Beauty out of Ashes
What time is it? Paul and others would argue that these are the last days, characterized by great change as seen in the decline in Christian convictions and practice, globalization, commodification, pandemics, bias, hybrid work and education, technological innovations. One popular word used to describe these days is disruptive! Yet it is not all bleak. There is also this beautiful potential for widespread spiritual awakening. Against this background, leadership professor and award-winning author Tod Bolsinger lends his voice to the campaign for Christian leadership. Yet this is a leadership, Bolsinger argues, that must be tempered. Drawing from the world of blacksmithing, Bolsinger describes tempering as a multi-layered process of
heating, holding, hammering, cooling, and reheating that adds stress to raw iron until it becomes a glistening knife blade or chisel tip … [ultimately resulting in] something greater than the sum of its parts
This resembles the stuff leaders of the Reformation, civil-rights movement, anti-apartheid movement, and other important movements in history experienced. It is what the persecuted church and any worthwhile contemporary leader must experience in some shape or form to be all God desires of them. In view of the common mode of transport in many rural areas, Mandela would simply, yet profoundly, describe this process of tempering as a long walk. This shows that there are no shortcuts. Instead, every leader is required to experience level after level of training in God’s leadership formation program. Bolsinger’s analogy of “heating, holding, hammering” suggests an element of transformation/adulting through pain.
Two days ago, I was alerted to the sudden departure of one of my staff members to another city. This is impactful at several levels, the most important being that it implies leaving behind his wife after eight years of marriage. As we work though getting the full story behind this development, it has been an emotionally challenging season of prayer, counselling, and reflecting on the circumstances that lead to this. I am also exploring what I might have done to prevent this from happening, and thinking about the need for an in-depth de-briefing with other staff members. As I critically examine the quality of discipleship I offered this individual, I keep wondering if this would not be one of those incidences that might be used by God in “heating, holding, hammering” my leadership as I seek tempered resilience.
Bolsinger admits that “leading change is difficult. It requires us to hew hope out of despair.” Sometimes this hope seems out of reach, but history is filled with example after example of individuals who were defined by their hope. Abraham’s hope against hope at a time when he and Sarah were beyond child-bearing age, and the positive results they ultimately experienced, give me hope that some good will come out of this challenging situation. Further, my recent visit to Robben Island and the reality that South Africa is now enjoying democracy, inspires great hope in me that God is able to intervene in this situation and any leadership challenge I may face going forward. Tough as the journey to tempered resilience may be, it is my hope that all of us as Christian leaders will gain beauty out of the ashes of the refiner’s fire.
 Bolsinger, Tod. Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change. (Downers Grove, Illinois. Intervarsity Press, 2020), 5.
 Bolsinger, Tempered Resilience, 209.
11 responses to “Beauty out of Ashes”
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Robben island also had the same effect on me. Even when a situation seems hopeless and despair is the norm for every day, there is hope to be found. I hope your ministry grows and flourishes for years to come.
Much thanks Troy. Always very gracious!! Praying your ministry is also filled with evidence after evidence of God’s grace and blessing
Henry, I appreciate your optimism and hope about life and ministry in these days of great change. It’s easy to focus on the negative and overlook all the positive aspects, as well as the opportunities a new cultural reality presents. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of a staff member. It sounds like you had a significant role in developing him. I’ve found difficult staff departures one of the most discouraging events of my own leadership journey. I’ve learned to not carry all the responsibility for decisions other people make. At the same time, there’s always something to learn and I pray you find that. I appreciate all you do Henry!
Roy, thanks for your encouragement on not taking responsibility for other people’s decisions. I guess at the end of the day, each one has to account for their choices before the Lord. May God help us do all we can as leaders and leave the results in God’s capable hands
Great post. Your hope is my hope as well, Henri. We have not other choice, or confidence. As you think about the “beauty” yet to unfold in your place of ministry, where do you see God at work?
Much thanks Eric. I see God gently but definitely growing my worldview/understanding of His nature and character, as well as deepening the sense of my identity in Christ and the place of imago dei within the community I serve. All truths I desperately need to grow in
Amen, Henry. I feel like this reading has so many avenues of connection to your ministry context and NPO. In your reflecting on the discipleship of your staff member, I pray that you do not carry a responsibility for their departure that is not yours to hold. I am confident that in navigating the fallout on all levels that you have been placed in your leadership role for this season.
Kayli, much thanks for your confidence and encouragement. I guess there’s always that tension between whether we’ve done all we can as leaders and the reality that each individual has to bear their own cross :). Praying God’s richest blessings on your ministry as you facilitate the formation of college students in fulfilling God’s call upon their lives
I love your title. I am so sorry to hear about the departure of your staff member. You ask really good questions about your role in this situation. I pray that you can take the time to grieve this loss and allow the Father to speak encouragement to you. Maybe the question is how to maintain a healthy tension between tempering stress and overwhelming stress? Be gracious to yourself. This person needs to find his own way to submit to the Lord’s transformational refining.
Denise your comment on tempering stress and overwhelming stress speaks very deeply to me. These days I find myself praying for wisdom to discern the difference not just for myself but for friends and colleagues I serve with. Thanks again
Henry, I share in your pain of the departure of one of your staff. I pray God shows you the beauty in the ashes.
What part of Bolsinger’s process is the most challenging for you? In what ways are you practicing self-differentiation?