This special episode of Thursdays at the Table was recorded on October 20, 2022 during Next Level with Tod Bolsinger. After his plenary address, Bishop Easterling and he sat down for some real talk around his book, Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change. Learn more about the day.
On March 8 at Severna Park UMC in Severna Park, Md., Bishop Easterling will host another conversation with Jacqui Lewis, author of “Fierce Love: a Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness that Can Heal the World.” Virtual registration is open until March 1.
In her conversation At the Table with Tod Bolsinger, Bishop Easterling explores how leadership is about “energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission.” Together, they acknowledge the many real and difficult challenges and resistance facing pastors in this season and, using the metaphor of a blacksmith’s workshop, explore how to lead adaptive change. Outstanding leaders, they conclude, find their identity in Christ and “are formed in the leading.”
The Rev. Tod Bolsinger is one of today’s premiere guides for clergy and laity who are seeking to lead in unchartered territories. He is author of the bestselling books Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change and Canoeing the Mountains. Bolsinger currently serves as the Executive Director of the De Pree Center Church Leadership Institute and as Associate Professor of Leadership Formation at Fuller Theological Seminary. A Presbyterian pastor for 27 years, he describes his interests as “my wife and kids, The Church, lattes, fly-fishing, skiing, hiking, running, triathlons, National Parks, marveling at nature, red wine, dark chocolate, traveling and planning trips, rooting for the Angels, reading many books at one time, barbecuing meat.
Questions for Reflection and Extending the Conversation
Bishop LaTrelle: Tod, I'm grateful that we have this opportunity to take a deeper dive into some of your written work but also some of the experiences and learnings that you have simply as a leader, but especially as a leader who helps build capacity in other leaders. We're going to have a time of dialogue between you and myself, and then of course, eventually we will invite those both joining us virtually and those in the sanctuary to ask their questions as well. I want us to go to some of the deepest things that we know. I've got a couple of questions for you to get us started.
Coffee or tea?
Tod Bolsinger: [laughs] Coffee every time.
Bishop LaTrelle: Decaf or regular?
Tod: There's a thing called decaf? Is that something? Yes. No, regular. Coffee, every time. Regular, every time.
Bishop LaTrelle: You want it leaded.
Bishop LaTrelle: I completely understand. Cream and sugar or straight up?
Bishop LaTrelle: Cream?
Tod: No sugar.
Bishop LaTrelle: No sugar. All right.
Tod: Coffee, two creams.
Bishop LaTrelle: Excellent. Now we know some very important information-
Bishop LaTrelle: -about our guest. Thank you. It was wonderful to hear you take us into the book that you're working on. Has that been published yet?
Tod: No, no, no. Actually not even finished yet. You guys are one of the first people to work with it, so any feedback, I will take it. If any good stories come out of this thing, I'm using them. You just need to know that.
Bishop LaTrelle: Amen. Amen. Know that, right? Just know that. I wonder then, the books that we have here, and that all of those who are registered participants will receive a copy of your book, Tempered Resilience. I have been working with those that work at the Conference office. We have been walking through that book. Again, it's been a blessing, and it's been challenging. It is something that I know I will read over and over again because each time I go back through it, as I'm leading different groups that work for the Mission Center through it, I find something new and interesting every time. Will you give us a synopsis of Tempered Resilience?
Tod: Yes. I did a little bit earlier today when I talked about sabotage and the District Superintendent who said I don't think I even would have the stomach for this. The problem that this is the resistance of our own people. One of the things we discovered all along, and most of us got this too, the most difficult thing, the most demoralizing thing for most leaders, is that when people, the very people who ask us to lead them, resist us, we experience it as sabotage.
Ed Friedman wrote about sabotage. What I found, wherever I went to talk about Canoeing in the Mountains, everybody wanted to talk about the chapter on sabotage. He says that sabotage is normal. It's natural. It's to be expected-part and parcel of the leadership process. That actually, you can't even say you're successful at making a change until you make a change, then survive the sabotage that happens every single time. It happens after you've made the change.
You've gotten the votes. People agreed to do something. You got voted in to be the new pastor who's going to bring change, then the sabotage comes. I always say it's not the bad things that evil people do, it is the human things anxious people do.
Bishop LaTrelle: Say that one more time.
