parent vs. child vs. adult

Two weeks ago, driving in my car with another pastor and a homeless guy who really really smelled like weed, I got pulled over at 11:30 PM in one of the wealthy suburbs of Austin that shall remain nameless. Out of that wonderful experience, I got a speeding ticket and out of that experience I got to take a driver’s safety course.

But all is not lost. I learned something.

Since I suppose I need to give them  credit, Driver Training Associates, Inc. taught me a good psychology lesson about how people operate in general life – but it also has some good thoughts about how they operate in the Church (although I should note that it appears DTA swiped it from a guy named Eric Berne). So I figured I’d show you I learned something and share what those lessons were.

At it’s most basic level, the idea is this:

All people have three ways of thinking – Parent, Child and Adult.

  • Parent: This state of mind is defined by “shoulds” and “oughts”. It thinks in terms of black and white lines as defined by the individual. It has lots of absolutes built in that derive from things we had engrained in us in our growing up years. Both conscious and subconscious values play into this state of mind. It tends to come out when we think someone is operating outside of what we perceive to be “the box”.While the driving application of this state of mind is that we can’t control what other people do, even those who are incorrect or morally reprehensible, the Church application of the Parent should be pretty obvious from what I said above. It consists of people imposing their own conscious and subconscious values into personal interactions, interpretation of Scripture, rules about who can do what when in the life of a church and who gets the final word at every level. In our Parent state, we’re liable to quickly draw battle lines, demean others (because they just don’t see it correctly – if they just knew what we know!) and shout ultimatums based on our own belief that our ideas are superior to those of others.
  • Child: The Child state of mind is about what you’d expect: seeing everything through the lens of how it affects you and you alone. I like to reference this in my messages as the eternal teenage mind. Some people never lose the self-centeredness of childhood that seeks to protect ourselves at all costs, interpret all things according to how they affect us and, ultimately, create an idol of one’s self or one’s family.In driving, this amounts to wanting your own way – making decisions that value your own time, cost and safety over that of all the other drivers on the road. In churches, its the core of the problem with the Church in the West right now – church shopping, valuing people’s preferences over God and the lost, once-a-month attendance and the complete breakdown of accountability.
  • Adult: This state of mind is the preferable one. In a sense, it could be what you graduate to when you shed the subconscious overpowering of your environments – both parental- and self-originating. As Bern’s theory states: “Parent is the TAUGHT concept of life, Child is the FELT concept of life and Adult is the THOUGHT concept of life.” Again, this syncs with a lot of my stuff – the only guaranteed way to screw up your life is to not think about it. Some people very rarely spend time in this state of mind.Apparently, since I’m taking this course, I shouldn’t comment on what this means for driving. But I think the long and short of it is that you shouldn’t cut people off and you should think about how your driving affects others. In the Church, I think it’s obvious that this is what leaders should be made of. And sometimes they are, but many times they’re not. I think a leader in the Church who acts in the Adult state of mind is one who chooses what is best over what is easiest or most convenient, a leader who places the Christ & His Kingdom above all else, a leader who gratefully knows his/her place in the hierarchy of the Kingdom and a leader who is never ever known as one who is a coward for the Gospel (a la Revelation 21).

The major thing to recognize at this point is that both Parent and Child states of mind are rooted not moving past our environmental influences to think logically for ourselves. I would argue that almost nobody can do that on their own or with people who have things to lose by informing them of those things. Alternatively put, strong Christian leaders, who operate in the Adult state of mind, are those who regularly and aggressively seek out accountability, mentoring and objective feedback on how they lead. Receiving that with humility and knowing how to fix it are where giftedness come in.

And I think the Church has bought in to “keeping people in the dark” through a a lack of honesty and substituting cultural values for spiritual values. The real problem with that is that it reveals a lack of trust in God’s control of this “situation”, the Holy Spirit’s ability to reign in craziness, the ability of individual believers to make God-honoring decisions and a fear that, in fact, the Gospel will not return void.

Finally, DTA recommends this model as a pathway to being “defensive” in your driving – always worrying about the worst possible scenario and assuming everyone else on the road will do something stupid.

Sadly, I think a lot of us are defensive members or leaders of the Church.

But that’s not who we’re made to be – it’s not who we’re called to be. Refer back to Revelation 21, which I just taught on this past weekend. He who is on the throne sends a group to the lake of fire – murderers, liars, the sexually immoral……and cowards. II Timonthy 1:7: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

Want to know more? Drive faster.