The Shrinking Church:
The Way We Perceive Church Leadership is Way Wrong


Prologue and Introduction: Intent  and  PurposeThe Shrinking Church

This thread of articles is for clergy and leaders of mainline protestant churches. The purpose is to recognize systemic dysfunctions and leadership gaps that are limiting the effectiveness of the local church and many times are in the way of true and effective ministries. For the full statement, see Post #1 of the ongoing series. The intent is to promote dialogue through, and awareness of, possibilities for growing healthy ministries of any kind.


Post #3: The Way We Perceive Church Leadership is Way Wrong

“You have inherited a lifetime of tribulation. Everybody has inherited it. Take it over, make the most of it and when you have decided you know the right way, do the best you can with it.” – Murray Bowen

The Confused Leader

The Confused Leader

Leadership As We Have Been Taught is Wrong!

I must admit that I’ve been struggling with this topic for many, many years as I work with leaders functioning under a limit to their effectiveness…how they have been taught! When having lunch with a local clergyperson nearing retirement, he proudly stated, “I voted for Obama because I’m a Yellow Dog Democrat. That’s what I’ve been taught and that’s what I do.” I thought that it was a shame that this man has lived his life under the pressure of what had been taught to him. I have realized that many of us are unaware of the DNA imposed on us by our family of origin and how it impacts our decisions. This leads us down a troubled road, indeed. I’ve given definitions of leadership alternatives. The work of Murray Bowen has been especially helpful in my work. His perspective is to learn about ourselves by learning about our family of origin. Things are neither right nor wrong. They just are.

This post has been inspired by the TED Talk by Dan Pallotta on “How We Think of Charity Is Way Wrong”.

In 2013, the Meyer Foundation surveyed nearly 100 executive directors of nonprofit organizations to learn how it could best support them. Executive directors reported a range of challenges affecting their effectiveness; some of the most commonly cited were fundraising, personnel management, and working with boards of directors.

“These people are sacrificing so much to take on the executive roles of these groups,” Julie Rogers, President of the Meyer Foundation in Washington, D.C. said. “We are watching people not just burn out but make themselves sick in service of their communities. It’s our job to take care of them.” *

We have been taught leadership in ways that inhibit our ability to lead. We think that the leader is the boss and must have all the right answers. We think, therefore, that asking others for input on decisions, delegation, collaboration, and observing group processes are examples of weak leadership, when, in fact, these are examples of effective leadership.

Charismatic vs. Transformational Leadership

The Autocratic leadership model is what many people view as strong leadership. It’s a sample of Charismatic Leadership. It’s an example of leadership that’s all about the leader. It’s all about the power of position. It’s ultimately a bottleneck for decision-making if every decision must come to the leader for approval. It also represents a lack of trust by the leader in the members of the team.

Reframing leadership means learning a different style of leadership. Both Transformational Leadership and Bowen Family Systems are effective systems for leaders to embrace. There’s a synergy between these two systems. Transformational Leadership is about building high-performing cultures by building leaders on teams. Bowen Systems is about managing self as a leader.

Here is a summary of the major points of these powerful and scalable systems:

Transformational Leadership

The transformational leader:

  1. Clearly Articulates Vision And Goals – Having a vision and being able to effectively communicate that vision is key.
  2. Defines Things Others Can Do – Getting things off their plate, so to speak, is a primary team-building skill.
  3. Builds Leaders Within Teams – Elevating others and mentoring others in the culture of transformation is the culture of high performance.
  4. Effectively Delegates – A very underutilized and misunderstood skill that must be mastered.
  5. Encourages Boldness – Creating a culture of affirmation and safe culture to learn from mistakes is healthy.
  6. Gives Information And Support – Withholding information, whether intentional or not, is a barrier to success.
  7. Affirms And Celebrates Competence – Give as much or more attention to affirmation as to the correction. Celebrate often!
  8. Respects The Individual – Effective leadership is based on effective relationships.
  9. Avoids Micromanaging – This is the ultimate team killer! It’s not good.
  10. Models What They Preach – The leader sets the bar and creates the pace for the culture.
Books on Transformational Leadership **
Transforming Power: Stories from Transformational Leaders for Encouragement and Inspiration, Hugh Ballou
Transforming Leadership, James Alexander Burns

Dr. Murray Bowen

Bowen Systems:

There are 8 concepts of Bowen Theory. Here’s a summary of the concepts. Check the link to the Bowen Center at Georgetown University for more information. (

8 Concepts of Bowen Family Systems

  • Triangles – When there are three people in a relationship. Triangles are neither good nor bad – they are. Triangles sometimes have one person on the outside when the other two are strongly connected, causing tension.
  • Differentiation of Self – Strong grounding in personal guiding principles where a person does not depend on the approval of others for decisions. Each person in a group emotional system thinks for themselves rather than opting into the will of the group in what’s called “groupthink.”
  • Nuclear Family Emotional System – The basic family unit is where we learn patterns and behaviors. By observing our family, we learn about ourselves and gain abilities to observe other emotional systems.
  • Family Projection Process – We all inherit problems and strengths from our parents who have projected their fears and hopes onto us. Observing these patterns frees us the be independent and function in basic self.
  • Multigenerational Transmission Process – We all possess learned behaviors that have been taught to us knowingly and unknowingly through multiple generations. Response to these emotional triggers results in less differentiation of self. Observing these patterns allows us to make good decisions, staying true to our basic self.
  • Emotional Cutoff – This is where we avoid or minimize contact with people with whom we have unresolved tension. Often, we establish new relationships as a substitute, with the same issues appearing over time. Meanwhile, the tension continues with the original person, creating unresolved anxiety.
  • Sibling Position – Bowen continues the research of Walter Toman on the patterns of sibling position. Being aware of our position as well as the position of others in our emotional systems.
  • Societal Regression/Societal Emotional Process – There are parallel patterns in society and family systems. Observing these patterns of regression and progression can inform us about our personal relationship patterns in families and in organizations.
Other Bowen Terms
Guiding Principles, Anxiety, Focus Child, Basic Self/Pseudo Self, Fusion, Nodal Even


Books by Roberta Gilbert on Bowen Systems:**
Enjoy learning and leading!
Clergy Leadership Empowerment


Please comment below.

Hugh Ballou

The Transformational Leadership StrategistTM

Read about me on Forbes

(c) 2022, Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.

*Affiliate links benefit SynerVision Leadership Foundation


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