Family Process and Pastoral Practice: Toward a New Spirituality of Leadership

Understanding the congregation as a family system can change the way church leaders and church members understand themselves, how members and ministers in a community of faith affect and influence one another, and why some parishes and parish leaders become healthy, effective, and powerful forces for mission and ministry—and why some do not.

This two-day workshop designed for clergy and lay ministers will explore in depth Rabbi Edwin Friedman’s approach to family process, and how its wise employment as a pastoral and spiritual tool can enhance leadership and effectiveness in a congregational setting. This will be a collaborative experience, utilizing didactics, audio-visual resources, and plenary and small group discussion and presentations.

Since the publication in 1985 of Edwin Friedman’s groundbreaking work, Generation to Generation, the application of family systems theory to the nature, behavior, and functioning of churches and church leaders has become routine. The influence of Friedman’s thinking, and that of his mentor, Murray Bowen, has been widespread in seminaries, rabbinical schools, and clergy/lay seminars.

Location: The School of Theology at the University of the South, 335 Tennessee Ave., Sewanee, TN, 37383

The workshop will commence at 9 a.m. CST Thurs., May 17 and will conclude at 4 p.m. Fri., May 18. Download a schedule here.

Lodging is not included with tuition. For travel & accommodation information, click here.

CEUs are available. Contact for more information.

Tuition: $275
Includes lunch on both days.

Register here >

Day one will focus on:

  • understanding the congregation as a family system;
  • why some parishes become healthy—and why others do not;
  • learning the dynamics of healthy functioning among members and ministers;
  • how self-differentiation in the face of anxiety has deep pastoral and spiritual dimensions;
  • how pastoral integrity is transformative for congregational vitality and spiritual health.

Day two (optional) will focus on:

  • intensive work on case studies that participants prepare in advance or on site;
  • translating new insights into strategies for forming and leading healthy congregations.

When pastoral and lay leaders can self-differentiate, remain non-anxious, and yet stay deeply connected to others, the spiritual integrity that emerges from that identity can empower the development of healthy relationships that foster congregational ministry and mission.

Suggested Reading

Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (10th Anniversary Revised Edition). New York: Church Publishing, 2017.

Paul David Lawson, Old Wine in New Skins: Centering Prayer and Systems TheoryNew York: Lantern Books, 2001.

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The Rt. Rev. Joe Goodwin Burnett is a native Mississippian who was drawn to The Episcopal Church while a United Methodist seminarian at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. Following his ordination as deacon in 1974 and priest in 1975, he served in the diocese of Mississippi for twenty-five years in a succession of parishes. He was active in diocesan leadership roles as vestry and parish consultant, convocation dean, diocesan liturgical coordinator, and chair of committees in evangelism, liturgy and music, and mission strategy.

From 1999–2003 he taught pastoral theology at the masters and doctoral levels at the School of Theology at Sewanee. In May of 2003 he was elected bishop of Nebraska, where he served for eight years, overseeing increases in diocesan funding for youth and young adult ministries, supporting and building new congregations, revitalizing existing parishes, equipping lay and clergy leaders for ministry and growth, and promoting global mission. Burnett was also a founding member in 2006 of the Omaha Tri-Faith Initiative, a partnership between the Diocese of Nebraska, a Reform Jewish congregation, and a Muslim community.

From 2011-2014, he served as assistant bishop of Maryland, followed by a twenty month period as interim rector of St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, a 4,000-member parish in Northwest Washington, DC.

Burnett was a frequent faculty member of the annual Preaching Excellence Program for Episcopal seminarians, and served multiple times, both as a chaplain for the Mississippi Conference on Church Music and Liturgy, and later as chaplain and lecturer for the Sewanee Church Music Conference. He has numerous published sermons, as well as articles and essays on liturgy, pastoral theology, and pastoral care. He served as a member of the Board of Archives of the Episcopal Church from 2006-2011, and as a member and later chair of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops from 2004-2015.


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