Tod: Yes. It's not the bad things that evil people do, it's the human things anxious people do.
Bishop LaTrelle: I don't mean to interrupt you-
Bishop LaTrelle: -but I'll try to remember to follow up because I feel like what you just described is exactly what Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was talking about in those ministers who wrote to him, which then prompted his letter from a Birmingham jail, right?
Tod: Yes, yes, yes. I always say to people that Dr. King became really important to me in writing this book. The whole metaphor of Tempered Resilience comes out of the I Have a Dream speech.
Bishop LaTrelle: Yes.
Tod: It's that incredible phrase that says, "With this faith-- He's just quoted Isaiah 40, long passage of Isaiah 40 that wasn't in the original text. It was because Mahalia Jackson said, "Tell them about the dream."
Bishop LaTrelle: About the dream. That's right.
Tod: He goes into Isaiah 40. Clarence B. Jones', his speech writer, says to the person next to him, "These people don't know if they're about to go to church." Isaiah 40, "The mountains will be brought low, the rough places plain," because we believe there is a day that's going to come that God is going to redeem this world down to the dirt. We go back to work. He said to people who their work had been the protests, the marches, the lunch counters, the dogs, the hoses, the jails, he's telling people, we got to go back into that.
Then he says, "With this faith, we'll be able to hue out of the mountain of despair stones of hope.” For me, the whole idea of Tempered Resilience is how do you become a tool that can hue. The mountain of despair is the way people describe sabotage. I used the letter of the Birmingham Jail because I would say every year on MLK day when you'd think that how much I love that speech, I'd go watch that speech, but I don't.
I read the letter to the Birmingham jail because it was written to Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Methodist clergies [chuckles] who said, "We're not opposed to your goals. We're just not comfortable with your method." They were so uncomfortable with the method that they of course, preached against him on Sunday morning and wrote a letter to the editor, and then decide-- which Dr. King got smuggled into him and he wrote the response saying that it was the most discouraging thing because it was his clergy brothers and sisters, who came up against him. That's sabotage.
It's in the light of that idea that we then have to ask how we get resilience. Tempered Resilience is about the process of being formed in resilience while you're facing the mountain of despair.
Bishop LaTrelle: Can you talk about some of the other metaphors that you used? You alluded to them today-the anvil, the hammer, the blacksmith. Talk to us about your story of the blacksmith's shop that you and your wife encountered years ago.
Tod: Yes. If you ask the question, what kind of tool hues stones out of-- it's a tempered tool. It's not a sledgehammer. It's a chisel. Sledgehammers are just hard. Chisels have tempering, which means they're both strong and flexible, they can go with the grain. They can carve something out. I decided to look up tempering tools, and I was watching, and then finally I found it in Los Angeles, there's a blacksmithing community.
It's in a neighborhood, they haven't had a horse there in 100 years, but they got blacksmiths. We went and took these classes, and what I discovered is that process of turning steel into a tool of fire, and holding the anvil, and of hammering, which is the way I think about the spiritual practices. How they shape us, and they give us strength and quenching which is the slow regular release. It's a little metallurgy that nobody cares about.
To make a tool tempered, you can't just drop it into water. You have to let it slowly cool down repetitively. I say for all of us as clergy who think stuff like, as long as I get a sabbatical every seven years or maybe one good vacation every year I'll be fine. No, you won't. You'll become brittle. To get rid of the stress which is what's happening when you're letting it slowly, you regularly need to basically get rid of the stress by releasing it. For me, that's more than rest.
For me, that's also things like, I need to have areas in my life that I feel competent, and have areas in my life where I'm having enjoyment. We talk a lot about rhythms of leading and not leading, so the process. The most important part, Bishop, is and this is the part that I think you guys are already exemplifying is, tempered resilience happens when you're facing the mountain of despair. The tool is formed, leaders are formed in the leading. For many of us, that's a big disappointment because you think, "Oh, by the time I became a bishop, I've got it all figured out."
[laughs] By the time they make me a pastor, I would say, they make you a pastor right after someone hears you preach as if somehow three points in a poem is the same thing as leading the people. You're good at preaching, and then the next thing they do is they put you in front and being a pastor and you realize, "I'm not good at any of this." Well, that's normal. That's normal. That's the vulnerability that is like the heat, that leads to the holding, that leads to the hammering.
