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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation (Second Edition) by Jim Herrington, Trisha Taylor and R. Robert Creech

The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation (Second Edition) by Jim Herrington, Trisha Taylor and R. Robert Creech. Baker Academic. 256 pages. 2020

I was introduced to some of the concepts in this book a few weeks ago during our NXTGEN Pastors Cohort when we covered the “Leading in a Chronically Anxious Culture” module. I had been exposed to some of the material earlier when we covered the “Caring for Ourselves in Light of Our Family of Origin” module. The book is a basic overview of some of the principles of leadership in a living system, which is a different way of thinking about leadership. Leadership that recognizes an organization or a congregation as a living system requires a different way of thinking, and is not about learning a set of techniques. Learning this new way of thinking is about the disciplined practice of living out our values and guiding principles despite many anxiety-producing obstacles that come our way.
The authors wrote the book to offer a practical pathway to transforming the lives of pastors and congregational leaders. They tell us that we cannot lead others in transformation unless we are experiencing it ourselves.
The authors introduce many concepts and terms that may be new to most leaders. These ideas are rooted in the work of Dr. Murray Bowen’s Family Systems Theory. The book has been organized into four sections and at the end of each chapter are questions for reflective self-assessment.
When the authors talk about personal transformation, they are talking about disrupting patterns of disobedience and developing patterns of obedience that allow you to increasingly embody the gospel in your life. They use the life of Jesus and the conceptual framework of living systems to guide the reader on the journey of personal transformation. The authors tell us that leaders need not make the journey of personal transformation alone. Leaders have apprenticed our lives to Jesus to follow him. He is our teacher, our coach, and our guide on the journey.
The authors believe that transformation is a process that involves the whole person, and they believe there are three dynamic processes in the Christian life that help to grow the whole person to maturity:

  • Personal transformation happens best as an inside-out process of committing to obey all the teachings of Christ.
  • Personal transformation happens best in the context of a loving community that extends grace and truth.
  • Personal transformation happens best when we develop a reflective lifestyle.

Among the many topics covered in the book are personal transformation, family of origin, a chronically anxious system, being a less anxious leader, spiritual disciplines, differentiation of self, reactivity, emotional maturity, emotional triangles, conflict, distant relationships, overfunctioning and underfunctioning, herding, ways to calm yourself, crisis, the togetherness and individuality force, polarization, family system, a family diagram, cut-off relationships, boundaries, guiding principles, the transformational learning model, learning and mastery.
The book often references Edwin Friedman’s book A Failure of Nerve. Friedman focuses on five central traits of a chronically anxious system: heightened reactivity, herding, blame displacement, demand for a quick fix, and poor leadership. The book includes a number of stories to help illustrate the concepts introduced in the book.
As to whether Christian leaders can work with a theory, such as Bowen Family Systems Theory, which is based on human science, the authors write that leaders can learn to accommodate scientific learning and their theological constructs so that they can occupy space next to each other; they don’t have to reject one or the other.
The book concludes with three appendices, a list of recommended reading and a helpful glossary, as there a many new terms introduced in the book.
Appendix A Constructing a Family Diagram
Appendix B Developing a Rhythm of Spiritual Practices
Appendix C Bowen-Based Training Programs

Below are 10 helpful quotes from the book:

  • Differentiation deals with the effort to define oneself, to control oneself, to become a more responsible person, and to permit others to be themselves as well.
  • The most powerful source of emotional gravity in most of our lives comes from family.
  • Leaders who want to understand the context in which they carry out their role learn to pay attention to the presence of anxiety in their system.
  • You must learn to be able to see what is going on around you, observe the anxiety, note your own part in it, and manage yourself amid the pressure.
  • The most strategic role in the system is that of the calm observer.
  • As the anxiety in the system rises, so must our resolve to remain composed.
  • A system that operates without well-differentiated leadership makes it extremely difficult for such a leader to develop.
  • Taking responsibility for our feelings (not denying them, repressing them, or blaming them on others) is one of the most helpful things we can do to become a less-anxious leader.
  • Defining self means that we consistently and calmly tell others what we think and choose, without demanding that they think and choose the same way.
  • When we are anxious, we react to the pressures of the moment in a way that does not reflect our guiding principles. We do this because we give in to our habitual behavior rather than pausing to think about other available options. Therefore, we must develop the ability to think before we speak and to pause before we act.