The Center for Lifelong Learning interviewed Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning, Israel Galindo (“Dr. G”), about the Leadership in Ministry Workshops, part of the Center’s post graduate Pastoral Excellence Program.
CLL: Can you share briefly what the workshop is about? How did it start?
Dr. G: Sure. The goal of the Leadership in Ministry workshops is to help clergy and organizational leaders be better leaders. It does so by helping them acquire ways of conceptualizing emotional phenomena and its influence in their contexts, rather than merely teaching techniques for handling ministry challenges. The workshop explores Bowen theory as a “theory of practice” for leadership in the congregational and other contexts. The workshop was founded in 1992 by Dr. Lawrence Matthews. At that time he was pastor of the Vienna Baptist Church in Vienna, Virginia and he was on the faculty of Edwin Friedman’s program in Bethesda Maryland.
CLL Who attends these workshops? Is it open to anyone?
Dr. G: The workshops draw clergy from a variety of denominations, including Presbyterian, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Orthodox, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, Pentecostal, and United Church of Christ among others. Among our regular participants are social workers, chaplains, pastoral associates, priests, educators, and leaders of non-profit organizations. The common denominator among participants is a desire to be more effective leaders in their organizations, and, being better persons in all their relationships.
CLL: So the workshops is not just about leadership, it’s about relationships?
Dr. G: Well, yes. Leadership is all about relationships, after all. An important part of the workshop experience is gaining insight about one’s self, and, on how our families of origin shape our patterns of being in relationships. Providing opportunity for participants to create and present their genograms is a key component of the LIM learning model. One entire coaching group session is devoted to presenting the genogram and family of origin dynamics.
CLL: How does that help the participants?
Dr. G: Reviewing the genogram in the first small group session facilitates referencing emotional process issues in subsequent coaching group presentations. Through looking at the facts of one’s family emotional process, one can identify common and persistent patterns of behavior in family members across generations. Those patterns continue to influence relationship in the ministry context and the nuclear family, whether we are conscious of them or not. Understanding emotional process in one’s family of origin allows one to develop a more objective understanding of behavior patterns and the parts that self and other family members play in creating and perpetuating these behavioral and relationship patterns.
CLL: So how does that help clergy in their leadership role?
Dr. G.: It helps tremendously. Through family of origin work one can become more neutral and less reactive toward those family patterns, family members, church members, and oneself. Progress in family of origin work can lead to less blaming and more acceptance of self and others for the patterns in people’s families and in the congregation while simultaneously encouraging one to assume responsibility for the part that self plays in creating and maintaining these patterns. This work results in a shift in perspective and in goals and pursuits to change that were impulsive, willful, and driven by emotions. One can begin to be present in the family, and lead in the congregation, in a more thoughtful and less reactive manner.
CLL: That sounds very different from many other clergy continuing education programs.
Dr. G.: Yes, as one participant recently put it, ” It’s quite lovely to go to a continuing education event which is beneficial to both my work life and my home life.”
CLL: One important component of the workshop is the theory lectures, correct? What are those like?
Dr. G.: The plenary presentations are an important part of the workshop experience, but they are not lectures. The presentations, typically delivered by faculty members, is to help the framework of the workshops remain grounded in the theory. Faculty are good at challenging participants to acquire accurate understanding of the concepts of the theory and in demonstrating how “thinking about the theory” influences aspects of the presenter’s life and self through work and professional case studies, or family of origin case studies. Since they are not lecture , our study provides opportunity for peer learning through dialogue and reflection.
CLL: And the other component of the workshop is coaching, correct?
Dr. G.: Yes, I think the coaching group experience is the most transformative part of the experience. The coaching groups consist of four or five participants and one faculty coach. This peer learning component of the workshop experience facilitates the pedagogy of reflection-on-experience through the lens of Bowen theory as a theory of practice in a peer-learning context.
CLL: What happens in the coaching groups, exactly?
Dr. G.: Well, there are three coaching group sessions, so that’s where the work really happens. The first, as we mentioned, focuses on family of origin emotional process, using the genogram. In the following coaching sessions participants bring case studies to work on. Those cases consist of real-life challenges they are facing in their ministry settings related to their leadership role. Through the peer-leaning and peer-coaching didactic, participants reflect on their leadership functioning in their context, interpret the emotional process dynamics at play, and determine ways to function better.
CLL: Would you say the peer coaching groups is what makes the workshop so effective?
Dr. G.: Yes, that, and some other elements. First, it’s a safe and encouraging place where clergy can be open, honest, transparent, so as to welcome being both affirmed and challenged. The coaching groups really help meet the need of relieving the felt isolation so many ministers experience. Second, the workshop is not a one-off experience. It’s designed to be an ongoing experience. Some participants have been in the workshop for over five years, and some for over ten years, and one pastor for over twenty years. It’s the commitment to the discipline of long-term growth, personally and professionally, that yields transformation. As you can imagine, deep long-term friendships develop when you share the long arch of ministry with others on the journey.
The Center for Lifelong Learning offers the Leadership in Ministry workshops in five locations: Atlanta, Boston, Portland OR, Kansas City MO, and Lynchburg, VA. To learn more about the Leadership in Ministry workshops.
You can learn more about Bowen theory as a theory of practice for ministry in Leadership in Ministry, written by the faculty of the Leadership in Ministry Workshops.
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He directs the Pastoral Excellence Program at Columbia seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.