Systems theory

Pastoral leadership in dysfunctional congregations : a family systems approach toward wholeness

Author
John M Hirsch
Abstract
Many churches in America today are experiencing extreme levels of stress and conflict. One survey concluded that at any given time more than 30,000 Protestant churches in the United States are in serious conflict. This equates to about one church in twelve in serious conflict. At the same time, there is a growing body of knowledge in the field of family systems theory that can assist a person's managing of his/her life in a way that can influence these congregations toward a higher level of functioning. The purpose of this project was to discern the potential benefit to parish pastors involved in a limited experiential process using family systems theory as the basis for teaching and interpreting their family of origin issues for personal growth.

The Preface to the paper provides an example of a highly anxious and low functioning church. It is a true story not unlike those of many churches in America today. It provides a point of reference for the first chapter which introduces a family systems view or theory as a model for interpreting the behavior of congregations and their members.

Since Bowen's theory is based on an evolutionary biological model of living organisms and since the church from the beginning has been a living entity, the theory has been used to interpret and explain life within churches and synagogues.

The third chapter describes a project in which clergy were asked to participate in a limited number of small group sessions over a 4-6 month period. The sessions involved some interactive teaching about natural family systems theory and, after having done some family of origin exploration, each participant presented a genogram of his family to the group for processing, utilizing natural family systems concepts.

Body language : a lexical field guide for the body of Christ

Author
Dennis B Smith
Abstract
This project is designed to provoke new ways of understanding and using vocabulary familiar to the body of Christ so that the body as a whole and individual members of it might discover new avenues of hope, peace, and direction. "Newness of life" are the words used by St. Paul in Romans 6:4. The contributions of "Natural Systems Theory" toward unwrapping this Gospel promise are emphasized and explained in this project.

This project is intended to be a readable and useful aid to others in pastoral ministry as they seek to guide and coach their respective congregational systems in discovering "the peace of Christ" in the midst of everyday life.

Healthy Parenting in the Family System

Author
Brian Malvig D.Min.
Abstract
In the New Testament, there are several passages that illustrate the way in which Christians are to interact with each other. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, Romans 12:3-5, and Ephesians 4:4-5 the apostle Paul describes the connection Christians have with one another as being like a body. Through Jesus Christ, Christians are all connected in this body, the body of Christ. Between 1950 and 1960, Murray Bowen began to develop an integrative theory of the family which he called “family systems theory” (FST). FST describes the family as one emotional unit rather than a collection of autonomous people. The theory describes humans as living in relationships with emotional connections. These connections pass the anxiety of family members to each member of the family system along interconnected pathways. This idea was a departure from the linear causation theories espoused at the time Bowen proposed his theory. Bowen described anxiety—defined in this project as a reaction to a threat that is real or imagined—as existing in two foundational forms, chronic and acute. Chronic anxiety can be passed through family generations and often shows up in recurring generational patterns and similarities. Although family systems theory was developed based on the assumption that humans are a product of evolution, this project has shown the connection between FST and biblical doctrines and theology. This project has shown that FST can be a valuable tool for Pastors and parents as they observe their congregation or family’s emotional reactivity. It also shows that through a better understanding of the doctrine of sanctification and the body of Christ, they will improve their own family’s emotional connections and bring about a healthier family system.

Closing the Gap Between Surviving and Thriving: Designing Interventions for Adaptive Change with the Vision Implementation Teams at Augusta Road Baptist Church

Author
William Mattison King D.Min.
Abstract
Augusta Road Baptist Church has served Greenville, South Carolina for ninety-five years. After a season of conflict, declining membership, and the unexpected loss of key leadership, a season of vision has allowed the congregation to ask how it can adapt to live into a thriving future. Utilizing the principles of Adaptive Leadership Theory developed by Ronald Heifetz, this thesis tests the potential of an adaptive change process to facilitate the first steps of congregational vision implementation.

Sixteen Augusta Road Baptist Church leaders were oriented to the principles of Adaptive Leadership Theory and asked to put them into practice. Through team meetings, these participants diagnosed technical and adaptive challenges facing the church, chose an adaptive challenge to address, and designed interventions to develop adaptive capacity within the congregation to help it live into its vision. Participants were also presented with spiritual reflections to facilitate the recognition of the Holy Spirit’s work in leading disruption and adaptation.

After introducing the research context and problem, this thesis traces the biblical, theological, and historical tradition of the Holy Spirit’s role in driving the church to adapt as it bears witness to Christ in changing and challenging contexts. It then explores the impact of an adaptive change process on project participants. It follows project participants as they design interventions for achieving congregational vision, recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in congregational life, and develop adaptive capacity. Finally, this thesis concludes with possibilities for utilizing this adaptive change process across all ministries at Augusta Road Baptist Church and in other congregations that find themselves in adaptive moments.

