This post is part of a feature series on Leadership in Ministry faculty.
Bowen Family Systems Theory offers a way of thinking that affects every aspect of leadership in ministry.
Workshops are taught by BFST experts and help participants confidently lead their congregations and organizations. Participants gain insight from learning with others while sharing their unique vocational challenges and joys.
This feature explores the thoughts and experiences of Leadership in Ministry faculty member Meg Hess.
How long have you been a faculty member with LIM? How did you become part of the faculty?
I attended the first Boston LIM Workshop in 1999 and was in Larry Matthew’s small group for years. About 10 years ago Larry asked me to join the Workshop Faculty.
What do you enjoy most about teaching and coaching in the workshop?
Being on the LIM Faculty has challenged me to understand BFST more deeply and to integrate it into my own personal and professional functioning more fully. I appreciate the opportunity to integrate the skills and experience I bring from being a pastor, a Pastoral Psychotherapist, a coach, and a teacher of preachers in my work in the LIM program. I love the challenge of crafting presentations about the Theory and supporting clergy and other professional leaders as they learn to bring their most thoughtful self to leadership. And we always laugh a lot at the workshops, which makes me happy.
In what ways do you see the workshop helping congregational and other leaders?
The leaders who participate in LIM increase their understanding of how unresolved family of origin issues get reenacted in the present. As they grow in their ability to understand how old patterns get in the way of effective leadership, they also learn to discover untapped resources from their family narratives. LIM leaders learn to take more responsibility for themselves, get clarity about their role, and better manage their own reactivity. In so doing, they bring a calmer, clearer thinking, more playful, and less-reactive presence to their functioning in leadership roles. They take these resources back into the Systems where they serve, increasing the possibility of introducing more health into those Systems.
Why do you think the theory is appropriate as a “theory of practice” for clergy?
BFST gives leaders a way to “get up in the balcony” and to think critically about their role in the church as a System. Having that thoughtful distance and a framework to examine each case study provides breathing space to make more thoughtful choices about how to function. LIM’s “theory of practice” provides a clearer understanding of what self-differentiated leadership looks like in action: Self-definition, self-regulation, and staying connected. These three aspects provide a lens for leaders to examine their own thoughts, actions, and overall functioning. Returning to this framework, again and again, provides a structure for honest self-reflection as we seek to make genuine, healthy, and lasting change in our way of leading.
Which of your presentations are favorites for you? Why?
One of my favorite presentations was “Sitting on the Household Gods” where I explored spiritual genograms. Delving into the ways that my family’s religious background shaped me helped me to identify family resources I’d not claimed before. It also helped me to clarify my own spiritual and religious differentiation from my family of origin.
Another favorite was “Playing Your Own Tune.” I was able to flesh out my understanding of self-differentiated preaching and to think about the story of what it meant to “have a voice” in my family of origin. Both of these presentations deepened my own self-understanding and helped me to further integrate BFST into my pastoral functioning.
Can you give one example of how the theory has helped you in your work or life?
Working with the theory has helped me to develop a different relationship with being criticized by others. I’m learning how to turn down the volume on the content of criticism, get curious about the emotional process behind it, and to not take criticism so personally. This helps me to calm down, be open, and stay connected to those who criticize. I’m more able to learn from criticism and to distinguish what is mine to work with and what is a projection or an anxious expression of the system.
If someone doesn’t see the value in this program and the positive impact it can have on participants, what would you say to them?
Give it a try: seeing and experiencing how transformational this work can be is the best way to “get” the value of LIM. You’ll increase your emotional well-being, make connections with thoughtful colleagues, learn to laugh at yourself, and develop new resources for staying sane in ministry. This work will help you to thrive and flourish in ministry, and not survive.
If you’re looking to teach how the concepts of the family emotional process can be applied to all aspects of ministry, Leadership in Ministry workshops may be for you.
Those seeking to explore the theological implications of this concept, opportunities for personal ministry reflection through small groups and presentations, guide and encourage participants’ work on genograms and family of origin issues and prefer a peer group setting, could benefit from LIM.
Click here to learn more about the program.
The Reverend Dr. Margaret (Meg) B. Hess received her BA from Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. She also graduated from Andover Newton Theological School, where she received a Master of Divinity degree in 1981 and Doctor of Ministry degree, with honors, in Pastoral Counseling in 1994.
She is ordained by the American Baptist Churches, USA, where she served pastorates for twenty years in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Her favorite pastime is baking artisan breads. She is married to Peter Lacey, and they live in Nashua with their daughter Keziah. An adjunct faculty in preaching at Andover Newton Theological School since 1983, Dr. Hess is a Pastoral Counselor with The Emmaus Institute in Nashua, NH, and a Fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. Meg also facilitates Labyrinth retreats and workshops.