Great Stuff Found on the Web — Pastor Harrison on “Is the LCMS a Pseudo-Community?”

One of BJS’s faithful readers submitted this as something that would be useful to post. I know when I first read though It’s Time I missed reading this appendix. With some of the discussions going on here and around the web I thought the reader is right — it might be useful to re-read this part of Rev. Matt Harrison’s It’s Time document. This was originally published here.

Pastor Harrison speaking:

Here’s the “Appendix” I provided to “It’s Time.” Quotations are mostly from M. Scott Peck, The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), 86-87. For the full document (and documentation) visit

Pastor H.



Insights from M. Scott Peck on Community Building & the LCMS
(Is the LCMS a Pseudo-Community?)


MERELY FOLLOWING THE PROCESS which produced the Formula of Concord probably won’t get us too far, absent a little sanctified sociology. M. Scott Peck, the author of The Road Less Traveled, has also written extensively on the topic of community and community building, based on years of experience working with people and organizations. While there are significant aspects of his writing that I do not find particularly helpful and with which I disagree, he makes some very compelling observations on the sociology and pathologies of unhealthy communities and what it takes to change them. The LCMS, for all its great strengths and blessings, is in many respects an unhealthy community, and has been for decades. Unhealthy groups, Peck argues, generally find themselves in one of several stages of dysfunction. Peck’s analysis largely applies, I’m convinced, to the LCMS.

Let me just state up front, that like the community Paul addressed in Corinth, we are in fact the body of Christ, despite our warts. The church is “hidden under the cross” also in the LCMS. And despite all her weaknesses, the LCMS is still the best thing going. But by the grace of God, we can do much better at living this fellowship we have in Christ.

Stage 1: Pseudo-Community

“Honesty is the most important trait in life. If you can fake that, you have it made.”

“The first response of a group in seeking to form a community is most often to try to fake it. The members attempt to be an instant community by being extremely pleasant with one another and avoiding all disagreement. This attempt—this pretense of community—is what I term ‘pseudo-community.’ It never works.” “Pseudo-community is conflict-avoiding; true community is conflict-resolving.” “What is diagnostic of pseudo-community is the minimization, the lack of acknowledgement, or the ignoring of individual differences. Nice people are so accustomed to being well-mannered that they are able to deploy their good manners without even thinking about what they are doing. In pseudo-community it is as if every individual member is operating according to the same book of etiquette. The rules of this book are: Don’t do or say anything that might offend someone else; if someone does or says something that offends, annoys, or irritates you, act as if nothing has happened and pretend you are not bothered in the least; and if some form of disagreement should show signs of appearing, change the subject as quickly and smoothly as possible—rules that any good hostess knows. It is easy to see how these rules make for a smoothly functioning group. But they also crush individuality, intimacy, and honesty, and the longer it lasts, the duller it gets.”

“The basic pretense of pseudo-community is the denial of individual differences. The members pretend—act as if—they all have the same belief. . . . One of the characteristics of pseudo-community is that people tend to speak in generalities.” “Once individual differences are not only allowed but encouraged to surface in some such way, the group almost immediately moves to the second stage of community development: chaos.”

Stage 2: Chaos

“We started off trying to set up a small anarchist community, but people wouldn’t follow the rules.”

“The chaos always centers around well-intentioned but misguided attempts to heal and convert.” “By and large, people resist change. So the healers and converters try harder to heal or convert, until finally their victims get their backs up and start trying to heal the healers and convert the converters. It is indeed chaos. Chaos is not just a state, it is an essential part of the process of community development. Consequently, unlike pseudo-community, it does not simply go away as soon as the group becomes aware of it. After a period of chaos, when I remark, ‘We don’t seem to be doing very well at community, do we?’ someone will reply, ‘No, and it’s because of this.’ ‘No, it’s because of that,’ someone else will say. And so we are off again. In the stage of chaos individual differences are, unlike those in pseudo-community, right out in the open. Only now, instead of trying to hide or ignore them, the group is attempting to obliterate them. Underlying the attempts to heal and convert is not so much the motive of love as the motive to make everyone normal—and the motive to win, as the members fight over whose norm might prevail.” [This precisely describes life at the national intersection of the LCMS.]

“Frequently, fully developed communities will be required to fight and struggle. Only they have learned to do so effectively. The struggle during chaos is chaotic. It is not merely noisy, it is uncreative, unconstructive. The disagreement that arises from time to time in a genuine community is loving and respectful and usually remarkably quiet—even peaceful—as the members work hard to listen to each other….Not so in chaos. If anything, chaos, like pseudo-community, is boring, as the members continually swat at each other to little or no effect. It has no grace or rhythm. Indeed, the predominant feeling an observer is likely to have in response to a group in the chaotic stage of development is despair. The struggle is going nowhere, accomplishing nothing. It is no fun.”