Project Title: Perspectives of Global Leaders on the Future of Multiethnic Collaboration: An Exploration

Author
Philip J. Smith D.Min.
Abstract
This Doctor of Ministry Project explored new opportunities for interorganizational collaboration within a specific network of ministry partners around the globe. It focused on multiethnic teams and organizations that have been birthed, in part, out of the ministry of Leadership Resources International (LRI), a pastoral training organization headquartered in Illinois.

The purpose of this project was to carefully gather and clearly understand perspectives from multiethnic leaders of these various teams and organizations around the world in order help LRI wisely navigate interorganizational collaboration.

In preparation for the field work, the author researched biblical, theological, historical, missiological and theoretical perspectives involved with worldwide, evangelical, multiethnic, interorganizational collaboration.

The methodology of the project followed the Appreciative Inquiry approach to qualitative, action research in order to carefully facilitate gathering wisdom from these leaders. Extended, semi-structured interviews were conducted with twenty leaders on eight leadership teams from eight separate countries. The transcribed recordings of the interviews were coded and analyzed. Findings and proposals were formulated for LRI leadership and recommendations presented for a wider audience.

The project found that damaging attitudes that accompany power-differentials pose the greatest challenge to effective interorganizational collaboration for this network. It also found that multifaceted wisdom and humility would have the greatest potential for combating that challenge and should permeate all interorganizational initiatives. For LRI, in particular, along with recommended means of cultivating wisdom and humility, the researcher recommended the formation of a carefully designed global entity as the best means of facilitating wise interorganizational collaboration amidst the wide-ranging challenges of power-differentials around the world.

A qualitative study exploring how senior pastors can deliberately move the congregation toward systemic gospel health

Author
Edward W Dunnington
Abstract
The purpose of this study was to explore how senior pastors can lead congregations toward systemic gospel health. The research focused on how pastors describe systemic health, what pastors believe to be hindrances to systemic health, and how pastors cultivate systemic health within their congregations. The literature reviewed included biblical and theological material relating to a congregation's systemic nature and the definition of congregational gospel health; change theory; systems theory; and the leader's role. The researcher interviewed two senior pastors of two different churches, their spouses, staff, and lay leaders. Both senior leaders articulated four factors that the literature supported: personal and marital growth; thinking systemically about the congregation; a working knowledge of change theory; and having at least one co-laborer in the work of change. This kind of systemic change is not simply technical in nature, but adaptive and cannot be done alone.

Increasing self-awareness and self-differentiated leadership through an application of family systems theory with church planters

Author
Zachary C Edwards
Abstract
The purpose of of this ministry project was to lead a select group of church planting leaders in Wyoming Southern Baptist Convention to demonstrate an understanding of how family systems affect their personhood and leadership ability and, consequently, to develop and initiate a plan for increasing self-awareness and self-differentiated leadership. Through three sets of personal exercises and three group meetings, the majority of project participants demonstrated an understanding of project content and created a growth plan for self-awareness and self-difentiated leadership. The director grew in leadership, discoverd new theological insights, and evaluated the project as effective for developing future church planters.

An Exploration of the Extent to which the Teaching of Bowen Family Systems Theory Enhances the Self-Understanding of Wounded Ministers

Author
Perry Riley
Abstract
Bowen Family Systems Theory provides a solution for emotionally wounded ministers that are striving for greater self-understanding. The central argument of Bowen's Theory is that unresolved issues from an individual's past are rooted in each person's family system. Bowen's Theory focuses on the need for ministers to understand the importance of managing their family conflicts and congregational stress. The results led to lowered anxiety and better functionality in almost every aspect of wounded ministers' lives, thus producing a greater emotional maturity. Ministers who will work on modifying how they function will become the most effective church leaders and pastors.

A retrospective analysis of the establishment of an open system of communication, relationship, and function at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, FL

Author
Kent D Gilbert
Abstract
This thesis-project will explore the importance, along with the contribution made, of an open system of communication, relationship, and function to the redemptive culture of an organization. For purposes of this project, the organization to be examined will be the extension site of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, Florida. The thesis undergirding and guiding this research project is that an open system is an essential component of a redemptive culture and is necessary to a redemptive process and outcome. Throughout this thesis-project, the concept of an open system will be inexorably linked with redemptive culture.

Living into biblical community through healthy conflict resolution

Author
Katherine K Horvath
Abstract
God designed people to live in community to reflect his nature and be witnesses to his love and redemptive power. Throughout church history, Christians have moved into intentional communities seeking to more fully experience and live out the gospel in their daily lives. Interviews were conducted with persons currently living in intentional Christian community, discovering commitment to conflict resolution being key to their health. With the help of biblical principles of peacemaking as well as insights from systems theory, this paper offers a pathway for church leaders to live more intentionally into authentic biblical community through healthy conflict resolution.
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