Bishop LaTrelle: One of the things I most appreciated as I looked at your metaphors, and again, you just spoke to it, is you talked about this sweet spot that occurs between the tool that is soft enough to be able to use, but also strong enough to be able to hue, to chisel, that kind of thing. Because you say if it's too soft, then you won't be able to withstand what's coming, but if you're too hard, you'll become bitter.
I really want you to talk about this bitterness piece because that's what I sense in too many of us at this season. There's a bitterness, and I think that's part of what's led to the great resignation is this sense of bitterness. Help us understand how we can resist that bitterness.
Tod: Yes. Ed Friedman talks about what he calls a failure of nerve, which is where you pick up the anxiety of the group, and because they're anxious, you stop the transformation process. It's literally like when you find yourself saying stuff like, "Oh, I think we have change fatigue. I think we need to slow everything down. I don't oppose your goals, I just oppose your methods." It's failure of nerve.
I discovered in me a different failure, which I call a failure of heart. It's Moses in Numbers 11 when they start grumbling the second time. The first time they grumble because of the Manna. God gives them Manna. The second time they grumble, not because they're hungry, but because they're bored with the miracle God is doing every morning. "Oh my gosh, Manna again. Maybe we should go be enslaved again because then we could have fleshpots. We could have meat. That'd be great.” It must be barbecue. It's all I could think of. That would make me go back. We're thinking, "Oh my gosh." Well, he gets angry. He gets so mad he says to God, "If you're going to leave me with these people, you can kill me now."
Bishop LaTrelle: Right.
Tod: Which I don't know if you ever came home on a Sunday afternoon and said that to your spouse…
Bishop LaTrelle: Tell whole truth, right?
Tod: But I'll bet you came home at least once and thought, "I could sell real estate. I could sell life insurance. I could teach biology." I always think this is where I could go back. I could do trail maintenance in the National Park. I could pick up the trash, move rocks. That's a failure of heart. One of the things that we mapped it onto was, that bitterness shows up in leaders as brittleness. You become brittle. When you have so much stress, you get so angry at the resistance, that you don't want to be soft. Don't want to have a failure of nerve, but you end up getting just brittle and you break.
I learned this from a blacksmith. She was a woman who led this thing, she said, "You've got to realize that I'm not a big woman, but you give me this hammer and you give me a piece of steel, if I just keep hitting that steel, I can break that steel in half because what it is, it's putting stress into the steel with every hammer blow. It's getting more and more and more compact until finally, it breaks.”
Think about this, the same tool you use to make a chisel when you turn around and start using that chisel, you're doing the same thing. You're pounding until finally, it explodes. What you're literally trying to do, that's why it's a formation thing. It's never resilience is like how tough are you. The goal isn't to become like Navy Seals. The goal is to be people who wisely are able to navigate and carve, shape, transform. I love Dr. King's hue out of a mountain of despair, stones of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. That's parallelism, that's masterclass in preaching right there, right?
Bishop LaTrelle: Amen.
Tod: That notion of hueing and transforming, when I become a tool that can transform, it also protects me from becoming too brittle or too soft. I have to be formed to be that tool. It's like a sharpened chisel.
Bishop LaTrelle: I love how you help us to understand resilient leaders are not avoiding stress. I must say that I think at one time, I thought, "Well, I just have to get to the place where there's no stress, I'm not feeling stress." You're telling us stress is what helps to make the resilient leader.
Tod: There's this interesting thing. I don't think I put it in the book but it's been one thing that shaped me is Ignatius of Loyola, leader of the Jesuits has this great passage where he says he believes that God wants us to be under what he calls moderate stress. It is the stress that keeps us growing. It's like what I was talking about earlier today between care and comfort. It's not about being comfortable but it's also not about being left alone. It's about being cared for in your vulnerability.
You don't take a piece of steel out of a fire at 2,000 degrees when it's all soft and hit it in mid-air. It'll explode. You have to put it on the anvil. It's that notion of giving that kind of care in the middle of it that makes that possible. I think for many of us, we get stuck. We think there needs to be no stress or we're supposed to just gut it out. It's actually right there in the middle. The rhythm of stress and release, stress and release.
