined an Episcopal church across town. Other than waiting for their former members to come back, this church had no plans for vitality and viability. They just kept waiting.

Magical thinking flourishes when we keep trying to do the same thing without substantial change in our desired results. Like Samantha we all face circumstances that we would like to change with a twinkle of our nose. Often members of a church in decline are easily lulled into magical thinking. When churches experience an unchangeable pattern for a number of years magical thinking might be at play.

Magical thinking in congregations can evolve into more honest self-assessments with the potential to transparently open up congregational realities and real life-giving possibilities. A congregation might make a list of its dreams and visions that came true. Then the congregation could make a list of examples of magical thinking where passive waiting led to no results. The vestry could discuss their felt differences and experiences they had with Spirit-led dreams and visions versus magical thinking.

Congregational leaders might ask: Is the frequency of magical thinking normal or has magical thinking taken over leaving behind the Spirit’s inspired visions and dreams?

Magical thinking leads to stagnant, dying without hope of any change.

Visions and dreams that are Spirit led give life through death and into resurrection.