Principle 4 of Family Systems: Extended Family Field

How much of your leadership is heavily influenced by your family? How could learning more about your family improve your effectiveness as a leader?

Although people aren’t predetermined to follow their parents, they may be predisposed because of their environment and training. See: Do You Lead Like Your Daddy? Leaders may improve their leadership by learning more about their extended family.

This term, “extended family field”, refers to our family of origin, (parents, brothers, sisters) plus our other relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). Edwin Friedman describes the differences in outlook of the individual model of groups and the family systems model:

The thinking that surrounds the individual model tends to see the extended family field almost exclusively as the source of difficulties or pathology. The family becomes something to learn to deal with so that it won’t get you. The model tends to focus on what is sick or weak in the family, what to avoid or keep at a distance. It therefore encourages individuals with problems to see their family of origin only as a source of their weakness and not as also a source of their strengths.

The family systems model enables individuals to seek relationships with their family of origin; the problem with parents, after all, is that they had parents (Generation to Generation, page 35).

This approach recognizes most families and most human beings making up those families have both good and bad characteristics. This approach permits us to recognize both – to find and incorporate the strengths in the system.

It’s my observation that many people see their family members as more than or less than human. Those who see them as more than human (angels) do not recognize they had faults. “My father would never have done anything wrong. My parents were perfect. I never remember a mistake they made.” They were more than human.

Others had painful experiences in their family. “My mother was a devil. She was evil through and through.” Those who see their family members as less than human (demons) want to separate from them and never have contact with them.

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God has given us freedom of choice to learn from and imitate the good and learn from and reject what is less than best.

We have choices of following the strengths or weaknesses of our family. Men and women didn’t get their names in Hebrews 11 because of perfection but because of strengths God chose to emphasize and exemplify. How did God want us to remember the heroes of faith in this great chapter of the Bible?

  • Will we follow Noah’s faith and obedience or his drunkenness? v. 7
  • God recorded Abraham’s faith and obedience in Hebrews 11, not his lying, and laughing. vv. 8-10, 17-19
  • Moses makes it into the Hall of Faith because of his courageous, wise choices, not his murder. vv. 24-27
  • Rahab is listed for her respect for God, not for her prostitution and lying. v. 31
  • Sampson is known for his sacrificial dedication at the end of his life, not his many sins mentioned in Judges. v. 32
  • David is known as a man after God’s own heart, for his repentance and continual search for God, not for his adultery and murder. v. 32
[bctt tweet=”Individuals in families tend to do what that family has always done.” username=””]

“That’s the way the Jones family is. We’ve always had trouble with our temper.” “The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He by no means clears the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation” (Numbers 14:18).

However, if we get to know our family better (for two or more generations back), we may be able to see strengths and imitate them, and release weaknesses and not do them just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” This long-range objective is a goal of family systems.

Getting to know my family better and why they do the things they do has freed me to decide whether I want to do things the way we’ve always done it, rebel and reverse everything, or consider the options and do what I think best in each circumstance. I have used questions I read in Family Ties that Bind, by Ronald W. Richardson to discuss with members of my family about our family rules — conscious and unconscious: Questions to Learn More About Your Family .

It’s been helpful to me to see that congregations also form a family system. The more I understand the congregation as a family system, I can be freer to do what God teaches me is best — not just repeat something because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or reject it because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

How have you dealt with humans in your family — their strengths and weaknesses?
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Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

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