January 2, 2016—No one has done more to make Bowen Family System Theory (BFST) accessible to the theological community, to local congregational leadership, and to educators than Israel Galindo, Associate Dean and Director of Online Education at Columbia Theological Seminary. It was Edwin H. Friedman’s Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue that first introduced me to BFST, though I didn’t make that connection at the time. All I knew was that I was caught up in one of those “church fights” which I didn’t understand and for which no class in seminary had prepared me, and this book looked like it might provide some insight.
The conflict had gone on for months when suddenly all eyes turned toward me. I was the cause, either by omission or commission, of all the ugliness. Quite by chance I came across a review of Friedman’s book, ordered a copy, read and re-read it, and I began to see new ways of looking at the things going on around me.
This fight wasn’t about me; it had been going on in that church for a couple of generations that I (and they) could identify, and probably longer, if Friedman is right. Not that I contributed nothing to the fray, nor did I function optimally in the midst of it. Much of the pain and defeat I experienced was self-inflicted. If they were replaying old tapes, the only tapes they knew, so was I — and my tapes made me a sitting duck for their “stuff”!
How did my rudimentary understanding of BFST get me through? It bought me breathing time until I could get out and go somewhere else to think, and begin to discover the way, the only way, according to Galindo in Perspectives on Congregational Leadership, was to apply Bowen’s theory to my own life. BFST, he writes, “has to do with working on one’s own internal emotional self: working on family of origin issues, working at one’s emotional and relational functioning, and taking more responsibility for one’s well-being, goals, values, and emotional health.” Or, to put it another way, BFST is no quick fix; rather, it is “life work” so it “takes a long time – – the rest of your life.”
Galindo is also clear that, if your goal is to be an effective leader, there is no quick fix in that arena, either. Effective leadership is hard work and it, too, is life work. This latest of Galindo’s books is packed with helpful information for engaging in that work. Section I lays out the fundamentals of BFST; Section II looks at a broad range of leadership issues, myths, and misunderstandings; Section III brings it all home, applying it to congregations and organizations.
All three sections are presented in bite-sized pieces: pick it up, read a bit, put it down and ponder. It may take longer that way, but you will not be disappointed. In the end, as Galindo says in his beginning words, leadership is all about positive deviance: “the phenomenon that, all things being equal, certain individuals in any system are able to function at a higher level than others, and thereby, are a positive influence on the system.”
So you want to be an effective leader? No quick fix, just a lifetime of work. But you just may make a difference, if not in the world, at least in the systems of which you are a part.
Dr. Judith FaGalde Bennett is the Executive Director for The Resource Center.
The Center for Lifelong Learning offers the Leadership in Ministry workshops, a post-graduate program in clergy leadership development. The workshops are offered in four locations: Atlanta, Boston, Lynchburg, and Portland OR. Check the schedule for the workshop dates at the various locations.