The Key to Leading in Our Rapidly Changing World : Tod Bolsinger
How can we lead effectively in ministry when we are faced with the onslaught of an ever-increasing frequency of changes in the world around us? In this week’s conversation on FrontStage BackStage, host Jason Daye is joined by Tod Bolsinger, executive director of the Church Leadership Institute at Fuller, founder of AE Sloan Leadership, and the best-selling author of Canoeing the Mountains and his latest, Tempered Resilience. Together, Tod and Jason look at the personal transformation that must take place in a ministry leader’s life to help them create adaptive capacity, so they can lead most effectively in our changing world.
Looking to dig more deeply into this topic and conversation? Every week we go the extra mile and create a free toolkit so you and your ministry team can dive deeper into the topic that is discussed. Find your Weekly Toolkit below… Love well, Live well, Lead well!
- Video links to this week’s episode – easily share with the ministry leaders in your church
- Audio links to this week’s episode – easily share with the ministry leaders in your church
- Additional resource links from this week’s conversation – so you and your team can easily find what is mentioned or referenced
- Ministry Leaders Growth Guide – key insights and concepts from this week’s conversation as well as engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process
- Full-text transcript of this week’s episode – review something you heard, pass along snippets, post tweets, create presentations to share, or use in whatever way you find most helpful in developing your ministry leaders
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Additional Resource Links
Tempered Resilience – Tod’s most recent book, a Christian Book Award finalist, explores both the external challenges we face and the internal resistance that holds us back when it comes to leading through change
AE Sloan Leadership – Find additional leadership sources from Tod’s organization
Church Leadership Institute at Fuller – Additional resources, including adaptive leadership cohorts, where Tod serves as executive director
Feeling overwhelmed, burned out, or just want to talk? Complimentary 1-hour Coaching Session for Pastors http://PastorServe.org/freesession
Ministry Leaders Growth Guide
Key Insights and Concepts
- Ministry leaders are compelled because there is a God they love, and there are people they love, and they want to connect the people they love to the God they love
- The hardest thing for leaders isn’t how rapidly the world is changing. It’s how resistant the church is to the changes they need to make in relation to that rapidly changing world.
- One of the most difficult things for pastors is the resistance of their own people that they are called to lead
- Leadership is learned in the leading. You learn it in real time.
- Adaptive leadership is when a leader has to lead when there are no best practices. It’s not about having the answers or being an expert. It’s about actually leading the learning of the organization to be able to go through a process of ongoing transformation.
- The first transformation that has to happen to a leader is they have to overcome the expectation that they can lead as an expert and instead, they have to lead as a learner
- Uncertainty makes people more anxious and drives them to wanting to cling to something that is certain. So they are drawn toward leaders who promise them false certainty.
- No leader really knows how to lead through what we are facing today
- Today, leaders need to be able to lead a group of people to learn and to keep moving forward faithfully, without losing what are the most important values of their community. It is all about effectively adapting to a changing world while staying true to the important core values.
- When you’re leading people to change, the first thing you get in touch with is what is so critical that you will never change it
- Tempered resilience in leadership requires us to be in the middle of the challenge and open to transformation. It begins with reflection.
- Unless you can be vulnerable, you’ll never become strong. Strength is forged in vulnerable self-reflection.
- Most pastors are good at helping individuals through a journey of loss and trust, but not good at leading a group collectively through a journey of loss and trust. And all change involves loss.
- Most leaders do not have nearly enough good relationships
- If you keep practicing healthy leadership, leading through loss and change, you develop resiliency
- As a leader, don’t predict, prototype. Learn how to experiment, learn how to learn, learn how to take your people through whatever challenge that arises.
- The key is not necessarily getting something “right” or “wrong” …the key is learning the way forward. Every church must be willing to learn its way forward with God so it can be a transformative influence in its rapidly changing community.
Questions for Reflection
- What compels me as a ministry leader?
- Do I see resistance in our church? If so, where does it show up and what does it look like?
- How comfortable am I with being a learner who leads rather than an expert who leads? How can I develop in this area?
- How are our people responding to uncertainty? Are there leaders in our culture that they are clinging to because they provide a false sense of certainty? If so, who or what are those?
- What values are critical and will never change?
- Why is all change a journey of loss? How does this help me lead better through change?
- Am I open, personally, to transformation? What does that look like in my life?
- How can I be a more effective leader in our church and community? What changes will I make to grow as a leader?
- What would it look like if we approached ministry with a mindset of experimenting, learning, and prototyping? What would it take to make this a reality in our church? What are the risks? What are the rewards? What will we do?
- How can we begin learning our way forward with God?
