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Group Dynamics
Insight from a supporter of BALM who would prefer to remain anonymous


When emotions are running high, out of all proportion to what one might imagine the events, decisions and so on one is involved in would demand, one can be certain there are other things going on. We have seen time and again in the history of human beings persons or a group of persons being scapegoated. The events that we know as the Holocaust come to mind and the deaths of 6 million Jews are remembered. Alongside them we should not forget the hundreds and thousands of socialists, homosexuals and people with learning difficulties who were also victims of the so-called "final solution". That evil can affect the minds and actions of ordinary people should not come as a surprise to those who have a concern for good and evil. That this evil can be turned on to religious leaders should not come as a surprise either, especially to Christians!

To suggest that Group Dynamics are at work where a minister is being bullied does not excuse what is going on. "Oh, Group Dynamics, I see! Carry on persecuting!" It does, however, give us clues as to what is, or might be, going on. Knowing what is going on gives one the opportunity of responding appropriately.


Blame the Vicar

When things go wrong it's rather tame
To find we are ourselves to blame,
It gets the trouble over quicker
To go and blame things on the Vicar.

John Betjeman's moralistic poem recounts the coming and going of clergy people in a twentieth century parish where the living was not worth more than £6 per week. One was too "Low", another too "High". It ends:-

So now he's left and they're alone
Without a Vicar of their own.
The living's been amalgamated
With one next door they've always hated.

Clergy in that parish were required to be well dressed, to be a teetotaller, never swear, keep the vicarage and garden neat and tidy, organise village fetes, give lifts in his car, to be a conciliator etc. Most clergy can manage some or all of these, sometimes, at least, but what few can manage is "never saying what they think" or being insincere. The most telling couplet of the whole poem is:-

The Vicar should be all pretence
And never, never give offence.

One is reminded of the man who said, "What profit it is to anyone if they gain the whole world and lose their soul"!



Bruce Reed, in his 1978 book The Dynamics of Religion, quotes W.R. Bion's theories about group behaviour. Where the basic assumption of a group is that of dependence, i.e. the belief that they have access to a person who is able to fulfil all their needs without them having to do anything, they will go to considerable lengths to maintain this fallacy. However, Reed warns, "If he insists on his fallibility, or when evidence for this becomes too great to be ignored, the group disposes of him abruptly". Members of the BALM community will be able to tell what "being got rid of abruptly" feels like when one is tied to a ministerial post.



Fight-Flight is, according to Bion, another basic assumption that fuels the emotional life of a group. "People, ideas, and institutions" identified as threats to the group "are mercilessly divested of power and demolished" writes Reed. A leader "with paranoid tendencies, who is constitutionally prone to identify enemies" is selected by the group "to lead the search and destroy operation". From fight the group swiftly turns to flight. The flight element is seen in the increase in lateness, absenteeism and threats of resignation.


What to do?

It is easy to write, "When you are in a hole stop digging!"
Fear gnaws at you. Work harder, that must be the way out!


It is very easy to be drawn into "the reality" as the opposition sees it.
It is true, your natural honesty and humility confirms it, you are not the perfect minister but for heaven's sake and your own recognise you are the one, for better or for worse, whom God has brought to your particular situation.


Someone who will help you be real and love yourself as least as much as you love your neighbour. Most usefully they will be someone who understands the situation you are in and can help you plan your response.
Do you have a "Professional Supervisor", "Soul Friend", "Confessor", or someone else you can trust? Find someone who is wise. Experience suggests that even if your "line managers" are sympathetic they may not be the most helpful people to advise.

If you have any suggestions to help people in finding someone they can trust then contact us at the e-mail address shown on our home page.


Need somewhere to go? See our Links to Other Websites and Organisations.

Or if you have any suggestions of places where ministers can go for a supportive break, contact us at the e-mail address shown on our home page.

Where next?

BALM Home Page
Introducing the Founders of BALM
How to Support a Bullied Minister
What Not to Say to a Bullied Minister
How Bullying has Affected Me
Bullying and Spirituality
Group Dynamics
Links to Other Websites and Organisations
Book List
Counselling with Care
Bullied in Ministry
Bullying in the Church
Bullying and Burnout
Submission on Clergy Stress
Media Requests
Additional Resources on Church Abuse