LIM Feature: Michael Lee Cook

LIM Feature: Michael Lee Cook

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 Michael Lee Cook.


How long have you been a faculty member with LIM? How did you become a part of the faculty?


I have been a faculty member of LIM for 2 years. I was invited to join the LIM faculty by Dr. Israel Galindo after transitioning as a faculty member of pastoral care and counseling at Columbia Theological Seminary.

What do you enjoy most about teaching and coaching in the workshop?


The thing that I enjoy most about teaching and coaching in the LIM workshops is that the environment allows for unparalleled opportunity for personal reflection, growth, and development for both faculty coaches and participants. Together, through conversation, lectures, genogram construction, and practical application, we gain a richer understanding and appreciation for the unique ways our family histories impact our personal and professional functioning in ministry and beyond as well as shapes our view of the world around us. The framework for teaching and practice is theoretically grounded in the richness of Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST). This makes LIM an impressive opportunity for ministers, lay persons, and other professionals to grow.

In what ways do you see the workshop helping congregational and other leaders?


The church in the broadest sense of the concept is experiencing tremendous change and struggling to understand its role in a changing social landscape that is shifting away from organized religion into the space of “spirituality.” These systemic and ideological changes are stirring up a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty for denominations, religious leaders, and congregations. Consequently, such a moment calls for a steady cadre of non-anxious leaders who can creatively “think” their way through these transitions, rather than being “emotionally reactive” to them. LIM workshops present a tremendous opportunity to help leaders develop skills that make this steadiness possible in anxious times, particularly in the area of self-differentiation.

Why do you think the theory is appropriate as a “theory of practice” for clergy?


Leadership, pastoral or otherwise, is all about relationships. When relationships are healthy and well, we tend to flourish. When relationships are broken and unwell, we tend to flounder. BFST provides a sound theoretical and practical basis for which to understand the nature of relationships as an emotional and systemic process. That is, the theory teaches that we are all inter-connected and our functioning is impacted and highly influenced by the relationships we shared and continue to with our families of origin. Even more, the theory helps us to understand that our leadership style(s) are often deeply rooted in how well we have or have not differentiated from these early familial relationships. At bottom, the theory teaches that we were someone’s daughter or son before we became someone’s pastor or leader, and this understanding makes all the difference in the world of relationships.

Which of your presentations are favorites for you? Why?


Leaving Home Disconnected: Some Considerations of Emotional Cutoff is my favorite presentation. I really enjoyed developing this presentation. I believe it speaks to one of the most important concepts of BFST. Further, I found the presentation very helpful in my own efforts to understand the emotional cutoffs in my own story and the practical implications they have on my efforts at greater self-differentiation. In its basic form, emotional cutoff is a way of managing emotionally-charged relationships with significant others, particularly parental figures. This is carried out by essential “cutting off” the relationship. However, the cutoff does not resolve the emotional tension, it more often intensifies it because the unresolved emotional attachment remains a part of the emotional process within the family of origin. This makes it necessary to mend cutoffs as a means of growing on the scale of self-differentiation and to improve one’s relationship functioning.


Can you give one example of how the theory has helped you in your work or life?


The theory has helped me in many ways. As a family therapist, it has helped me stay out of the triangles in the families and couples that I see in practice. This allows for greater objectivity in counseling and serves as a way of modeling self-differentiation for my clients. The theory has also supported me in my role as a father. It has given me insights on how my own experience of being fathered impacts the way I father my children. This understanding has led me to be more mindful of the connection between these two experiences in ways that allow my parenting to be less anxious and more thoughtful.



If someone doesn’t see the value in the program and the positive impact it can have on participants, what would you say to them?


Bowen indicated that “it requires about three generations for a majority of people to hear and accept a new discovery, a new idea, or a new belief that threatens a firmly held view of the world. Each generation hears and accepts a little more until the third generation accepts it as established fact.” In which case, I would invite “skeptics” to consider the generational perspective of BFST and view it as a gift to those they care about most. That is, BFST allows participants to learn some things useful about their relationship functioning today that may save their unborn family members from having to do hard and difficult emotional and relational work left undone in the current generation. To participate in a LIM workshop is truly sowing and reaping that provides an emotional harvest for all, now and in generations to come.


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.

Dr. Michael Lee Cook, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and pastoral counselor in private practice at Micah Counseling Services, a parish-based counseling center at St. Andrew’s in the Pines Episcopal Church. In this ministry, he engages in the therapeutic practice of helping individuals, couples, families, and groups deal with and find effective solutions to the transitions and complexities of life that impact their mental and spiritual well-being and overall functioning. Michael has extensive clinical training in psychodynamic psychotherapy, family systems theory, and the use of spiritual resources in counseling. He holds an optimistic view of human nature and resists the urge to pathologize clients by supporting the idea that problems are not in people, but rather people struggle against problems.

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