I'll give this illustration. This illustration annoys people. This is where I am in my life. My kids are grown, okay? My kids are grown, I don't have little kids at home. My wife and I live in our house. She's a working artist. I'm a morning person, and I work with a lot of people in the east coast. I work in the morning hours. She likes to sleep in, exercise, then she goes to her studio. My favorite part of the day is at 5:00. I get done with my day, I walk in, I pour her a glass of wine, she's got music going in the studio and I go make her dinner.
I cook dinner, you know why? See, I know this always gets people in trouble. I'm so sorry about this but here's why - even if you cook a mediocre meal, they're happy with you.
Bishop LaTrelle: Exactly, yes.
Tod: I spend all day without people happy at me. All day I'm working with leaders who are like, "Some of this happened, somebody is running with the scissors, these people are doing this." At the end of my day, she looks at me and she goes, "Thank you much." Then what I do is I work really hard on being a good cook. I'm actually pretty good now. The reason why is because it makes her happy.
Having something that I can do at the end of every day that just feels like I'm competent, I just didn't burn the butter, it's so great. It actually does release my stress and it prepares me for the next day.
Bishop LaTrelle: Excellent. One of the over-arching premises of your book that leads to all of this discussion that we're having is something that I think some of us were taught just the opposite. Some of us know those old tropes of leaders are born, not made. Your overarching premise is that leadership can be taught. I resonate with that so much. Again, through this imagery that you're talking about, you help to explain exactly how we become those leaders. Why such stark imagery?
Because on the other hand, it could also become off-putting, right?
Tod: Oh, yes.
Bishop LaTrelle: The fire, got to go into the fire. Got to be able to withstand the heat. Help us understand why those metaphors are so apropos for those of us that are leading and especially leading at this time in history.
Tod: If you believe that leadership is formed, I think leadership is formed like any skill, leadership is a skill. I tell people I work at a seminary; we teach everybody how to preach. Not everybody shows up with natural gifts. I'm sure somebody said to you early, "You can preach." You're probably like me, we got like, "Stop, you got to speak in turn." We're probably told we talk too much. We teach everybody how to preach because it's a skill set you can teach people.
I think leadership is a skill set you can teach people. What you have to recognize is the difference is that we all know people who can be good orators who can't live it. Really good leaders have to embody the change. Which means you have to go through it. Whenever you talk to leaders about that, and this is the difference between the narcissistic platformed person who's really charismatic, but ultimately becomes a really bad leader because they can't bring transformation, because they can't embody it. They experience that as being really painful.
The first part of that process is the heat. My dad used to always quote Harry Truman, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." I always like to say, "The kitchen isn't hot enough." The real heat is the heat of your own self-reflection.
Bishop LaTrelle: Wow.
Tod: You all know that worse than the meeting at 7:00 PM is your internal voice at midnight. When you're at that moment, when you need to reflect on, "Man, I lost my cool with that person. Quite frankly, I lose my cool with that person every time. Or if that person one more time talks with me with that tone of voice, I'm going to take them out." You find yourself, you start recognizing it's that internal self-reflection that's the most vulnerable thing we face. That's actually where the change can come.
There's that famous passage in Dr. King's own life where he literally-- you all know this probably better than I do. He was 26 when he became the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It's just because his church was the biggest church and he said we're going to meet--
Bishop LaTrelle: And he was a good preacher.
Tod: He was a good preacher so you're going to get from welcome everybody, Dr. King, and then, "Oh, by the way, we all decided you're going to be the leader." 26. A year-long boycott. A year-long. Of course it falls apart at certain times. He's got to hold it together. He, in the middle of the night one night, he said, "If I could get out of this thing without people thinking I'm a coward, I would quit today.” That's where God met him. He said that was the moment that he felt like God said to him, "Martin Luther, I will be with you no matter what you go through.”
I think that's the kind of moments that led him even to times like if you think about that amazing speech in Memphis where he says, "I've seen the promised land and I may not get there with you." The next day, the assassin's bullet takes him. You're sitting there thinking, his capacity to courageously walk through all that wasn't because he was faking it, it's because he was honest before God about it. And that's the heat.
