Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Shirley A. Freed

Second Advisor

Duane M. Covrig

Third Advisor

Ron Flowers


Problem. Clergy persons without an awareness of their family system patterns and reactivity often exercise their leadership in unhealthy ways that are damaging to their congregations. This study described changes in leadership attitudes and practices experienced by clergy participants in a Family Systems training program conducted by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Method. This qualitative case study followed a narrative design. I collected data while participating in the program and 3 years later conducted semi-structured person-to-person interviews with all participants who were willing and available. The data also include drawings by each participant depicting their experience before and after the intervention. The constant comparative method was used to code data into emergent themes. Internal validity was enhanced by using triangulation, member checks, clarifying researcher bias, rich/thick description, and including discrepant information. Composite narratives were created as alternative representations to represent the themes from the data while protecting the identity of the participants. Images of the changes experienced in clergy leadership attitudes and practices can be formed by the reader and provide the ability to assess whether the results of this analysis fit a particular situation, thus providing external validity.

Results. The clergy persons in this study experienced eight different positive changes in their leadership attitudes and practices through learning and applying Clergy Family Systems Theory. They found the concepts in the training program to be highly relevant to their personal and professional lives and expressed a very high Overall Value of the experience. After the program they found they were more aware of systems issues in real settings and also more aware of their own reactive patterns. These awarenesses contributed to their being Less Reactive, Less Anxious, Less Entangled, Less Taking Things Personally, Less Blaming, More Understanding, More Calm, and More Calming.

Conclusions. This study has shown that clergy persons participating in a continuing education program on Family Systems Theory applied to clergy and congregations found dramatic improvements in their leadership attitudes and practices in their congregations. They believe that this training has provided the “most valuable tool” in their “ministry toolboxes.” This study shows that clergy and their families, church leaders at all levels, and those responsible for educating and training clergy should pursue similar programs to strengthen the relational health and mission effectiveness of Christian churches.

Subject Area

Clergy--Family relationships, Christian leadership, Families of clergy