Curriculum Vision

Pastoral Leadership in the Faith Community

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is an action-reflection model for learning and doing ministry. Distinct from institutional-based CPE programs, Congregation-Based CPE at the Samaritan Pastoral Counseling Center focuses on ministry in the local church and emphasizes the importance of pastoral and lay leadership in that setting. The program is a satellite of the Sisters of Charity Hospital CPE program in Buffalo, New York. The primary purpose of Congregation-Based CPE is to strengthen the ministry of pastors, student ministers, and lay workers in the church through the use of the CPE action-reflection method of learning. In addition to the individuals in the congregation, the church system as a whole becomes Anton Boisen’s “living human document” for study and learning.

       The theoretical base of the Congregation-Based CPE curriculum is Bowen Family Systems Theory developed by Murray Bowen, M.D., who founded the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family in Washington, DC. Edwin Friedman, D.D., the author of Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue, has applied this systemic theory of human functioning to congregational life. Bowen Theory understands the functioning of individual organisms and persons within the context of the “emotional systems” of which they are a part. From this viewpoint, the interaction between the various parts of the system becomes the primary focus of study. This approach reduces the anxious focus on the person with the problem in the system, explores how others in the system interact with the problem, and promotes less anxious, more creative leadership in the church, family, and other institutions. Bowen Theory is a new way to understand human experience.

Class Photo

Congregation-Based CPE is distinct from many other CPE programs in three important aspects that emphasize systems theory, pastoral care, and leadership in the church and other faith-based settings.
They are as follows

1. The program is primarily congregation-based rather than institution-based. The primary focus of Congregation-Based CPE is the study of pastoral care and leadership in the church and other faith-based communities. While there are similarities between ministry in faith-based and secular settings, the focus on ministry in the congregation calls for a broader approach that explores systemic patterns in the organization and relates them to the theology of the church. Pastors and lay leaders in the church are called to exercise well-defined, non-anxious leadership in the faith community.

2. The focus of learning is ministry in one's own congregation or pastoral agency as pastor/chaplain/leader or student assistant. CPE students are not placed in churches or institutions by the CPE program. They bring their ministry in their own churches or agencies into the CPE program and apply the action-reflection model for learning in that context. Each congregation is a distinct body with its own history, theological identity, and pattern of systemic functioning. The primary learning focus in CPE is the self-awareness of the minister and the relationship between the minister and the congregation. Understanding and strengthening this relationship between minister and congregation or agency is a critical component of pastoral care and leadership.

3. The theoretical base of the program is Bowen Family Systems Theory. The curriculum is designed to study family systems theory as developed by Dr. Murray Bowen and applied to congregational life by Dr. Edwin Friedman. In this framework the pastoral leader in the congregation stands at the point where three systems intersect – the individual families in the church, the church itself as an emotional system, and the minister’s own family of origin. The minister’s ability to function as a non-anxious and well-defined leader in this systemic network promotes life and growth in the congregation. The Biblical image of the church as the “body of Christ” points to this systemic understanding of the congregation.

Effective pastoral care and leadership is based on three factors:

(1) The clear expression of the minister's identity and beliefs.

(2) The ability to observe the congregation as an emotional system.

(3) The commitment to listen effectively and function as a non-anxious pastoral presence, especially with those who have different viewpoints.

Integrating Bowen Family Systems Theory and theological reflection with the CPE action-reflection model of learning provides a new way of thinking about ministry. This approach offers a rich connection between theory and practice to strengthen pastoral and lay ministry in the church and the world.