Bishop LaTrelle: You now make me think about Mother Teresa, of course, that dark night of the soul, but that comes through a consistent willingness to do reflection. I must confess one of the things that I find frustrating, as I am attempting to be a servant leader across the conferences, is encountering leaders who think they have it all, understand it all, know it all, been there and got the t-shirt to prove it. I must tell you, that is for me, one of the most frustrating.
I'm not as frustrated with people who simply need a little more capacity building. I'm not frustrated with people that we need to send to a different class to help prop them up on some leaning side, right?
Tod: Oh, yes.
Bishop LaTrelle: Talk to us about, again, how important these spiritual disciplines are. You talked this morning about humility. Help us understand how we will not become the leaders God intends for us to be if we don't have that humility if we can't admit that sometimes we're wrong, if we can't understand that we too need to grow. I know, I need to grow, to continue to be the servant leader God has called me to be.
Tod: It's so interesting because this is right at the crux, I think. It makes sense to me, that those would be the people that would most trigger you. That makes total sense to me because they're dangerous.
Bishop LaTrelle: Say so, use the word, dangerous.
Tod: They're dangerous. In the blacksmithing analogy, it was this, we put the steel into the fire and you're sitting, the steel's in the fire. They tell you to take it out, and they go, "Look at it. It looks the same.” It's still gray and it's still real solids, real hard. It's 700 degrees. It'll burn the skin off your hands. At this temperature, it's only dangerous. There's nothing you can do with it. You can't shape it. You got to put it back in the fire till it gets to 2,000 degrees.
At 2,000 degrees, it changes color and it gets soft. Gravity makes it bend. Too many of us have said, "Oh, we're good leaders. I'm good with fire. Let me tell you about the last church I was in, how hard that was, and how great I was. Oh, yes you think these people are hard?" They're 700 degrees. 2,000 degrees is when you're saying, "Bishop, I got to get time with you? I need the DS here just to make sure I need help in this meeting or I may not do well."
That vulnerability is what shapes you. I will go so far as to say this, I'm not a person who believes that everybody has to agree with me about adaptive leadership or leadership models. There's a lot. I don't think you can become a transformational resilient leader if you can't be vulnerable. Humility is about teachability. It's not low self-esteem. It's just teachability.
This is important for me, because I've had particularly women, and I've had leaders of color who've said to me, "Tod, don't ever forget. You stand up in front of people. You're a 58-year-old white guy with a PhD. You talk about being humble, everybody gets all mushy."
Bishop LaTrelle: That's right.
Tod: “That's really sweet. For us, if we act vulnerable, people will go find you and want to give you our job.”
Bishop LaTrelle: That's right. That's true.
Bishop LaTrelle: True.
Tod: The goal isn't, "Oh, make you feel incompetent." The goal is, you know you need to be teachable. You may or may not be in a setting that it's okay for you to be able to say that out loud. It's got to be a safe place but you internally need to be able to say, "Hey, here's where I need to grow. Here's where I need to be teachable. I need to be in a safe place with good mentors where I can work that on."
Bishop LaTrelle: A component of that then too, of course, is you talk about, you have to know that you've been called to this work. You have to know your own purpose, so that when you are rejected, so that when your vision is resisted, you can still stand. How did you know you were called to this purpose?
Tod: This is through a lot of times of it not working, a lot of sabotage. I helped lead our denomination in a two-year process that was going to try to hold us together and that went well. (laughter) What helped is, internally, I had to ultimately hold on to what am I really called to do. One of the parts I got clear on, I think of this as like the steel, the raw material, the steel. The quality of the steel, in almost all the literature, it goes in one of two ways. Spiritual formation literature talks about the very best leaders are people whose identity is in Christ.
When Paul says, "I'm in Christ," it's usually in a moment when he's having to take on the church. Because I'm in Christ, I'm not belonging necessarily to you Galatians or you Ephesians, or you Corinthians. I'm in Christ, I can be faithful. That psychological language is what differentiation is. I have the identity that can stay connected. When Paul says he's in Christ, he's not doing it by disconnecting from the Galatians or the Corinthians, he says, "It's because I'm in Christ I can stay connected." The same thing.
For me, where this comes back to calling, is the language of grounding. I'm grounded, and this is the way I put it is leaders who can lead change are grounded in something other than their need to be successful.
