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Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach Paperback – November 20, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"This is a book for people who want ideas, not directions; hope, not diagrams; and encouragement, not rigid rules." -- Philip H. Young, Synod of the Pacific, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

"This is a user-friendly, theologically grounded guide to congregational wholeness." -- The Rev. Canon Nancy A. Roosevelt, Episcopal Diocese of Rochester --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Peter L. Steinke is an internationally respected congregational systems consultant who has also served as a parish pastor, an educator, and a therapist for clergy. He is the author of the best-selling books How Your Church Fmaily Works and Healthy Congregations.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 125 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 2 edition (November 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 156699330X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566993302
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.4 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #182,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Peter Steinke offers a look at what makes for a healthy congregation from the perspective of systems theory. There are other books that, in my opinion, do a much better job articulating just what, exactly, systems theory looks like (especially Peter Senge's book The Fifth Discipline), but this is helpful in applying systems theory specifically to congregations. Steinke identifies what "health" looks like in congregations (it is not the absence of illness, but rather the way the body responds to the illness), and how to promote it.

I was particularly amused by the story of "Mr. Schmidt" on page 18, and particularly helped by the discussion of the functioning of the human brain on pages 64-66. I loved this paragraph on page 70: "How many congregations believe they are in the 'we exist for ourselves' business rather than the 'we are in mission to the community, even the world' business? How many congregations confuse 'the way we have done things for decades' with the 'larger apostolic purposes'? How many congregations mistake the means for the ends?"

But the heart and soul of the book is about creating a healthy congregation, understood as an emotional system. This book, along with Peter Steinke's other book How Your Church Family Works and Edwin Friedman's Generation to Generation, present basic theoretical concepts that every congregational leader ought to absorb if they truly want their congregation (and the people in it) to become healthier.
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This book is a helpful introduction to the area of systems thinking. It offers a concise picture of how to understand congregational health from an organic perspective. Having little exposure to systems thinking, I found this book enlightening and thought provoking.

A systems approach to church health perceives and evaluates the connectedness between every relational part of the church. The particular case studies provided in each chapter helped illuminate the applicability of systems thinking to congregational life.

The following terms were of benefit and interest to me: reactive behavior, vision, and self-differentiation. Reactive behavior can corrupt the health of a congregation if leaders reciprocate attacks with like responses of anger and hostility. This is a helpful call for leaders to be steady and mature in handling difficult circumstances.

Vision or shared vision is the immune defense system of an institution or church. This concept helps leaders realize the importance of people sharing and owning the vision of the institution or church.

Self-differentiation is concerned with defining what is self or not self. It is focused upon what is native to the system and what is foreign. To differentiate is to stay the course with reactive people and at the same time stay in touch with them even when relationships become difficult.

Beyond finding help from the previous terms, I found a systems approach to be more dialogical and less hierarchical than much of the leadership material commonly found for church leaders. Health, according to systems thinking, is about attitudes, moods, and choices that are managed well by leaders in times of difficulty.
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Steinke, Peter L., Healthy Congregations, Hearndon, Virginia, The Alban Institute, 1996.

Healthy Congregations is an engaging book. The author focuses on the similarities between the physical body and how it functions and the body of Christ and how it functions in relationship systems. Steinke states, "We relate to one another in the ways biological cells respond to one another." In other words, all parts interact and impact each other.

Steinke is concerned with establishing and defining what is responsible and enlightened behavior and how this healthy way of interrelating is the key to good health in a congregation. He sets out to identify those interactions which most empower health and those interactions which most enable the disease process. He concludes that health happens when people take personal responsibility for their own actions and behaviors, as well as for their own health.

His chapter entitled "Infectious Anxiety" is an excellent overview of gossiping, whispering, blaming, faultfinding and triangulation. He states that, "Secrets support immaturity. Underground murmurers in a community are usually insecure, dependent and childish people" (59). He goes on to declare that the leader who remains silent about these behaviors, in essence, enables it. He concludes that, "A healthy congregation is one that actively and responsibly addresses or heals its disturbances, not one with an absence of troubles" (10).

Review the discussion questions at the end of each chapter as they are the practical application of his content. The author had fun writing this book. He gets his message across by way of his analogous insight into the physical body as it parallels with the body of Christ.
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The latest book to apply family systems to the congregation is Healthy Congregations, by Peter Steinke, a student of the late Rabbi Edwin Friedman. Steinke approaches his subject positively - how do healthy congregations behave?
Congregational health begins with mature, self-differentiated leaders. Leaders in an anxious system (as all systems are, from time to time) must avoid becoming overly concerned with solving others' problems or assuaging their anxiety. Anyone who has served in congregational leadership knows how difficult this can be. Steinke holds out the faith that leaders who model good immune functioning can in time be the "salvation" of their congregations.
Steinke's account of congregational maladies ring true, and his prescriptions are pragmatic. Healthy Congregations is a worthy sequel to Steinke's previous Alban volume, How Your Congregational Family Works.
Dan Hotchkiss, senior consultant for the Alban Institute
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