Archive for Book Review

Galindo, Israel, ed.  Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.

Galindo, Israel, ed.  Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.  Didache Press, 2017.  292 pages, paperback.

A review by the Rev. Richard K. Klafehn

The training for Interim Ministry provides an important introduction to the concepts of Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST), but there is simply not enough time to digest it, let it sink in and develop, and become skilled enough to use it.  And as the adage says, practice makes perfect.

That’s why this worthwhile collection of 21 essays, written by those who have applied and used BFST in their personal lives and congregations, is so very helpful.

This volume contains 21 essays by Israel Galindo, faculty members from the Leadership in Ministry Workshops (Columbia Theological Seminary) which he directs, presenters, and participants.

It is an immersion experience into the language and thought process of BFST as practitioners have applied it and experienced it in their own lives and congregations.

It is a practical tutorial provided by capable coaches and gifted mentors, who have used it in their own leadership roles within congregations.

The benefit of reading this book can be increased comfort with the concepts of BFST, improved ease at applying them, and stronger, less anxious, more confident, and courageous leadership.  I was able to put several illustrations and quotations immediately to use.

The 21 essays appear in a variety of styles and voices.  This feature adds to the book’s readability, enjoyment, and interest, whether one reads the work straight through or pauses after each essays for some intentional and deliberate reflection.  Some essays are shorter and serve as personal reflections.  Others are more directly instructional, including one extended case study in a congregational context.  Some are more practical.  Others are more theoretical.  Some seek to relate BFST to theology and others to science.  One rather winsome essay is written by an interim pastor who is also a cattle farmer and is titled “Herding in the Bovine and the Human.”

Essay topics include, among others: leadership through a BFST lens, navigating triangles, sibling position, common misunderstandings of systems theory, self-differentiated leadership, reciprocity in the emotional field, the possibility of change, letting go of outcomes, anxiety, and empowerment.

Edwin Friedman is quoted throughout.  A four-page bibliography is included at the end.

Bendroth, Norman B. Interim Ministry In Action

Bendroth, Norman B.  Interim Ministry In Action: A Handbook for Churches in Transition.  Lanham, MD: Rowman & LIttlefield, 2018.  203 pages, paperback.

A review by the Rev. Richard K. Klafehn

Like the bestselling book for over 25 years for pregnant mothers, this book offers “What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Pastor.”  It is a thorough and practical step-by-step guide for congregations in an interim period from beginning to end when a new pastor is called and a new ministry together begins.

Bendroth is a seasoned transitional pastor and teacher of interim pastors in the Interim Ministry Network.  His book benefits from his 25 years of experience.

He wrote this book to teach congregation lay leaders, interim pastor call committees, and transition teams about the interim process.

Ten chapters take readers through the entire intentional interim transition.  Each chapter concludes with questions for group reflection and discussion.

The book begins with a chapter on the realization that “it’s not your parent’s church anymore”.  The culture, the church, and how to fulfill the church’s mission have changed.

Subsequent chapters describe the process of transition and interim ministry, the benefits of a trained intentional interim minister and an intentional interim ministry period, and what the congregation and intentional interim pastor together will do.  Bendroth introduces the five focus points for the transition, and the central concepts and discussion points within them.

He addresses the fear of change that can short-circuit a productive interim period.  He encourages this to be a time to reflect and then to try new things or do familiar things better.

An interim pastor can play the role of shepherd, coach, consultant, or cheerleader, and sometimes all four.

Bendroth encourages congregations to be like a shark, that is, to move forward or die.  He identifies three ways forward a congregation may consider: revitalization, renewal, or redevelopment.

The guide concludes with the final steps of saying good-bye to the intentional interim pastor and giving a smooth and healthy welcome to the new settled pastor.

Bendroth includes nine helpful appendices of tools and resources for congregations in transition, and a selected bibliography for further reading.

I found this book to be a superb overview of my own interim ministry training.  I found reading it to be an opportunity to reflect thoughtfully on my work in my own current setting.

At one point I feared Bendroth was providing lay leaders an impossibly high set of expectations for interim pastors and ministries.  Thankfully, he concedes in the final pages that no interim pastor can do everything suggested.

He hopes his book does not overwhelm readers but excites them for the possibilities of an interim ministry.

If congregation leaders read this book in preparation or alongside the interim period, it can facilitate useful discussions about priorities for the intentional interim period, so it is as constructive as possible.

This book belongs in the personal library of bishops for their own reference.

This book belongs in the libraries of synods and districts, for sharing with congregational leaders approaching and entering an intentional interim period.

It provides a greater appreciation for intentional interim pastors and the ministry they can provide.


Lehr, J. Fred. Becoming a 21st-Century Church: A Transformational Manual.

Lehr, J. Fred.  Becoming a 21st-Century Church: A Transformational Manual.  Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017.  88 pages, paperback.

Richard K. Klafehn

Writers such as Phyllis Tickle identified the need for the church to adapt to the significant cultural shifts of this era.  However, congregations and their leaders often do not acknowledge, understand, or accept them.   Consequently 80% of the congregations across mainline Christianity are stagnant or dying.

