Just Watching By Charlie

From the Archives of Just Watching By Charlie:


For most of my professional career attending conferences of all sorts was a rich source for not only new information, ideas and insights but for great stories.  There was always someone who had a new one to tell either in the sessions or after them.  So, it came as somewhat of a shock some years ago to realize upon returning home after a conference that while I was heavy with new data from excellent presenters I had picked up no new stories. While plenty were told  I had heard them all before.  None new.  Nada.

I have since had a similar experience in another part of my world.   I read a lot.  I wander (and wonder) through a lot  of websites and I am flooded with postings.  It’s increasingly the case that little that shows up is new.  A refurbished insight into something that is actually quite old; a barnacled bit of wisdom — repackaged; an alliterated “new” version of one of Les Stroh’s timeless truths.  Yes.  All of that.  But nothing of that is really new.  Hm-m-m-m. 

Then it dawned on me: long time attentive and conscientious readers, listener and watchers has pretty much “seen/heard it all”.  Possible?  Yes.  Even  probable.  

Years and years ago while taking a summer course in writing at Wichita U the prof told us that there are only eight basic story lines in literature with each having four variations.  And — surprise! —  all of them are in the Bible.  Maybe  the number is six rather than eight but the point is the same.  There’s not much that is actually new.  Shakespeare was right “A rose by any other name….”

The truth is we don’t really need a lot of new.  What we need is to dust off and do all kinds of good old things that ought be retried or, maybe even tried for a first time.  We can all use something like  baseball’s Spring training which comes around every February.  What do they do there?  Major league managers drill their teams on hit-run-field-throw basics. Why?  The team that does them best throughout the year will probably be in the World Series  — and likely win. 

It’s no different with pastors, teachers, leaders and parents.  We don’t need a lot of new.  We need to learn and keep relearning the old basics.  And when it comes to basics there’s nothing that fits that bill better than reviewing how task and relationship dove tail when we put what we have reviewed into practice.


To show some of what I mean, at one time I was interviewed the then Family Life Ministry of the LCMS — or whatever it was called.  It took place in a room with five or six 3×8 tables along the walls on which all the publications and tracts that had been written and published by that ministry in the recent past were displayed.  The question I was asked? “Where would your priorities for the future of the family life ministry lie?”  

I said, “I’d go out into congregations and do whatever I could to organize family life committees but would print no more tracts and pamphlets until the ones we have in such abundance were in the hands of those who would use them.”

There was a long silence.  Then the chairman of the group cleared his throat and said, “I don’t think you understand what this group needs to do.”  He was right.  I was dumb.  I should have known the true nature of the position given that the meeting was held in the publishing house which also happened to print all those tracts and publications.  Writing and printing was the name of the game — not using.

Bottom line?  I wasn’t selected.  No surprise.  There is no family life ministry, as such, in that church body today.  No surprise.  All of which leads me to the importance of  understanding task and relationships.  I didn’t understand their idea of task.  They shared with me no sense of how I saw relationships.


Anytime a family or church council or parish or classroom tries to be what they say they are (an active church, an effective family, an efficient team, a learning environment) they deal with task and relationship.  Both.  Simultaneously.

Implicit in church/class/council/family is the recognition that in order for any of them be functional there must be a group.  The simplest and also oldest definition of a real group is:

“Two or more people with a common purpose.”

The key components of that definition are two or more people and common purpose.  Omit either and what’s left is a dysfunctional group.  Or congregation.  Or church council. Or classroom. Or family.  There sure are a lot of all those!

Task is what a group is trying to do.  Relationship is how they connect while doing it.  If the group is overly intent on task they are like galley slaves or on a chain gang.   If they are primarily into relationships they are having a cocktail party or family picnic.

The pastor, the father/mother, the teacher, the church leader must always be about building the group plus keeping it on a life target.  

One clue to how well the group is doing are the pronouns the leader and the led use.  Too much I/me/mine and there is no group.  Group words are we/our/us.  Listen for them.  Look for them in the group’s actions.

Don’t wait for a group disaster to happen, or your Titanic to sink.  Be concerned about tasks and relationships now.  Do most of the group share a common purpose, which usually means have they had a hand in shaping it?  Listen for it and the our/we/us that tells you it exists.  Is the common purpose something about which you can be and are properly proud? 

If you lack good answers to those two questions, park your bus.  Driving on will guarantee either a humongous accident or the  discovery of what Dead End means.  Neither is a blessing or necessary.  Congregation.  School.  Council/committee.  Family.  All need someone to be take care of the group task and relationships.  You?  If not you, who?  


I report from time to time about where I am on life’s road.  I’m moving right along and so are you.  It’s just that we aren’t at the same spot.  I am not moving toward most of you.  I’ve been there and done that.  But almost all of you are coming my way.  From where I now sit I’d like to offer advance notice of something that is inevitable in life: identifying and accepting what are known as new normals.  I was helped in understanding that term by Mike Walker.

Mike Walker as a young man was diabetic and in time lost sight in one eye.  A little later he began losing sight in his other eye. Many surgical procedures later he was faced with a very “iffy” operation that might improve his vision somewhat, but it could also lead to total blindness.  His physician asked whether he could accept his present marginal visual condition as his “new normal”, or did he want to risk further surgery.    Pray for and with him. 

Mike is not the only one faced with a “new normal”.  They are often attached to choice.  When a person  marries they enter a new normal phase of life.  Another forms when a child is born and a family begins.  It’s the time of a new normal.  As the years pass we all face a succession of social and physical new normals including a discover that “new normals” aren’t new.  They are  just normal.  The widow or widower as well all retirees or people whose economic circumstance changes all have to decide whether they can face their new normal.  

One of the group goals of  congregations/schools/councils/families while working through task/relationship matters must be learning how to recognize the “new normals” as they come while accepting them for what they are.  The Bible can help you do that.

While the primary purpose of Scripture is outlining God’s plan for our salvation it also shows how God blessed His people along their way as they worked at both task and relationships in the face of almost the new normals.  It’s important you know that.  As you deal with the new normals that are such a part of life you’ve got plenty of help from Him and through Him. 

More on all that in issues to come.  There’s so much He would have us know.