How can we lead effectively in ministry when we are faced by the onslaught of an ever-increasing frequency of changes in the world around us?
How can we lead effectively in ministry when we are faced with the onslaught of an ever-increasing frequency of changes in the world around us? In this episode, I’m joined by Tod Bolsinger, executive director of the Church Leadership Institute at Fuller, founder of AE Sloan Leadership, and the best-selling author of Canoeing the Mountains and his latest, Tempered Resilience. Together, Tod and I look at the personal transformation that must take place in a ministry leaders life to help them create adaptive capacity, so they can lead most effectively in our changing world. Are you ready? Let’s go.
Hello, friends, and welcome to FrontStage BackStage. I’m your host, Jason Daye, and I have the absolute privilege every single week of having the opportunity to sit down with a trusted ministry leader, and really dig into a topic that resonates with us as pastors and ministry leaders. And we do this each week in an effort to help pastors just like you, ministry leaders just like you, to embrace a healthy, sustainable rhythm for both life and ministry. And we are proud to be a part of the PastorServe Network. And we do more than just have a conversation. Our team creates an entire toolkit, an entire resource for you, and your church staff, your key volunteers, to really process through and to dig into. It’s a free resource at PastorServe.org/network. It complements the conversation that we have, and it has all types of resources in there, including a ministry leaders growth guide, which pulls out some key insights and gives you questions to reflect upon and to process, to talk through with your team. So be sure to check that out at PastorServe.org/network. And we also love to serve pastors and our team at PastorServe is offering a complimentary coaching session to pastors and ministry leaders. So if you’re wrestling with something, you’re working through something, if you just want to see what a coaching conversation might be like, you can check that out at PastorServe.org/freesession, and we’ll set you up with a session with one of our seasoned coaches. If you’re joining us on YouTube, hello, it’s good to have you along with us. As always, we would love for you to give us a thumbs up and follow along, subscribe, if you would. And in the comments below, drop your name, the name of your church, our team loves to get to know our audience better, and we’ll be praying for you and for your ministry. And whether you’re joining us on YouTube, or your favorite podcast platform, please be sure to subscribe and follow so you do not miss out on any of these great conversations. And I’m very, very excited and looking forward to our conversation today. I’m joined by none other than Tod Bolsinger. So Tod, welcome to FrontStage BackStage.
Jason, it’s nice to be with you. Thanks for having me.
Yeah, super exciting. Now Tod, you have… most people who are watching along or listening along are probably familiar with with some of your work, Canoeing the Mountains, as you know, a best-selling book that really helped hone in and provide a lot of resource, a lot of help, a lot of assistance to pastors and ministry leaders trying to navigate “what does it mean to truly lead” and so appreciative of that. And as we’re kind of looking at this world of leadership, you know, if we’re going to lead our local churches and our ministries, it means we must navigate change, right? Personally, we’ve got to navigate it, but also to help our people navigate change. And that’s just really a given. If you’re in leadership, Tod, you’re navigating change, because life is evolving, right? Relationships are dynamic. Needs and concerns, they fluctuate over time. The world around us, as we know, is shifting. And therefore we need to be observant, and we need to respond to those different shifts. So navigating change effectively is a huge part without question of what it means to lead. And as ministry leaders, as pastors, we can dedicate ourselves to learning the skills it takes to lead change, right? We can dig into those things. We can read books. We can, you know, attend conferences. We can listen to podcasts like this. We can really kind of try to learn the skills that we need to lead change. But really the bigger question that many pastors seem to be asking themselves today is will I be able to survive, right? Will I be able to survive navigating these changes with with my congregation, with my ministry? And Tod, I’m so grateful that you have chosen to tackle this concern head on in your most recent book, Tempered Resilience, because this is a felt concern in ministry. It’s a growing concern, I would say, in ministries. As we kind of survey the landscape of ministries, especially here in the US, I’m sure around the world as well. And so to begin, Tod, I would love to hear kind of your thoughts on why do you think we’re really experiencing a heightened concern around the question of surviving in ministry?
