Church Now Conversations
with Tod Bolsinger

Conversation Notes
October 8, 2020

IVP has given Tod a code that applies to all IVP books including hi forthcoming book, Tempered Resilience, that gives a 30% discount for groups that are having him speak.

The code is TR30 and can be used by either individuals or groups for any of my books and applied at checkout on the IVP web site.


A PDF of the PowerPoint

Hewing Hope and the Mountain of Despair:  Resilience for Change Leaders

As Tod would speak at different locations, he would talk about adaptive change and eventually someone would say, “I don’t worry about whether I can learn to lead change, I worry about whether I can survive it.”

Resilience is the most difficult part of change.  Tod began to listen more deeply at how leaders were being formed to be able to lead change.

His world changed in March when he was presenting to a group of church leaders; that was the last time he flew until now.  (He had been flying over 100,000 miles a year)  He realized the world had changed dramatically in his past 2 days.

Each person had different experiences of realizing the world was changing for them.  Different people confronted it in different ways, but there was this universal experience of the world changing for everybody at the same time.  We are in a completely unprecedented time and need to figure out how to adapt to it.  We are in the midst of a global pandemic, a global recession, and global strife around racial injustice that is happening all over the world.

He realized he needed other voices in his life that could help him calmly lean into the future.  (people who were already living in the future; i.e. son’s girlfriend who was working in convalescent home in Seattle, WA -connected to earliest outbreaks, brother who lives in Italy who had been in quarantine/lockdown before us, prayers already being requested for those who had Covid).

A helpful way to think about crisis is to break it down into 2 phases:

  1. Acute crisis:  Like taking a patient into an emergency room - you stabilize, protect, and buy time.  “Hunker down and make it through”.  (“blizzard mentality”)
  2. Adaptive crisis:  When you come through the acute crisis stage, the wise leader realizes that we can address the underlying issues that we have not had the will to confront before the crisis. (“Ice age mentality”- have to think more long term to hit the organizational reset button)

Resilience through a crisis is built in finding purpose and meaning in the crisis.  Making the adjustment from acute to adaptive is the key to finding more hope and purpose in the crisis.  You get to look at the underlying conditions.

What “underlying conditions” are being revealed in your congregation or organization?

Some examples that participants shared are the following:  loneliness, lack of true connection outside of Sunday service, decrease in volunteerism, discipleship is not up to the moment, leadership structures, the need to control and be right, etc.

We realize we’ve been trying to address these issues for years and now there are opportunities to address these issues.  These issues will not be solved by going to the “new normal”.  They were present in the “old normal”.

How do we begin to address underlying conditions?

Resilience=the capacity to “maintain core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.”  Andrew Zolli/Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, p. 7

It’s maintaining what is critical and crucial.  Adaptation of our healthiest core DNA.

If you are a leader, expect sabotage. The ability of a leader to deal with sabotage could be the most important aspect of leadership.  Edwin Friedman called it the key to the kingdom.

Sabotage is normal, natural, and to be expected.  When you call people to live beyond themselves, the natural result is that they will pull back.  It is not the bad things that evil people do, but the human things that anxious people do.  It shows up when you’re calling people to change, and they are having to face their losses.

Often in those moments, we have failure of nerve.  We want to cave in to the pressure of the anxiety of the group to return to the status quo.  It’s a loss of courage to further the mission.  We tell ourselves we need to go back-we might have gone too far.  We can also have failure of heart.  Leader’s own discouragement leads them to abandon their people and the charge they’ve been given.

How do we overcome this?

Hewing hope:   “Hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”  MLK Jr.

How do we become a tool that can hew or transform?

  1. The resistance we are facing is actually the context for our resilience to bring transformation.  A tempered tool is a tool that has resilience.  It is both stronger than it’s original material, but also more flexible.   It has a grounded identity and resilient character that is shaped through reflection, relationships, and a rule of life in a rhythm of leading and not leading.
  2. Leaders are plunged into the fire of crisis and conflict and need to be shaped by the hands of God who is the ultimate Blacksmith, shaping them into the ultimate tempered tool.  (Leaders are formed in leading, strength is forged in self reflection, vulnerable leadership requires relational security, stress makes a leader, resilience takes practice, resilience comes through a rhythm of leading and not leading)

Q & A:

Q: Out of a difficult experience, can resilience be built in a leadership team in the moment that is anxious and they are short circuiting and sabotaging and experience the pastor as a damaging chisel?  Where do you start?

A:  Only place you can develop it is in the moment.  As a leader, change starts in your heart with vulnerability and connection. Acknowledge you don’t have the perfect answers, but that you are going to go through it together.  Need relationships:  partners to stand in heat with you, mentors to guide you, and friends that care about you rather than your success.

Q:  There’s so much emphasis on messages that “we’ll keep you safe”; resilience is so much more than that.  Can you speak to that?

A:  Need to think of where we are safe in Christ.  We can’t guarantee your safety--we can encourage safety and we can build a sense of community and connection.

Q:  When there is a place of sabotage, how do you move into a place of vulnerability and trust?

A:  Sabotage happens when anxiety takes over.  People desire to go back to something that feels familiar.  Relationships need to become the familiar thing instead of the past being the familiar thing.

Q:  Say a little bit more about leading and not leading and how that works.

A:  Leaders need moments in their lives that allow them to lead and not lead.  Times are needed to get stress out of their system.  This helps in helping them to become more flexible.

Q:  When we turn church leadership over, we have just gotten used to one group and then have to start with another.  Can you speak into that?

A:  We have to build adaptive capacity-the capacity to learn, experience loss, navigate competing values, and deal with sabotage.  You have to do this with the entire congregation.  Make this a part of discipleship.

Q:  How does pace of change fit into this?

A:  Acute and adaptive language is very important.  It allows us to recognize that everyone needs to take a deep breath.  (acute)  We need to take care of people.  Right when it gets comfortable, you need to remind people that there’s work to be done.  A good leader says we’re going to take a breath and make sure everyone’s okay, but then we’re going to move forward.

Closing comment:  Our grounded identity leads to becoming a resilient person.  What does it mean to be grounded?  You are God’s beloved and chosen--must be grounded in something other than their success in leading change.  Be faithful people that are passing on the church to the next generation.

If you’d like to be a part of the discussion based on Tod’s book, go to the Vibrant Congregations website to sign up.

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