Baker Academic has a brand new website! Click Here To Visit:

Family Systems and Congregational Life

A Map for Ministry

Cover Art Request Exam Copy

Where to Purchase

More Options


Experienced pastor and seminary teacher R. Robert Creech helps pastoral leaders increase their effectiveness by applying family systems theory to congregational life and ministry. Creech introduces readers to the basic concepts of Bowen's Family Systems Theory, applies family theory to the work of ministry in church settings, and connects systems thinking to the everyday aspects of congregational ministry, such as preaching, pastoral care, leadership, spiritual formation, and interpreting biblical texts. Each chapter contains discussion questions, and there are five helpful appendixes with supplemental information about Bowen theory. Professors and students in clinical pastoral education, family ministry, pastoral care, and family systems theory classes; pastors in local church ministry; and Christian counselors and therapists will all value this work.


Part 1: Orienting the Map
1. Always Take a Map: The Value of Bowen Family Systems Theory
2. Reading the Map: An Overview of Bowen Family Systems Theory
Part 2: A Map for Practical Theology
3. Third-Way Leadership: More Than Principles and Practices
4. The Future of Congregational Leadership: Leading in Chaotic Times
5. Proclamation: Preaching as Pastor and as Prophet
6. Pastoral Care: Helping without Hurting
7. Spiritual Formation: Growing in Christlikeness
8. Christian Community: Journeying with Others
Part 3: A Map for Reading Scripture
9. Bowen Family Systems Theory and Biblical Interpretation: The Rules of the Game
10. Mapping the Family of Abraham: Family Systems, 2000 BC
11. Mapping the Character of Jesus: Differentiation and Christlikeness
12. Mapping the Teaching of Paul: New Life in Christ and Community
Appendix A: Mapping the Family of David: Family Systems, 1000 BC
Appendix B: Bowen Theory and Theological Language
Appendix C: Important Terms in Bowen Family Systems Theory
Appendix D: Bowen-Based Training Programs
Appendix E: Bowen Family Systems Theory and Ministry: A Bibliography


"This scholarly yet personal integration of Bowen Family Systems Theory into life and ministry can engage readers in their own versions of working on differentiation of self. Applying this approach promises to bring change for the better in a family or congregation--even in the larger community. Robert Creech illustrates and inspires that effort."

Victoria Harrison, Center for the Study of Natural Systems and the Family ( and Bowen Center for the Study of the Family (

"Robert Creech has provided a fresh approach to pastoral ministry, no matter the size of the congregation. The study of Bowen Family Systems Theory has changed my approach to life and ministry over the last sixteen years, and Family Systems and Congregational Life will benefit me and my communities of faith as I continue to digest this well-written text abounding with Robert Creech's fresh insights. Those who are just learning about the theory, as well as seasoned advocates doing the hard yet rewarding work of living out these principles, will find refreshment and encouragement in these pages for the sometimes challenging work of ministry."

Becky L. Towne, academic dean, professor of Christian spirituality, and director of the Doctor of Ministry Program, Houston Graduate School of Theology

"In this book Robert Creech makes a tremendous contribution to understanding Bowen Family Systems Theory, pastoral theology, and the practice of ministry. Using the adage 'always take a map,' he makes a case for the application of emotional process thinking in every aspect of ministry. The appendixes are pure gold. This book is a must for those who wish to effectively face challenges within their families, faith communities, and the wider world."

Emlyn A. Ott, executive director and CEO, Healthy Congregations, Inc.; associate professor of pastoral theology and leadership, Bexley Seabury Seminary

"In Family Systems and Congregational Life Robert Creech offers a map for the practice of ministry. This book will make the challenges a little easier: leadership, exegesis and preaching, visioning and pastoral care. Leaders are also encouraged to attend to their own emotional and spiritual growth. Most of the chapters are by themselves worth the price of the book. It is clear and practical, while also well grounded theologically and theoretically. Buy it and keep it at hand; you'll want to read and reread it."

Margaret Marcuson, author of Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry and Money and Your Ministry

"This is the book I have been waiting to recommend on applying Bowen Family Systems Theory in congregational life. Bowen theory makes sense of the emotional forces that arise when people live and work together. Robert Creech understands the challenges churches face amid rapid change, urban crowding, rural decline, and social upheaval. His work addresses leadership with a perspective that includes proclamation, pastoral care, spiritual formation, and life in Christian community. Throughout, he reflects on the theological implications of taking a systems approach. This is an insightful, comprehensive, yet highly readable book."

Katie Long, editor-in-chief, Family Systems Forum, Center for the Study of Natural Systems and the Family

"Robert Creech masterfully connects Bowen theory with particular ministerial tasks, illustrating how the theory can inform and shape Christian service. I always learn from Creech's insights and you will too."

Peter Steinke, author of Uproar: Calm Leadership in Anxious Times

"This book is a rare gem, a gift to leaders. Robert's unique approach guides the reader beyond theory and even practical how-to's toward identifying one's own roadmap and inner compass. Pastoral leaders will be inspired to chart a life-giving course for their personal life and ministry, leaving behind winding paths that often lead to confusion, frustration, or dysfunction. I don't know a more authentic and trustworthy guide than Robert. This work represents his personal journey of transformation; I'm confident it can be a catalyst for others as well."

Elizabeth Wourms, developer of formational relationships, Heart to Honduras

The Author

  1. R. Robert Creech
    Rachel Halloran

    R. Robert Creech

    R. Robert Creech (PhD, Baylor University) is Hubert H. and Gladys S. Raborn Professor of Pastoral Leadership and director of pastoral ministries at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, in Waco, Texas. He formerly taught...

    Continue reading about R. Robert Creech