Well, you said it around the beginning, you said, it’s a given that leaders have to lead through change. It wasn’t when we were trained. Like that one of the giant disappointments is that most of us who are trained in ministry, were trained to do something, like to take something from the past that is really important to us, like the experience of God’s entering into our lives, and making that, making that available to people who haven’t had that yet. So I said, like, every one of us who got into ministry got into it because there’s a God we love, and there are people we love, and we want to connect the people we love to the God we love. And we mostly want to do that by building a church they would love. So then when you start realizing to do that you actually have to mess with and deconstruct and reconstruct a church that people used to love. Actually what you realize is, that becomes the challenge. So the famous quote that I use from Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky, is “leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb.” That’s the challenge. And the first word we connect to is the word disappoint. I never got in this to disappoint anybody. How do I… what’s disappointing about connecting the people we love to the God we love? No, no, it’s disappointing your own people is the hard part. Because what you realized is the hardest thing for leaders isn’t how rapidly the world is changing out there. It’s how resistant the church is to the changes they need to make to that rapidly changing world. So the most soul sucking thing for pastors, the big surprise was the most difficult thing is the resistance of our own people that we are called to lead. And we weren’t… and no one prepared us for that. That was not a given. That was not. Ed Friedman says the most important thing you can learn is to prepare for sabotage. The most important aspect of leadership is to prepare for sabotage, which is why of course you had a year on it in seminary, no. You never had a single class or conversation about it in seminary. So this is the big disruption.
Yeah, it’s so fascinating, Todd, because that distinction as you kind of lay it out, it’s it is so recognizable for us, right? Like, like, it is this idea of we do we go into things thinking, you know, we love God, we love our people we want we want to, you know, introduce people we love to the God that we love, you know, experienced these things, and that we are going to kind of tackle this idea of ministry and, and pastoring. And we are going to figure it out with God’s help, right? You know, we’re going to lean on God, we’re going to lean on the Holy Spirit, but we are going to plow through it. And we get into it and we realize that it’s not, you know, the idea of developing these great strategies that are going to, you know, help us, you know, neatly navigate everything. But it’s, you know, really being put into the crucible, which is, you know, I love the imagery you use in this book, Tod, is the idea that we’re, you know, we’re kind of plunged into this world that as you said, we weren’t really prepared for. And Tod, I find it so interesting, that this kind of phenomenon occurs so often with leaders. We’re in a leadership position, and we often focus on, like, we’ve been talking the responsibility of leadership, perhaps the expectations of leadership, right and like our role as the leader, we make things happen. We do the leadership things that need to be done. So there’s this emphasis on actively getting done what needs to get done. But, Tod, you so wisely point out that there’s this whole other side of leadership that is happening. It’s happening, it often gets overlooked, and that is the personal transformation of the leader in the midst of of leading. So Tod, can you share with us about the value of really paying attention to not just start leadership activity, but really paying attention to what’s happening in us, personally, as leaders?
So one of the principles about this kind of leadership is called… this leadership that I lead people in, it comes from some other folks who developed it… it’s called adaptive leadership. Adaptive leadership is when you have to lead when there are no best practices. When you can’t lead as an expert, right? So think about most of us. We’re trained to be experts, I would say. I work at a seminary, everybody who came to seminary, somebody said to them, you’re the best Christian, I know you should go pro. You should go off to professional Christian school. And we, when we’re done with them, that most of the time they get a master of divinity. It’s a lot like a superhero, right? They’re experts. They’re experts in biblical exegesis. They’re oftentimes experts in pastoral counseling. They’re experts at being able to answer your biggest questions that give you doubts and worry about the faith. They’re experts in how churches run, like they’re experts, except we now live in a world where it’s changing so dramatically, they can’t rely on those best practices, there are no experts. It’s a completely new world, and it needs a completely new kind of learning. And so what it means is, the first transformation that has to happen to a leader is they’ve got to overcome the expectation that they can lead as an expert. And they have to lead as a learner. Which means they have to stand in front of the people who look at them and say, Yes, Reverend Doctor, what is the answer? And they have to say, I don’t know. And psychologists tell us, that’s the three hardest words for a human to say, harder than I love you and I forgive you. It’s to stand in front of people and say, I don’t know, I feel dumb I, I feel ill equipped. I’m not sure what to do. There’s actually even lots of studies that show that burnout is really related to the experience of feeling incompetent, I don’t know what to do. And I feel alone, there’s nobody, I can talk to you about it. The pastors and the leaders who who are still more resilient in the face of a changing world, aren’t that they are experts, it’s that they have been trained on what to do when you’re not an expert. So this is a massive transformation, right? And it’s a different way of thinking what it means to be a competent, caring, committed leader. It’s not about having the answers or being an expert. It’s about actually leading the learning of the organization to be able to go through a process of ongoing transformation. You’re going to go through your transformation, they’re going to go through their. So that’s the that’s at the center of it.
Right. Right, Tod, I think what the challenge is there. I mean, there are many challenges. But one that comes to mind is, oftentimes our people are looking to us to be the experts. So it’s not just us trying to reprogram and think about… now we have to, we have to help our people understand this shift. And help them to temper their expectations, and push it more toward the world of a journey. We’re journeying together, as opposed to you know, kind of top down disseminating knowledge and information, right. So how do we make that shift with our, because it’s one thing to make the jump ourselves, right. It’s a whole other thing to try to lead our people into that jump. So how do we tackle that?
