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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

Is your triangle “bad”?

The Leadership in Ministry workshops at The Center for Lifelong Learning use Bowen Theory (or Bowen Family Systems Theory—BFST) as a framework for interpreting the dynamics of congregational and organizational life, and, to help participants work on their own leadership functioning in those contexts.


One misunderstanding about basic concepts of Bowen Family Systems theory (BFST) has to do with assigning value statements. For example, the notion that over-functioning is “bad.”


Overfunctioning, like other behaviors, are not “bad” or “good,” they are merely functions, symptoms, or manifestations of emotional process played out in the way people relate to one another. This is why it’s more helpful to observe how individuals function in the context of a system than it is to assign motives to people’s behaviors.


That said, we must also accept that ways of functioning, while not “good” or “bad”, either contribute to the health of the system or work at keeping the system stuck. While we can say that triangles are neither good nor bad, merely one of the many ways systemic anxiety gets played out and structured, we can identify when triangles do not help the system toward growth and health.


Here are ways that triangles are “bad”:






While it is not helpful to identify triangles as “bad” it is appropriate to identify when they are detrimental to the health and to the functioning of the system in mature, responsible, ways.


Registration for the Leadership in Ministry workshops is now open. Visit the online registration site for more information.

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.

His books on education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), and Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to its teaching and learning blogs.

Dr. G. & Friends