Bishop LaTrelle: That's right.
Tod: Because there's no way we can guarantee that part.
Bishop LaTrelle: That's right, that's rich.
Tod: For me, this where when Jesus first comes out of the wilderness and it says, "At this--" Well, it's before He goes to the wilderness, "At this time," and he goes to be baptized. The words come out, "You are my beloved Son in whom I'm well pleased." At this time, at what time? Before he'd done anything.
Bishop LaTrelle: Anything.
Tod: Not one sermon, not one miracle. Nobody knew him except for his cousin. God was already pleased with him. To me, my calling is to live in the awareness that I'm called by God to express God's love for me that He's already given me. That I'm supposed to do so clearly for the -- for me, my mission is to help faith leaders thrive as change leaders. That's what I do. I don't ever promise anybody that I can help you change your church.
What I can do is help you thrive as a change leader. I can teach you how to do change, and I can help you thrive as a change leader. Whether your church changes is as much about the capacity of your church as it is about you.
Bishop LaTrelle: How do we know the difference between coming up against resistance and sabotage and us being on the wrong road?
Tod: Good. This is the question I always hope gets asked. There's a big difference between if you want to be humble, you've got to be open to critique. Well, if you're a narcissist, you can just call everybody a saboteur. You're sabotaging, you are too, you are too. If you all didn't know, God spoke to me so who needs a pillar of clouds or fire, you got me. Here's the way we know, this is when we coach and we work with people, we talk about this, sabotage always wants the status quo.
If you and I are partners and we're both heading in the same direction, and you and I might have honest disagreements, we're having disagreements as we work toward that mission, the sabotage wants to go back. The way I know the difference is when I'm talking to a partner or people on my-- and they're saying, "Hey, I'm not sure that's the right tactic, it might be this tactic," that's when I need to be most open. I need to be open when I want to be doubled down on my tactics. Because that's where my teammates can actually help us together get wiser.
That's critique, that's healthy critique, that's learning, that's growing, it's experimenting, all those things. Sabotage wants to go back. Sabotage says, "Hey, they killed our children but we did have leeks and onions. Maybe we should go back." I always tell the story that-- if you ever ask me to preach, here's the sermon to get, on the other side of the Red Sea, they crossed the Red Sea, 650,000 of them had the greatest miracle anybody would ever see until the resurrection. Not only are they free but Pharaoh's chariots are dead, gone. Six weeks later, they want to go back. Six weeks. Lent.
Bishop LaTrelle: On Lent.
Tod: I always have to tell the Baptists, Thanksgiving to New Year's.
That's how long, six weeks after the greatest miracles ever, they're saying, "You know, leeks and onions, those are pretty awesome." That's sabotage. Sabotage wants the status quo. That's the letter to the Birmingham Jail. Oh, we're not against what you want to do, we're against your method. What method? 50 people dressed in their Sunday best-
Bishop LaTrelle: Sunday best.
Tod: - walking down on Good Friday in the middle of the street just silently protesting because Bull Connor said they couldn't have a permit. That was it. That was so disruptive. Oh my gosh, how uncomfortable. Oh, my God.
Bishop LaTrelle: You touched on it this morning and perhaps again, this dovetails with some of what you've just said. In the book, you go to great lengths to make sure we understand the difference between management and leadership. Again, you talk about how management just gets us to a predetermined destination. We all just know that we need to-- as you said, we took the young people on a camping trip, we've got to bring them back. We got to bring them back. Leadership always demands something else. It seems to me this is part of why managers are revered, leaders are reviled.
Tod: Oh, yes. See we love managers. Managers take care of the stuff that's most important to us. My colleague, Scott Cormode, calls it, you take care of the things entrusted to your care. Oh, my gosh, we love them. Good, we should love them. Leaders, however, require you to go through a transformation. We just wish we could manage our problem. We just wish we could just do better. If we just had a better organ, wouldn't that'd be great? People would just show up or if we just had a really good preschool. If we could just manage our way out of this problem we wish we could and that was the problem during the Christendom years. If you had a well-run church, people would come-
Bishop LaTrelle: That's right.
Tod: -because everybody was going to church. If you didn't have an ethical problem, or you weren't annoying, people would come. Today, it's going to require literally us to transform the people in the pews to reach people who aren't even interested in coming.