Well, and as as people get more anxious, because there’s more uncertainty, they want more certainty. So they are drawn toward leaders who promise them false certainty. So we have a world where people are drawn toward the leader who says, I have a plan and here it is. I always say, you know, think about this, anybody who tells you, they are an expert today is lying to you. Because nobody has ever led through what we’re in today. Like this, I mean, people used to argue with me when Canoeing the Mountains first came out that I was overstating the case. Nobody argues with me since 2020. Right? We are, we are in a health crisis that has led to an economic crisis that’s led to an awareness of deeper social injustice that has led to a political crisis. And now on top of it, is leading toward a global conflict crisis. We are in 1918, 1929, 1968, and some would say 1939, all at the same time. So anybody who tells you that they have a plan for this, because they’ve been through it before, they’re lying to you, right? So the answer can’t be that. So then what do we expect and ask leaders to do? We want leaders to be the kinds of people who can lead a group of people to learn and to keep moving forward faithfully, without losing what is the most important values of their community. It’s how do you adapt? I would say, think of it like a like a healthy body. How do I adapt my core DNA to this changing environment? It’s not that I’m going to become something I’m not, but I have to realize that I’m going to have to adapt to the changing environment in a way that I’m healthy. That is the challenge that leaders are facing today. And quite frankly, none of us were trained for it. That’s not what we were training. I mean, I’m at seminary… we didn’t train people for that. And now we have to learn it in real time.
All right. So because of all the uncertainty, and because people are craving certainty, how do we meet people there and invite them on this journey in such a way that they’re not like, oh, forget this, I’m going to go hang out with someone who can give me the answer, right? I mean, how do we help people embrace that reality?
Well, in the work that we do with consulting and coaching, and taking groups through this adaptive leadership process, it actually starts in an interesting place. When you’re trying to lead people to change, the first thing you get in touch with is what is so critical that you will never change. So there’s a great phrase by Jim Collins, who’s a famous leadership writer, he says, Once you’re clear on what will never change, then you need to be prepared to change everything else. The first thing we do with organizations is we say, Look, we’re gonna go through change, but we’re gonna actually start by talking about what’s so critically important to us, we won’t lose it. And that is, for me, the way that you bring people together, you bring them together to talk about what’s really, really so important. Now, what happens is that most people want that to be a bigger list. Whatever changes, we’re going to keep all these things I like. We’re actually going to have to get really clear about the essence, like what I call the core DNA, the actual values that make us who we are. And then we’re going to ask, okay, how does that adapt to a new world? So the first thing we’re doing with people is we assure them that we’re going to listen really deeply, and we’re not going to lose the things that are the most treasured. But we are going to ask ourselves questions about how we take that into the future. Because if we don’t, then we there won’t be any future for us to be able to lead into.
Yeah, that’s helpful. You give them that anchor point. So they’re not feeling like they’re just being tossed, because everyone’s already feeling like you’re being tossed around, right? I mean, that’s the reality of life today, we’re all being tossed around. So you dive in, and you give them that anchor point to give them that foundation, so that as we’re being tossed around, we’re anchored. But now we can look at these other things that that we can touch on and address.
Well, and what’s important to recognize is, the things that we’re going to change are dear to us. We’re going to have to let go of things that got us this far. Right? So adaptive change is built on this notion that it requires learning, and it results in loss. Which is why we end up having resistance. People, I mean, one of the famous phrases from Heifetz and Linsky is people don’t resist change, they resist loss. So what you’re actually taking people through is you’re taking them through a journey of loss and trust. Many of us as leaders, were taught how to do that with an individual. You know, like, if there’s a tragic car accident, you know how to get to the hospital, and you know how to care for people in the middle of loss. One of the things about, for most of us as pastors is, we got well trained at how to take individuals through loss. We know what to do when there’s a crisis, we know how to step into a hospital room, we are asked to come to the bed of someone who’s in their last days. What we didn’t get trained is how to apply that to corporate loss, to a community’s sense of loss through choosing to let go of some things so that you can go forward. The scriptures are filled with language, leave your nets, right, let the seed fall to the earth and die to become that which will bear much fruit. But we don’t apply that to our communities, to our churches, to the decisions we make strategically. And we have to learn how to do that. Because most of us show up at a church expecting that the Church will not change even though human life changes. And what we realize is we actually need our churches to continue to change in order to be a faithful witnesses in the midst of human life.
