NACOS #1.01 – Introduction

Native American Course of Study (NACOS) – Congregational Care 323

Course Description: This course introduces students to practices of congregational care and the pastor’s responsibility in caregiving in a variety of situations. Readings, class experiences, prerecordings, movies, videos, and course assignments are designed to deepen the students’ appreciation for the collaborative ministries of the pastor and the congregation, with a particular focus on working with Native American persons.

David O Kueker – Focus: Recognizing and Responding to Unhealthy Patterns in Congregations; recognizing patterns in congregational life regarding grief, change, conflict and COVID.
Session: December 13, 1-4 pm.

Prior to class, read: Session Text: “SEMINAR TWO: An Invitation to Dialogue; Focus: Conversations Change Lives” … this document addresses the sociological patterns by which congregations seek to prevent change in numerical growth by generating anxiety and conflict in order to prevent change. These same problems and patterns occur related to issues for congregational care.
Download link:
From Diagnosis, Dialogue, and Decision: A Threefold Process of Revitalization for the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, A Training Manual/Study Guide Submitted to the Faculty of the School of Theology, Fuller Theological Seminary, In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Ministry, by David O. Kueker, September 2007.

It would have to be a very small congregation indeed for you to engage every single member in individual one-on-one therapy. Some individuals in crisis will need that one on one pastoral ministry.

Family systems therapy is based on Murray Bowen’s family systems theory, which holds that individuals are inseparable from their network of relationships…. Bowen’s theory suggests it is beneficial to address the structure and behavior of the broader relationship system, which he believed to play a part in the formation of character. According to Bowen, changes in behavior of one family member are likely to have an influence on the way the family functions over time. [1]

As with family therapy, congregational care can be provided to an entire congregation at once (worship), to subsystems of the congregational system gathered in small groups to make decisions (committees), to accomplish work (teams), to strengthen interpersonal relationships (fellowship) and to increase learning and understanding (classes and bible studies), or through ministry to their families and social networks.

The relationship with the pastor, the non-anxious presence of the pastor and the way the pastor communicates with a congregation in groups can have a significant positive caring impact upon all members of a congregation. As with family therapy, assistance offered to help the healthier members of the group to change will provide a boost to allow the health of all members of the group to improve. A rising tide lifts all boats. By recognizing patterns of unwellness in congregations, pastors can respond to conflict and problems as caring guides and also proactively prevent problems from growing worse.

It is necessary as the leader of a congregation to be capable to pastorally minister to groups of people and also to the entire congregation as a group. The first step in this ministry to groups of people is to recognize patterns of interaction that are unhealthy. This is a way of diagnosing a problem from noticing certain symptoms at work within the group and responding appropriately

Each topic for this part of the course will display in a separate blog post.
Homework will involve you linking that idea with a person and/or experience from your own life or church experience, briefly telling their story and what you think you could do to minister to them. (Expect that your own culture and personal experience will provide insights to understand the situation, how to help in the situation, and to remain non-anxious, authentic and differentiated.)
You can share your homework with our class as a comment to the blog post, if you wish.
Each post will provide additional links for you to explore … but they are optional, not required.

Topics and Asynchronous Learning:
Some of the topics listed below will not be able to be discussed during our class time due to time limitations. They are included, however, just in case you find them interesting or applicable to what you perceive to be your needs for your ministry. Reading or viewing them is entirely voluntary – only if you are curious.

NACOS #1.01
Introduction (This post.)

NACOS #1.02 <— click on this link to access
Recognizing grief patterns: William Wordman’s Four Tasks of Mourning
(Grief is an adaptation to unwanted change. How can we help congregations to adapt?)

NACOS #1.03
Recognizing conflict patterns in Reinforcing and Balancing Loops
in Peter Senge’s Limits to Growth Archetype (page 3-11).
(Anxiety, conflict, and resistance to change is a response to unwanted change. How does it occur? How does the congregation deal with disastrous changes?)

NACOS #1.04
Recognizing the Diffusion of Innovations Adopter Framework (page 12-24)
(How do congregations segment themselves related to a change? Understanding the five basic segments.)

NACOS #1.05
Working with the Diffusion Change Process as a tool of congregational care (page 25-29)
(How can pastors facilitate the congregation’s healthy response to change, helping with anxiety, conflict and resistance to change?)

NACOS #1.06
Working with a Congregation behaving like a dysfunctional family.
Understanding the patterns, being non-anxious, differentiating while keeping in touch.

Additional topics, if you are interested:
NACOS #1.07 Recognizing and responding helpfully to the Karpman Drama Triangle.
NACOS #1.08 Recognizing and responding helpfully to Congregational Anxiety (Friedman, Steinke)
NACOS #1.09 Recognizing and responding helpfully to Cognitive Distortions (CBT, David Burns)
NACOS #1.10 Recognizing and responding helpfully to patterns of dependency and codependency in congregations.
NACOS #1.11 Resources for understanding conflicts with the Culture of American White Poverty – a common challenge to ministry today, in politics as well as COVID.
NACOS #1.12 Worship as Pastoral Care – preaching to encourage empathy, differentiation and tolerance.


[1] Family Systems Therapy, from


In larger congregations, there will be less opportunity for a pastor to be present to church members one on one. The larger the congregation the more likely it is to caregiving will need to shift from presence to policies that are taught to all staff members and guide all church activities, as the larger the congregational system, the easier it is for it to fall into chaos with unintended consequences. (Example: Carefully following Safe Sanctuaries policies.)

It’s helpful to recognize patterns … like on a weather map.
Templates organize data to recognize patterns. Like lines on maps and fronts on weather maps.

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