Family Systems + Critical Thinking: A Desert Sojourn Retreat

Family Systems + Critical Thinking: A Desert Sojourn Retreat

APRIL 24 – 27, 2022

Family Systems & Critical Thinking: Leaders Facing Challenges and Changing the Future

A leaders retreat to learn & apply the basic concepts in real-life family & work settings.

The purpose of this retreat is to familiarize participants with basic concepts in Family Systems Theory and in Critical Thinking, and to explore how these can be resources in managing life more effectively. Through presentations, conversations, and self-reflection, participants will learn how to apply and integrate Family Systems Theory and Critical Thinking to real-life situations in family, church, community, work settings, and the like.

“Throughout my life and work as a church professional and college professor, I have observed that the wisest teachers and mentors have one thing in common: They strive to become better thinkers. They recognize that having a thoughtful approach to both common and unexpected experiences, has great value to sustaining vitality.”

Gordon Peterson

What’s in it for You?

After you participate in this retreat about Family Systems, you will be able to recognize and discuss:

  1. Emotional process and intellectual process, and how they relate to each other
  2. Forces for Togetherness and for Separateness in relationship systems, and what the interplay is between them
  3. The process of differentiating a self within a relationship system
  4. The role that Family of Origin plays in emotional process
  5. How to gain a “balcony view” of a relationship system so as to relate more effectively with it

After you participate in this retreat about Critical Thinking Theory, you will be able to:

  1. Discuss and recognize the difference between assertions and evidence
  2. Review the data to make decisions that influence how you think about things in the world
  3. Recognize and confirm observable data
  4. Identify underlying assumptions.
  5. Develop an effective argument or point of view.


Sunday, April 24

  • 5:30p Dinner
  • 7:00p Welcome and Introductions
  • 7:30p Evening Reception and Getting Acquainted

Monday, April 25

  • 7:00a Labyrinth Meditation Walk (Theme: Equipping and Building Up)
  • 8:30a Breakfast
  • Session I Introducing Family Systems
  • Session II Key Concepts in Family Systems
  • 12:30p Lunch
  • 1:00p Free Time
  • 5:30p Dinner
  • 6:30p Session III Developing Your Family Diagram/Genograms
  • 8:30p Evening Reception

Tuesday, April 26

  • 7:00a Morning Yoga
  • 8:30a Breakfast
  • 9:15 Session IV Introducing Critical and Fair-minded Thinking
  • Session V Critical Thinking: Stages of Development and Becoming a Practicing Thinker
  • 12:30p Lunch
  • 1:00p Focused Reflection Retreat participants will have opportunity to engage with the themes of family systems theory and critical thinking while walking the labyrinth, hiking a nearby trail, journaling or dialoging with the presenters.
  • 5:30p Dinner
  • 7:00p Evening Worship (Theme: Ephesians 4:11-16 — Speaking the truth in love and growing up in every way)
  • 8:30p Evening Reception

Wednesday, April 27

  • 7:00a Qigong Tai Chi
  • 8:30a Breakfast
  • 9:15 Session VI Differentiation of Self in Family Systems and Creating Fair-minded Critical Societies
  • Session VII: Closing Thoughts, Moving Forward and Evaluation
  • 12:30p Fellowship Lunch and Departure

Scriptural Grounding

The gifts [God] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (Eph. 4:11-16 NRS)

Recommended Reading (optional)

  • Everything Isn’t Terrible by Kathleen Smith ~ it’s very accessible, appropriate for a newcomer to family systems thinking, and she has a delightful sense of humor.
  • Growing Yourself Up by Jenny Brown, also good for beginners.

+++Retreat attendees qualify for 1.5 CEU credits.


Sunday – Wednesday, April 24 – 27, 2022


Price per person:

  • One person, private room : $550 per person
  • Two people, two in a room : $490 per person
  • Three people, three in a room : $445 per person

Price includes: Four days of programming, three nights lodging and 9 meals (3 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 3 dinners)

Guests may arrange with Spirit in the Desert to arrive early and depart late for an extra fee.


Call 480.488.5218 or email to register.

All are welcome to this Desert Sojourn Retreat at Spirit in the Desert Retreat Center in Carefree, Arizona!

Retreat Leaders

Gordon Peterson

[Rev. Dr.] Gordon Peterson, a retired ELCA pastor and an Adjunct College Professor, teaches Critical Thinking and Non-Profit Management. Prior to his retirement he served as Assistant to the Bishop in two ELCA synods, was Executive Director of a nonprofit organization, a parish pastor, and a mission developer. His life-long educational pursuits include certification in the area of Civil and Domestic Mediation, Coaching for Excellence, Nonprofit Fundraising and several years of system’s study at the Center for Family Process in Bethesda, Maryland. Gordon is married to Dr. Cathie Peterson, parent to two daughters and grandfather to three grandchildren.

Rev. Dr. Gordon is President and co-owner, with Dr. Cathie Peterson, of Peterson Educational Services LLC, a family-owned educational company committed to providing quality educational programs and seminars in formal settings at colleges, universities, nonprofit organizations and congregations. Additionally, Peterson Educational Services provides educational opportunities in informal settings to assist individuals develop stronger personal relationships through mentoring, tutoring, coaching, and college advising to equip individuals for success.

Michael Kerr

Michael Kerr is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA). He served three installed pastorates and seventeen assignments as an intentional interim pastor. He has been working with Family Systems Theory since the early 1990s. He is a 25-year veteran of the ongoing seminar by the Center for Family Process in Bethesda, MD and a graduate of the 4-year ELCA Systems Academy training program. He is married to Dayna, and together they have two grown sons.