Yeah, that’s good. That’s helpful. Now, one of the things that you really hone in on in your book is this idea of, like we said, personal transformation. That we as a leader, we are going through this work in our own lives, this transformation in our own lives. It’s not just that we’re helping lead transformation in a community, we’re experiencing it ourselves. And so I’d love for you, Tod, to kind of walk us through because you touch on these and you just lay them out so so beautifully in the book, what are some of the important areas of personal transformation that we should be observing and embracing as ministry leaders?
Yeah. Well, so one of the first things we talked about is when you’re facing resistance, like when you’re this is like the hardest thing to tell people leadership is learned in the leading, you learn it in real time. Like you can’t actually learn leadership from a book or from a class or from a workshop, says the guy who writes books, teaches classes. Right? I can give you the preparation, the tools for it, but you’re not going to actually learn it until you’re in it. Which, then to be aware of that, actually starts changing some stuff. Because now you realize, oh, in real time, I need to be open to the Spirit. What does God want to do in my life right now? How do I need to respond right now? Am I responding out of my flesh because someone’s hurt my feelings or I’m feeling insecure or anxious or mad? Is this my ego talking? That’s really hard in real time. But that’s what it sort of requires. it requires us being in the middle of the challenge, right in the crucible, we call it, and be open to the transformation. So it starts with reflection. Here’s one of the most ironic parts is to become a strong what we call a tempered resilient leader, someone who is both strong and flexible, it starts in vulnerable self-reflection. You know this, the hardest part of any hard ministry meeting isn’t the meeting at 7pm. It’s what you do in your mind at midnight, right? It’s the self-talk, that negativity, that defensiveness, that anger, that temptation you have to get up and write an email telling them how inappropriate it was, or how mad you are, instead of going to, okay, where does God want? What does God have for me? What is it that I need to be open to? What’s the way in which God wants to transform my own life? What’s the way that God wants to meet me here in this, that vulnerability is really hard for most leaders. But the ironic part is, unless you can be vulnerable. I mean, you’ll never become strong. Strength is forged in vulnerable self-reflection, and you’ve got to be able to work that through that’s the first part. And then it has other parts that goes with it, but that’s where it starts.
Yeah, that is an interesting point to make. Because oftentimes we think of, you know, our strength is in is not necessarily in the vulnerability piece, you know, strength is in again, going back to that expert, you know, figuring it out, you know, I’m going to be the one who leads, you know, almost, you know, the superhero, you know, concept that, hey, we’ve got an issue, we’ve got a problem, it’s time for us to figure it out. And, and that vulnerability piece, that self-reflection piece, are key, especially in the kind of the this new era of leading, and how we kind of look through this. One of the things that you bring out as well as this idea of stress. And, you know, we, none of us love stress, I mean, none of us sign up for stress, right? But you bring up this idea that stress, that within stress, the stresses of leadership, that they’re kind of gifts that come out of that if we can approach it in a healthy way. So can you talk to us talk a bit a bit about that?
Well, so this entire metaphor of transformation is is actually a blacksmithing metaphor, right? So it’s, it starts I started with a quote that came from Dr. King’s speech where he said, he talked about with this faith, he actually quotes Isaiah 40, like the belief that God is going to redeem the world entirely. I said, God is going to redeem the world down to the dirt. If you believe that, with that faith, you’ll be able to hew out of a mountain of despair stones of hope. hew out of a mountain of despair, stones of hope. Transform, the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. So we’re asking, what kind of tool can hew? What kind of tool doesn’t bash through the mountain of despair but carves it into stones of hope, something you can build something good out, of something beautiful out of? Well, that kind of tool is a tempered tool. And so if you think of it, it’s like a chisel, not a sledgehammer, right? How do you make a good chisel? Well, the blacksmith will tell you, it’s a process. A process of heating and holding and hammering and quenching over and over again. Well, the heating is the vulnerability, that’s the feeling. It’s not just the heat of leadership, it’s the heat of vulnerability that allows us to be soft and malleable, so like a piece of steel that can then be shaped. And then it’s held in relationships, that’s the anvil. The anvil is the relationships and we could talk a lot about the fact that most leaders do not have nearly enough relationships. The stress is in the spiritual practices. It’s the hammering that hammers into shape, and it turns it into a chisel. But what it also does is when you’re blacksmithing, when you’re hammering away, you’re actually adding stress to the steel to make it stronger, it hammers the molecules together. So what I always say to leaders is, if your spiritual practices are not also stressing you, shaping you, helping you push into areas, if all you have is spiritual practices that come for you, you know, which is not a bad thing. I’m all in favor of comfort, right. If you don’t have spiritual practices that are actually shaping you for the task in front of you, then you’re not putting enough, you need more stress in your life, moderate stress, not not crippling stress, not brittle, but you need the capacity to be able to be shaped. So for example, as a pastor, most of my leadership was always through my speaking, I’m good at vision casting and talking and preaching. Well, to be able to lead people through change, I needed to get better at listening. I needed to develop deeper empathy, I needed to be able to move them through loss by attuning with them. So all of a sudden, as a spiritual practice, I began to ask God help me be a better listener, help me be better at attuning to people, being empathic, empathetic with people. Well, that became like a spiritual practice, like praying or studying the Scripture had been for me, that was stressful. That was hard. I’m a good talker, I needed to be a better listener. So those are the kinds of practices that add stress that strengthens us in the right way. Now, it’s not burnout stress, and it’s not overworking stress. And it’s not, you know, taking on so much of the pain of the world that I end up overeating and, you know, doing those bad things, it’s taking on the right amount of stress, that will continue to challenge me and help me grow.
