Book of the Quarter: Family Systems and Congregational Life

Family Systems and Congregational Life: A Map for Ministry, by R. Robert Creech, © 2019 by R. Robert Creech, Baker Academic Grand Rapids

Robert Creech describes a leadership theory that says a person best leads by improving self more than making others do the right thing.

You can view and buy this book on Amazon: Family Systems and Congregational Life: #ad A Map for Ministry

“Mustard Seeds” I highlighted as I read this book:

Bowen theory became for me a map, a way of thinking about myself and about how relationships worked. That map, when I managed to follow it, helped me find my way through the twists and turns of each new part of the exciting, treacherous, and rewarding territory of human relationships (page 5, 6, Kindle Edition).

Anxiety rises in the face of fears for survival, and yet these struggling and likely apprehensive congregations are often the first stop for a young seminary student starting out in ministry. The pastor’s survival may depend more on the ability to understand emotional systems than on skilled exegesis or preaching. These parts of the future are predictable. Those who lead congregations will require a way of thinking that helps them keep their heads amid the swirl of reactivity, anxiety, and fear such changes inevitably generate (page 9, Kindle Edition).

A systems perspective offers both good and bad news. The bad news is that if anything chronic is occurring in a system in which I participate, I play some part in keeping the symptom in place. The bad news is that I cannot place blame on others. The good news is that if anything chronic is occurring in a system in which I participate, I can make changes in the part I play that will have some impact on the system. I am not simply a victim of others’ behaviors (page 16, Kindle Edition).

The multigenerational transmission process accounts for the reality that within the same family, over generations, some branches of the family seem to function better than others. Marriages are more stable, couples reproduce without difficulty, individuals function successfully in life (acquiring an education, for example, or making contributions through their work or gifts), and people remain relatively healthy. Other branches, however, seem to face more than their share of life’s problems. How might we understand that? (page 24, Kindle Edition).

We choose our leaders to help us move to what we describe as a preferred future, but below the level of consciousness, we whisper, “I will do everything I can to prevent you from succeeding” (page 36, Kindle Edition).

Bowen described a family leader as one “with the courage to define self, who is as invested in the welfare of the family as in self, who is neither angry nor dogmatic, whose energy goes into changing self rather than telling others what they should do, who can know and respect the multiple opinions of others, who can modify self in response to the strengths of the group and who is not influenced by the irresponsible opinions of others” (page 53, 54, Kindle Edition).

Leaders, especially during times of regression, need to be clear about their most important principles and must live by them, even under pressure to compromise (page 55, Kindle Edition).

I sometimes ask ministry students—who often have learned from the culture to adopt maudlin sympathy as a definition of caring—if they were stuck in quicksand and sinking fast, would they rather someone jump in it with them (sympathy) or understand their situation and remain outside on solid ground, where they could be of most help. At higher levels of differentiation, we should expect to find pastors who work from the assumption that an objective outside position is more helpful (page 85, Kindle Edition).

we learn to relate to others in the context of a nuclear and extended family and its distinctive emotional processes. We learn there how to focus our anxiety when it becomes overwhelming, whether primarily by becoming conflictual, withdrawing, taking over, giving up, or finding someone to worry about or blame (page 100, Kindle Edition).

During contentious times, leaders who are working on differentiation of self can serve their congregations well by thoughtfully defining themselves on issues where necessary without insisting on agreement from others or separating from those who disagree. When anxiety in the culture and the church is intense, this is a challenging project. Keeping unnecessary offenses to a minimum and being able to seek and offer forgiveness when relationships are damaged are marks of greater emotional maturity (page 112, Kindle Edition).

Bowen says, “The more intense the cutoff with the past, the more likely the individual to have an exaggerated version of his parental family problem in his own marriage, and the more likely his own children to do a more intense cutoff with him in the next generation” (Family Therapy, 382); (page 134, Kindle Edition).

You can view and buy this book on Amazon: Family Systems and Congregational Life: #ad A Map for Ministry

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Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, father to Jerrie Wayne Barber, II and Christi Parsons, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

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