Review: Family Systems and Congregational Life

Karl Fickling reviews "Family Systems and Congregational Life" by Robert Creech.

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Family Systems and Congregational Life: A Map for Ministry

By R. Robert Creech (Baker Academic)

Murray Brown and others introduced Family Systems theory and counseling in the 1950s. It finally caught the attention of religious circles in 1985, with Edwin Friedman’s book,  Generation to Generation. Most clergy found Friedman difficult to understand. Nevertheless, a small loyal following of Christians, and an occasional book, has kept the movement at least on the fringe of church life. The problems, however, include the lack of understanding, even by those invested in Family Systems thinking, and the limited use of its helpful theories and techniques.

Robert Creech provides a needed addition to the field of Family Systems, especially for application to the Christian church. His book blends personal stories, real-life church illustrations and biblical support to clarify Bowen’s major concepts.

The reader will learn about triangling, projection processes, differentiation of self, emotional cutoff and more, in ways that illuminate congregational interaction. Then, Creech explores the common reactions of leaders in the various scenarios. Instead of being a step-by-step “methods to lead” approach, Creech presents spiritually mature alternatives for leaders to interpret situations and to help them police their own behavior.

Coming from the “academic” division of the publisher, one can safely assume this book will serve as a seminary text.  After all, the author is the endowed professor and director of pastoral ministries at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. Indeed, you’ll find multiple appendices, a thorough bibliography, endnotes and an index.

Don’t let that scare you away. In fact, four chapters (one is Appendix A) use Bowen’s family systems thinking to “map” the lives of Paul, David, Abraham and our Lord. These chapters are worth the price of the book, in themselves.  Pastors—and anyone who is a serious student of church life and leadership—should let this book help them step even deeper into an understanding of church relationships and their own leadership performance.

Karl Fickling

Coordinator of Interim Church Services

Baptist General Convention of Texas

 


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