Yeah, I love that, Tod. I love that image of challenge, you know, because that’s, you know, that’s the key as we think about in life, it’s those challenges that build the, you know, the emotional, the spiritual muscles, you know, to be resilient. So, you know, I love that imagery. You know, one of the things that you also touch on is this idea that resiliency is practiced, right? It’s something that… it isn’t something that like, oh, bam, I made it, I’m resilient, here I am. But resiliency just by its very nature is something that is continuously, you know, cycling, and there’s almost that, that rhythm to that. So talk to us a little bit about that the idea of the practicing of resiliency,
Well think of it as the practice of leadership in a way that will develop resilience, right? So so in other words, if I keep practicing leadership… what I do with my body, what I do over and over again, I tend to reinforce. So if I keep believing that my job is to be the perfect expert with the perfect plan, and convince people to follow it, then I’m gonna get good at selling, good at convincing. But when I need to lead people in a journey of loss, a journey of learning, I need to practice that being in the middle of it with them. So what I often talk about is, think about the fact that a chisel, when you use a chisel to carve out stone, that same stress that allowed the chisel to become strong enough to carve out a stone, the more you hit it, the more stress keeps getting added to it. So my practice has to be a combination of both shaping and forming, trying to lead, and also resting and relaxing, and letting go of stress. My practice has to be a rhythm of leading and not leading. My practice has to be a rhythm of being vulnerable, and also having, like being in the fire that makes me open to the Lord, be malleable, to take on the shaping, and practice of being held. That’s what the anvil is. Like, when you ask leaders who burn out, what they will say is, I didn’t have the skill set and I had to do it alone. So the center of the process, the center of the practice, is a practice of relationships. So I spend a lot of my time, I’m an executive coach and consulting, I run a company that does this, our job is to work with leaders so they are not alone. I know this, what PastorServe does, it’s you are not alone in this. What that means is we want to hold you in your vulnerability so that God can shape you so that you can get back into leadership. It’s not to pull you out, it’s to hold you so that God can keep filing you and shaping you and making you the person that can go back into leadership. And so that, that what I call is that practice, that rhythm, is what actually makes you into a resilient leader.
That’s awesome. I love that, just kind of the idea that, you know, it’s not about arriving someplace. I think that’s important. And one of the things that jumped out at me in the book, Tod, and I’d like to talk a bit about kind of the goal of all of this, because there’s not really an end destination or a grand solution. But rather as you’ve shared, it’s a way of living. It’s a way of leading. And one of the things that jumped out to me that just hit me in the book is you said that the ultimate goal of adaptive change is not to master some sort of pain free solution to you know, your big problem, which if we’re honest, that is what we often are chasing, right, we want to solve the issue with as little loss, as little pain as possible. But Tod, you shared that the outcome that we really should be focusing upon is this. I love you talked about this idea of creating adaptive capacity, right? Help us understand what creating adaptive capacity really, really looks like and why it’s so valuable.