Bishop LaTrelle: That's right. As we are first transformed, right?
Bishop LaTrelle: As we are first transformed. We're talking about the problems we're going to run into-a resistance of sabotage. For me, as I read your work, the nemesis that I have to wrestle with is time. It takes time to be able to help lead systemic change. Now, I know you're not naive about the United Methodist Church. Man, we're on a system. It's a system and it's a cyclical system.
In the fall, it's all about church conferences. In the spring, it's all about appointment. After the end of the spring, it's about the annual conference, our annual meeting, then everybody takes a little break. Then we come back in September, we start it all over again. There's this cyclical process. For me this notion of time, both the time that the system demands of us, but also the time that's required to see things through that, again, this notion of itinerancy that we have that you're only supposed to be somewhere for three to five years; or if you're an Episcopal leader, four, maybe if you're fortunate, eight years; if you're a district superintendent, six to eight years.
How do we continue to be tools of transformation when time is such a nemesis?
Tod: Oh, man, this is a good conversation. As a bishop, I want to ask you about this. I'm curious about yours. Let me say this, and I'd love you to push back on this or give this back to me because when we coach people, we have the set of questions we use. Our company is a very simple coaching company because we only work on one thing, which is adaptive capacity coaching. That's all we work on.
It's a little bit like if you took your kids to a soccer coach, and they said, we're only going to teach to be goalkeepers. We just work on this one thing, how to help faith leaders thrive as change leaders. Whenever we do, we get to what's the real problem that you're dealing with. What's the adaptive challenge you got to give yourself to? I train my coaches, you are not allowed to get off the call until you ask the question, so what are you not going to do to give to this?
Because what we talked about this morning is adaptive change is always in a competing value that has a win-lose. It's not a win-win. If you're really competent and if you keep cramming stuff in, what you will do is all the stuff that everybody wants to do. The cyclical system is part of the status quo. To be able to say, what are we not going to do? What's the canoe? [laughs]
Bishop LaTrelle: Oh they're thinking right now.
Tod: Yes, really right?
Bishop LaTrelle: They're thinking right now. [laughs]
Tod: I'll give you one example of one of my churches. I'm working with a church. It's a progressive church in the Midwest, who literally said that one of the things they wanted to grow in is they wanted to be more and more of a light in their neighborhood. They're in the Minneapolis area. They've been very progressive about LGBTQ but they said, "We've not been on race and we need to be." After George Floyd, they were another one of the churches that felt very convicted.
They said, "We've had all these things we're doing, it's really great but we're realizing is that our people are quick to sign up for the latest march or rally or food bank or thing, but they're getting burned out." What they realized is what they needed was actually a deeper spiritual formation that would fuel their activity. I said, "Okay, talk about experiments, safe, modest experiments. Here's your experiment. What are you going to do for spiritual formation without adding a program?"
You can't add any program, what are you going to do? We started having this whole conversation about how they could change the way their meetings went. We just went one little experiment, take 90 seconds at the beginning of a meeting to have everybody, before you start the meeting, say, "Where have I experienced the presence of God in my life this week?" It's the prayer of examine question. Where are my consolations?
Let everybody start the meeting profoundly grateful that God's already been working in my life, then have the meeting. Then at the end of the meeting, in the last 90 seconds, stop and say, "Where did you experience God's presence in this meeting?" What we're going to do as a church is over the next year, we're going to pay so much attention to God's presence that we're going to ask, how did that change the way we did our programs? I wouldn't let them add another program.
Now, the question I think you're asking about itinerancy and stuff is interesting to me because what I want to get to is I always want to ask the question, what does itinerancy do? What was it created for? What problem was it solving? Do we have that same problem today?
Bishop LaTrelle: Today.
Tod: That's how I know it's a canoe.
Bishop LaTrelle: That's right.
Tod: It's a canoe when the geography has changed.
Bishop LaTrelle: Go ahead and clap.
Tod: That's very nice of you because I wasn't sure what saying that to a bishop, what was going about to happen. Well, we're going to cut this short, and we're going to sing.
Bishop LaTrelle: That's right. Thank you so much for coming.
Tod: Thank you for coming. I think we're going to get that praise band back up here.