“Since chaos is unpleasant, it is common for the members of a group in this stage to attack not only each other but also their leader. ‘We wouldn’t be squabbling like this if we had effective leadership,’ they will say. . . . In some sense they are quite correct; their chaos is a natural response to a relative lack of direction. The chaos could easily be circumvented by an authoritarian leader who assigned them specific tasks and goals. The only problem is that a group led by [such a figure] is not, and never can be, a community. . . . In response to this perceived vacuum of leadership during the chaotic stage of community development, it is common for one or more members of the group to attempt to replace the designated leader. . . .”

Then, says Peck, what is proposed, “one way or another, is virtually always an ‘escape into organization.’ [Note the non-stop, decades-long attempts; note all the special task forces on structure which have proposed this or that constitutional and bylaw change.] It is true that organizing is a solution to chaos . . . But an organization is able to nurture a measure of community within itself only to the extent that it is willing to risk or tolerate a certain lack of structure. As long as the goal is community-building, organization as an attempted solution to chaos is an unworkable solution.”

“The proper resolution of chaos is not easy. Because it is both unproductive and unpleasant, it may seem that the group has degenerated from pseudo-community into lighted with it. The disagreement was quite vocal, and the membership was in real pain over the schism. Yet in their outspokenness, their open suffering, and their commitment to hang in there as they struggled with each other I sensed a great deal of vitality. I was hardly able to suggest any immediate solution. . . . ‘Your chaos,’ I explained to them, ‘is preferable to pseudo-community. You are not a healthy community, but you are able to confront the issues openly. Fighting is far better than pretending you are not divided. It’s painful, but it’s a beginning. You are aware that you need to move beyond your warring factions, and that’s infinitely more hopeful than if you felt you didn’t need to move at all.'”

Stage 3: Emptiness

“I feel so miserable without you, it’s almost like having you here.”

“‘There are only two ways out of chaos,’ I will explain to a group after it has spent a sufficient period of time squabbling and getting nowhere. ‘One is into organization—but organization is never community. The other way is into and through emptiness.'” “More often than not the group will simply ignore me and go on squabbling. Then after another while I will say, ‘I suggested to you that the only way from chaos to community is into and through emptiness. But apparently you were not terribly interested in my suggestion.’ More squabbling, but finally a member will ask with a note of annoyance, ‘Well, what is this emptiness stuff anyway?’ . . . Emptiness is the hard part. It is also the most crucial stage of community development. It is the bridge between chaos and community. When the members of a group finally ask me to explain what I mean by emptiness, I tell them simply that they need to empty themselves of barriers to communication. And I am able to use their behavior during chaos to point out to them specific things— feelings, assumptions, ideas, and motives—that have so” filled their minds as to make them impervious as billiard balls. . . .” Peck asserts that among those things which members of an unhealthy community need to “empty themselves,” are:

  • Expectations and Preconceptions—”false expectations of what the experience will be like.” “We…try to make the experience [of talking to each other] conform to our expectations. . . . Until such time as we can empty ourselves of expectations and stop trying to fit others and our relationships with them into a preconceived mold, we cannot really listen, hear, or experience.” [Thus: ‘They will never change.’ Or, ‘We will never have unity in the LCMS on this or that issue.’]
  • Prejudices—which takes time! [Very often have we not simply pre-judged that “they” can’t and won’t hear the Word of God? We have done this for so long that we cannot listen to, or even hear each other.]
  • The Need to Control—”I am constantly tempted to do things—manipulations or maneuvers—that will ensure the desired outcome. But the desired outcome—community—cannot be achieved by an authoritarian leader who calls the shots. It must be a creation of the group as a whole. . . . The need for control—to ensure the desired outcome—is at least partially rooted in the fear of failure.”

Peck’s analysis of the impediments to the building of a healthy community are remarkably applicable to the LCMS, and at several levels. This is simply good sociology (a good, created gift of God when used in subjection to the Word of God).

Bob Kuhn once told me just after an LCMS convention, “Enjoy this year because the second year after the convention will be much worse, and the year before the next convention is always terrible.” Why? The LCMS pseudo-community mode of polite avoidance of the real and troubling issues predominates the institutional life of the Synod, while hardball politicking pervades the “back room” life of the institution. What Peck describes as “chaos” peaks, leading up to and through the LCMS convention. The “opposition” complains to high heaven about increased “powers” of the Synod president and bureaucracy, only to run right to “organization” (the “bylaws”) to maintain control and bring about “unity,” or rather, “pseudo-unity” if elected. Then the process repeats itself. But after a half century it has become intolerably “boring” and unhealthy. It’s never going to unite. Many (on opposite sides of issues) have fallen into “despair” regarding the “Synod.” Perhaps we are inching forward to the point of recognizing that this perennial/triennial vacillation between pseudo-community and chaos is as futile as it is unhealthy.

The road to what Peck calls “emptiness” will only come with repentance. And community among us will only be healthy, will only reflect the true “koinonia” (which is a gift, and ours despite ourselves), when it reflects the community of Acts 2:42, “And they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the fellowship [community], the breaking of bread, and the prayers.”

Kyrie eleison . . .

Rev Matt Harrison

For more information read It’s Time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.