So, back in the 80s, and 90s, people used to say stuff like, they used to quote Wayne Gretzky, you know, the the leader is the one who skates to where the puck is going, right. In other words, your the good leader has a vision to see where the future is going and take your people there. That’s what vision is, what what do you do if you live in a world where there’s five pucks going in five different directions, and it just feels like chaos. It’s not about getting perfect vision. It’s actually about getting the skill set to, to prototype your way through it. Like I say, don’t predict, prototype. Learn how to experiment, learn how to learn, learn how to take your people through whatever challenge. So people call us and they ask our company, will you help us do a strategic plan, and we’ll say, every strategic plan, I know ends up being worthless. You build a five year strategic plan and 18 months later, you’re throwing it away. So let’s teach you how to think adaptively about all your planning, let’s think about how to wisely be able to respond to whatever comes your way. You now have the capacity to be able to learn, to be able to face loss, to be able to experiment your way forward, to be resilient when there will be resistance, those things are going to happen. No matter what you do those four things happen all the time. You’re going to have to learn because we don’t know. We’re going to face loss, because we’re gonna have to let go of the things that brought us here. We’re going to have to experiment our way forward, because we don’t have a perfect plan. And people are going to resist it, because they want security, and you’re going to have to be resilient in the face of it. So literally, we say our whole work, every bit of our work is about creating the adaptive capacity in leaders to be able to face any challenge that comes. And that’s at the core of the leadership development that’s needed to take a church into uncharted territory, or to take any organization into a place where there are no best practices, there’s no map. If there’s no map, you’re gonna have to blaze the trail as you go, and that’s what adaptive capacity teaches you to do.
That’s good. That’s helpful. So as you’re saying that I’m thinking, where does then, Tod, some of the strategic planning come into place? Right? Because because one side is like, oh, strategic planning, you know, obviously, I remember even just when I was early, early in ministry, so this was in the mid 90s, I remember Mike Slaughter. I don’t know if you you’re familiar with Mike Slaughter, he was in the UMC church, I believe they always I remember, he said something. you know, when someone asked me what the five year plan is for our church, and this was in the mid 90s, he was like, I we don’t have a five year plan, and things are moving so quickly, we can’t know. So I mean, and anyone who lived through the last few years know, I mean, exactly what you’re saying. We’re like, Yeah, we all had to adapt. Right? We all had to figure out our way through. So, but where does and how does kind of strategic planning, you know, fit into the adaptive capacity?
Yep. Yeah. So the way I put it, where we talk about it is this way, which is, whenever you’re facing a crossroads, whenever you’re facing an insecurity, you’ve got to ask this question, what are we going to preserve? And what are we going to change? Like, every leadership question just starts with that, what are we going to preserve? What are we going to change? So the biggest strategic decision to make is, well, what are we preserving? Like, what’s really important to us? And what are we going to change? And the answer is, well, why would we do that? As soon as you ask the question, what’s our why? What’s our purpose? What are we trying to do? Now you have a strategy, our strategy is, so you know, like, I think about this a lot. A lot of churches are asking the question. So what does it mean for us to be a church that reaches people who are less and less churched? What does it mean for us to be a church where people aren’t just going to move into town and go, Oh, I’m looking for the, the I’m looking for the Presbyterian church in town because I was a Presbyterian before, right? You’re gonna ask, So then what’s our reason for being, what’s our purpose? When we get we help people get really, really clear on this sense of who’s who we are and here’s our mission and our reason for being in the world. The plan along the way we have to recognize is is about planning, like, we’re going to discover new things, and we’re gonna have this capacity to adapt and keep going. So we use strategic planning, not make strategic plans. Right, we teach people how to do the planning. So I think about is the difference between being handed a map and being a person who can make a map as you go. Because you make the map to keep track of where you are so you can learn so other people can learn with you But it’s about mapmaking. Not about having a map that you follow. Yeah. And that skill set is what we’re doing all the time. We’re just that you’re just helping people all the time. How do you lead in a world that’s being completely disrupted? So and how do you do it? Here’s, here’s an illustration that comes that I that I learned that I really love. There’s a guy who decided he wanted, he was a he was a sail, a person who was great at sailing. And he became an expert at it and he built his own boat, because he wanted to sail around the world. Well, he built a great boat, but two weeks into the sail, the boat, they had a freak storm, like the kind of storm that never happens, a once in a century storm. The boat ended up exploding, he ended up getting rescued, he ends up back on boat. So we said to him, all that planning all that building a boat, and all went in for nothing, what are you going to do next? He said, build another boat. Because now I know I gotta build a boat or that storm. He hadn’t lost any of that learning. He just had to be able to rebuild a new boat that took into account that the storm could be even bigger than he thought. That’s what we teach people all the time. It’s not about building the perfect boat and sailing it. It’s about being able to build any boat you need for whatever storm you’re facing. And that’s the capacity we have to develop and leaders.
Yeah. And as pastors. We talked at the beginning of this conversation about the disappointment piece, right. And you’ve referenced that a little bit. And so I can imagine, as you’re thinking through that, you know, hey, we put all this work into, we’re out there, a big storm blows up, you know, the boats crushed, as pastors that that happens in our ministries, you know, I mean, it’s right. So we experience that. But really, the key is not focusing on the, you know, the tragedy in the moment. It’s focusing on Hey, what have we learned and how do we respond to a world that’s changing around us? Right?