Bishop LaTrelle: Absolutely. If I had my druthers, folks would stay in their appointments until either they were ready to step down, or until their work of meeting the deep needs present the pain points. He talks about the pain points in the book. That it's not just about preservation of the institution, it's about leaders being able to change themselves, and then lead transformative change to meet the need, the pain points in the communities.
For me, a leader would say we've met X pain point. I was able to lead them through this. I think that's all I can do here. I'm ready to move on. If I had my druthers, that is what we would do, and I mean that. I have learned in my tenure, that short appointments don't help us. They do not behoove us in the way that we say we are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. They actually hurt that. It's the truth.
It's the actual truth. I've also had my ecumenical colleagues say one of the reasons we don't get connected to United Methodist leaders is because we know you don't stay long.
Tod: You're going to be gone.
Bishop LaTrelle: By the time we get to know you, you're gone. We just don't bother because someone else is coming. Beloved, what that requires is that you really are leading transformation. If you're doing that, and you're not just there pacifying people so that they'll write you a good report, so that your SPRC loves you. That's why you think you get to stay. No, it's about really leading. I've said this before, and I'll say it again and I'll keep saying it. I've got your back. Your district superintendents have your back. If you are attempting to lead real change that's going to bring about transformation in your community, I will stand with you through the weaponization of tithes and offerings.
I'll stand with you as they march out the door to go join Acme Church down the street that is just pacifying people and talking about how happy we are and those things. I will stand with you, but that's what needs to be present. It can't be that there's ineptitude. That you're narcissistic and you want everybody to revolve around you, and so because they won't you say, "Well, this is the resistance I'm getting.". No, they're not resisting change, they're resisting you. Right?
Because you've become the problem. I want you to understand if you're doing real transformative work, both deepening discipleship within the church and getting to know and meeting the needs of your community outside of your church, I'll leave you there until the cows come home. I've got no problem with that. Time really is part of the nemesis of us being able to do really good work.
Tod: Part of the reason that I just want to say that I think that's so powerful is that people often come to me and say, "This adaptive leadership thing, this is really, really great. How long are you going to be in this stage?"
Bishop LaTrelle: Wow.
Tod: I always say, "Well, we were in Christendom for about 1,700 years.
Bishop LaTrelle: [laughs] Years.
Tod: We've been in post-Christendom for about 10 minutes, so I'm guessing that I'm going to die in the wilderness, and so are you."
Bishop LaTrelle: Yes.
Tod: I'm claiming Jeremiah 29:11. "For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. I'll be back in 70 years when you're going to be dead, and when your kids are probably going to be dead. Because I'm going to give a hope and a future, if you're faithful, your grandchildren are going to see deliverance.
Bishop LaTrelle: Exactly, exactly. That's right.
Tod: I believe in that hope. That hope keeps me faithful today where I don't believe I will see. That adaptation is a long adaptation.
Bishop LaTrelle: Amen.
Tod: Thinking long-term, building trust, and working hard on transformation go together.
Bishop LaTrelle: Right. We're going to shift now to Q&A time with those who are with us. You said something this morning also, though about just as leaders have to be very grounded in who they are in their call; communities, churches, spiritual centers, also, you have to know who you are. So that when the next bishop comes, even though they may bring a few things that are the different, the Peninsula-Delaware and the Baltimore-Washington conferences are so grounded on who they are, some of this work will continue beyond their tenure and the next tenure.
Your church communities ought to be so grounded in an identity of who they are and what God has called them to do that different leaders may again bring a different nuance to it, but that work, that mission, that ministry continues beyond your tenure. Of course, one of the district superintendents, I won't call her out because I didn't ask her for her permission to share this before, but while we were studying your book in cabinet, she elicited the fact that some of us don't necessarily want to point folks to something greater than ourselves, beyond ourselves, because we need to be that center, okay?
Again, if we keep the focus on Christ, if we keep the focus on the cross, if we keep the focus on the community, then it can transcend even our tenure, no matter how short or long it is. Unfortunately, we've not done a good job in that. That's why communities continue to spin, so thank you for this conversation. We've been--
Tod: This is fun. I love this, this is really fun.
Bishop LaTrelle: It is fun.
[00:44:16] [END OF AUDIO]