J. Fred Lehr wrote this clear and helpful guide to illumine the cultural shifts and how the emerging 21st century church may respond and yet be faithful to the Gospel. Based on personal research and 45 years of ordained ministry, including 5 interim pastor positions, Lehr seeks to help leaders find real and practical applications for their setting.

The 11 chapters have discussion questions at the end, so that adult study groups, congregation councils, or vision and strategic mission planning teams may read it together and find directions suitable for their mission context.

After “500 years of a sola Scriptura church,” Lehr writes, “the new authority of the church is now the Holy Spirit.  The key question now is not what is in the book, but where is the Holy Spirit leading the church?” (pp. 5-6)  Lehr names the shift as from sola Scriptura to sola Spiritus.

The 21st century church will be more relational and less didactic: focused on knowing Jesus and one another on our faith journeys, rather than about Jesus, the Bible, or catechism.

The 21st century church will be flexible rather than uniform, provide experiences of the Holy through worship, community service, and outreach, open ended, and responsive to the needs of the community and beyond.

The role of clergy shifts from resident theologian or expert to companion on the spiritual journey.

The 21st century church will see itself less as “institution” with a focus on policies, constitution, bylaws, and the like.   The church will seek to be more a “movement”, people in action together, alive, driven to make a difference for the cause of Jesus.  “Orthodoxy”, knowing and believing the right stuff, is not as important as “orthopraxy”, living rightly what is said to be believed.

Lehr’s third chapter offers a “Spiritual Life Survey” for congregation members to assess their own spiritual maturity.  Lehr charts four levels of spiritual maturity based on the New Testament.  The first level is “crowd religion”.  The 21st century church, Lehr says, will challenge individuals to step out of the crowd and become disciples.  Discipleship, however, is only the beginning of the journey to spiritual maturity.

The final chapter offers a practical step-by-step process for implementation.  Given the state of unrelenting violence and tragic mass shootings in our country, the title of step 6, “Ready-Fire-Aim” is regrettable and poorly chosen.  Lehr’s worthy goal, though, is for congregations to be willing to make changes, experiment with new ministries, and even fail.

How is the 21st century church faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  The church will continue to offer the good news that we are already saved by Jesus, hope, conditional love, and an open future that does not depend on one’s past.  The church will continue to keep the main thing the main thing (Steven Covey) and be excited and faithful to the gospel of Jesus.

Teaching Fish to Walk

Teaching Fish to Walk: Church Systems and Adaptive Challenge by Peter L.  Steinke; Available from New Vision Press, Austin, TX. 2016.  $20

Review by John Czarnota


Peter Steinke tells of how a particular fish was, in fact, taught to walk. The Bichir, a “snake-like” amphibious fish, indigenous to Africa, was “taught” to walk by placing it on land for eight months, despite a clear preference for the water. The fish learned to walk, changing muscular structure even, to adapt to the new environment.

This scientific story serves as the underlying metaphor for Stenke’s latest book on systems work in the church. For those familiar with Steinke from his other works, they have come to expect the surprising wisdom of systems theory applied to the congregational context. This is certainly the case in this latest volume.

This work though is not a general systems approach. It specifically delves into the issues of adaptive change -buzzwords in our “the church is dying” era. Adaptive challenges, by their very nature, defy the “quick fix” approaches our culture, and thus our churches, find so addictive.  Adaptive change means being put in an environment for a prolonged period of time where struggle is required. Reconfiguring muscle structure doesn’t happen to non-challenged, water-happy fish.

Steinke’s book thus serves as a major challenge. As leaders in systems thinking, we are encouraged to expose the true environment of our congregations to its leadership, leaving them to learn to walk. We are to resist giving quick fixes, but instead to cheer-lead the indigenous process of re-inventing ourselves. The process is made more challenging by not having a clear end direction. If we knew that an adaptive change process leads to X, then we’d jump right to X. Instead, congregations are called to work and struggle and fuss until the old pulls of homeostasis die, and new adaptive strategies can fully emerge. It is imaginative work. It is dreaming. It is becoming comfortable with frustration and disappointment.

In digesting this book, I felt personally challenged. This is a tall order to do, particularly in the role of an interim. I also felt that this was precisely the challenges we are called to lead churches into at this time, but -it is a doozy! It’s a heavy prophetic work, truly pushing us professional change agents, out of our comfort zone and “quick fix” models, that have worked in the past.

I was grateful for having read Steinke’s previous work, “A Door Set Open”, prior to diving into “Teaching Fish to Walk”. “A Door Set Open” carries strong notes of hope and missional verve. “Teaching Fish to Walk” conveys a feeling of picking up a heavy burden. The two combined leave systems thinkers with some new challenges and a heavy load, but also with hope in and for God’s church on earth. We are invited to switch from “changing to” to “an experience of change”. One that, tempered with hope, is a place of joy, even as we struggle together with new realities. I come away appreciating Steinke’s honest treatment of reality and insightful systems comments. Maybe, this fish too may learn to walk, as I apply an expanded grasp of adaptive challenges into my systems thinking and leadership.