Yeah. Yeah. So we talked, we talked a lot about the fact that we talked about, you know, so adaptive change, you have to learn as you go, you got to face loss, you got to experiment your way forward. When most people think experiment, they think the question we’re trying to ask is, will it work? We said, that’s not the right question. The question is, what are we going to learn? Like, again, we need to learn, we neecd to face loss, we need to experiment, why? So we can learn. If we learn something we can take the next step. Oh, we learned this. So we learned that, that just opening up a new denominational affiliation and putting an ad in the paper isn’t going to bring people. Okay. We learned that the church that was built for the 1980s is not answering the questions of 2020. Okay, what do we need to do? That process of being curious, being learners, experimenting our way forward, listening deeply to our community? We ask all the time. How might the charis, the gift that is this church, the values that we have, address the pain point of our world? If Jesus walked into this community, as you. As Dallas Willard says, spiritual formation is you becoming what Jesus would be if he were you. Not me becoming Jesus, I’m not going to become a first century Palestinian Jew. But if Jesus showed up as a 58 year old Presbyterian who lives in Southern California, how would he walk into my neighborhood? He’d walk into my neighborhood differently than I tend to walk into my neighborhood. That’s my transformation. The more I’m aware of that pain of seeing that person and being that and asking how our church needs to address that, that’s going to require us to change and that’s the leadership we’re giving.
Yeah, I love that. I love that man that this whole conversation been so. So incredibly helpful, I think and it really, really kind of resonates, I think with with what we’ve been experiencing again, because we, you said this in the beginning, you could say all this stuff, Tod, and people were like Yeah, yeah, yeah. But then let’s, let’s throw a you know, global pandemic, and a bunch of racial tension and political division, all these things in and then people are like, oh, yeah, I see. And it’s so very true that the times in which we live, this resonates with what it means to lead, you know, a local church what leads to mean to lead a ministry. So I’m so so grateful for your work on Tempered Resilience. Tod, how if people want to connect with you, connect with the book, those types of things, how can they do that?
So I run a consulting company called AE Sloan Leadership, AE Sloan Leadership, AE Sloan Leadership. It’s named after Al and Enid Sloan of Albert, Iowa, who were mentors in my life. And when I started a company that was all built on trying to support pastors, I said, I’m gonna name it after people who supported me when I was being developed as a pastor. So AE Sloan leadership, you Google that or you Google my name, they’ll go there and you can find all the stuff that we offer to people.
Awesome, very cool. And we will have links to all that information along with a links to Tempered Resilience, Tod’s newest book at pastorserve.org/network in the toolkit associated with this conversation. Tod, man, it’s been so good to have you hanging out with us today on the show. Thank you so much for being a part and for sharing from your heart. Just, it’s an encouragement, I think, especially in the world, which you live right now, to hear the work that you’re doing, the way that you’re supporting pastors, ministry leaders, churches, so I just appreciate the time you’ve made to be with us here on FrontStage BackStage.
Thanks, Jason, thanks for the questions. It wasa great conversation.
Awesome. God bless you, brother. Now, before you go, I want to remind you of an incredible free resource that our team puts together every single week to help you and your team dig more deeply and maximize the conversation that we just had. This is the weekly toolkit that we provide. And we understand that it’s one thing to listen or watch an episode, but it’s something entirely different to actually take what you’ve heard, what you’ve watched, what you’ve seen, and apply it to your life and to your ministry. You see, FrontStage BackStage is more than just a podcast or YouTube show about ministry leadership, we are a complete resource to help train you and your entire ministry team as you seek to grow and develop in life in ministry. Every single week, we provide a weekly toolkit which has all types of tools in it to help you do just that. Now you can find this at PastorServe.org/network. That’s PastorServe.org/network. And there you will find all of our shows, all of our episodes and all of our weekly toolkits. Now inside the toolkit are several tools including video links and audio links for you to share with your team. There are resource links to different resources and tools that were mentioned in the conversation, and several other tools, but the greatest thing is the ministry leaders growth guide. Our team pulls key insights and concepts from every conversation with our amazing guests. And then we also create engaging questions for you and your team to consider and process, providing space for you to reflect on how that episode’s topic relates to your unique context, at your local church, in your ministry and in your life. Now you can use these questions in your regular staff meetings to guide your conversation as you invest in the growth of your ministry leaders. You can find the weekly toolkit at PastorServe.org/network We encourage you to check out that free resource. Until next time, I’m Jason Daye encouraging you to love well, live well, and lead well. God bless.
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