This section is distinct from the other portions of the Creating Effective Care Teams series. This section is not about a “type” of care team to create, but a “dynamic” within a care team to avoid. It is possible to care in ways that do not lead to the flourishing of the person being cared for.
What You’re After
A care team is created when someone is overwhelmed. Their ability to do the things that health and holiness require are impeded by the emotional, relational, and logistical obstacles in their life. For a period of time, the care team offers support to alleviate these obstacles so that progress towards health and holiness can be made.
With these things in mind, you can see the two things that a care team are trying to restore. Alleviating obstacles is a means to an end. The larger objective is to restore two things:
- Restore Agency – “Agency” is the sense that you can make influential choices to improve your life. When we’re overwhelmed, we think, “Nothing I do is going to make a difference,” or we have a hard time identifying what would be beneficial. A care team should always make sure that choices-of-consequence are made by the person being cared for. It is their life. They will endure the consequences (good or bad). They need to make the choices. The care team advises and supports.
- Restore Voice – “Voice” is the sense that what I say will be honored. Many crises, especially those involving emotional dominance or relational control, involve the loss of voice. This objective will be most relevant in crisis care teams with resistance and further reveals why care teams should always take time to listen. “What are you feeling? What is harder? What is better? What is most important to you in this situation?” are questions that restore voice. If the answers to these questions perpetuate the crisis, then the next question should be, “Will that move you closer to or further away from where you’re trying to go?” instead of muting their voice by telling them what they ought to do.
If these two points are the positive summary of what we are trying to accomplish, it can be helpful to flip the question: “What prevents from accomplishing these two things from happening?”
10 Keys to Avoid Enabling
- Avoid the rescuer mentality. When you begin to bear the weight of responsibility for someone else’s life, unwise decisions always follow. Your role is to come alongside your friend to do what is within your power to assist them; not rescue them from things outside your control. Feeling overwhelmed because you can’t make “everything better” is an indicator you’ve embraced a rescuer mentality. Taking satisfaction in the reality that your friend’s life is more manageable with your presence than it would be without your presence, reveals you have accepted the limits of your role.
- Do not replace the legal system. If something illegal happens, either to or by the person you are helping, your first responsibility is to report that to the appropriate legal authority. The church is called to submit to and assist with the implementation of the laws of the government over us (Rom. 13:1-7). Calling the appropriate authorities when needed is not a sign that you have given up on or are trying to punish someone. It is a sign that you recognize when someone with more jurisdictional authority than a friend is needed to remedy, assess, or de-escalate a situation.
- Know your role within the church. The call to be “all things to all people” (I Cor. 9:22) is given to the church as a whole and not any one individual or group within a church. Trying to “be the church” rather than effectively play your role within the church will result in personal burnout and people getting hurt. This packet on creating effective care teams has emphasized the complementing roles that care teams, pastors, and other professionals play in caring for your friend.
- Never do what someone can/should do for themselves. This is the tell-tale sign that caring is becoming enabling. If a task is hard or confusing, then find a way to help (i.e., discuss, clarify, vet options, go with, research, encourage, remove obstacles, etc…) without replacing the effort of your friend. Your friend should feel empowered, not replaced, when they talk with you.
- Create “halfway” steps. Creating a clear halfway step is a way to ensure your friend is willing to be a good steward of your kindness. A question to help you find a halfway step is, “What would my friend have to begin to do in order for my kindness not to evaporate in life’s stress?” This principle ensures that your kindness leads your friend to freedom instead of a new, unhealthy dependence upon you or the care team. The longer you are involved the more these halfway steps should move towards their independence.
- Model a healthy life and relationship. Making exceptions to “healthy” is what gets most people into a crisis. Modeling how to deal with difficult situations without violating the basic principles of “healthy” is often as important as any of the assistance you provide. Model kind of choices you are inviting your friend to make. If your friend gets upset with you for articulating your limits, they are beginning to feel entitled to your time and care. This is a sign that an unhealthy reliance is emerging.
- Know your physical, emotional, and financial limits. Creating a second crisis does not help the first one. Scripture calls us to be generous “as we are able” (Deut. 16:17). When we go beyond this, we model a reactive approach to crises that fails to disciple those we are helping in how to make wise decisions in hard times. Within the care team, you should ask one another, “How are you doing physically and emotionally with all that is going on?” Each member of the care team needs the other members of the care team in order to fulfill their role well.
- Never allow “team splitting” to occur. Talking negatively of one person in order to affirm and get more from another should be directly and immediately confronted as wrong. It is a form of manipulation disguised as a compliment and tries to get one party to do more because another is doing less. Everyone on the care team is a volunteer, helping based on concern for the friend in need. Team splitting and triangulation creates mistrust, division, and exhaustion within a care team.
- Do not allow yourself to be motivated-manipulated by guilt. Guilt is motivational junk food; it gives short boosts of energy followed by long periods of fatigue. When you feel yourself being motivated by guilt (internally or externally) talk with your fellow care team members and the pastor overseeing your care team. Allowing a guilt-motivation to persist is a recipe for burnout and resentment for having served on the care team. Discussing this experience early is key to alleviating this dynamic.
- If you’re not sure, ask the care team leader or pastor overseeing your care team. Helping never means having all the answers, or even always knowing the next question to ask. The freedom to say, “I’m confused,” is immensely liberating. When you feel stuck or trapped in a helping situation, ask for help. This is allowing the church to be the Body of Christ to you as you strive to be part of the Body of Christ for your friend.
These ten actions are essential to avoid exhaustion-abandonment dynamic; that this, where a care team gets involved to the point of exhaustion, becomes exasperated with their friend for being over-reliant, and then abandons their friend because they’ve “had enough and cant’ take anymore.” Consider these ten points the flashing light on the car dash that prevents your care team from winding up in this dynamic.
Caring is good. Caring is also hard. As a pastor, when you are forming a crisis care team or crisis care team with resistance, give them the material from this reflection as a way to prepare them for the predictable challenges they may face (there are enough unpredictable ones). This will invite them to reach out to you when caring is heavy and provide words to help facilitate the conversation.