Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Building Our Nerve

Written by: on October 16, 2019

I took our weekly Zoom call this week while I was on the road, somewhere in rural Virginia.  “Zooming in” from my phone does not allow me to see everyone’s face at the same time, nor does it allow me to reply to the chat messages I receive (public, private or otherwise!) as quickly as I usually can while seated at my desktop.  Not seeing everyone’s face really annoyed me when we were responding to Jason’s question about most memorable moments from our recent English Advance.  Many stories of warmth and community were shared, and if my memory serves correct, one of our cohort even made reference to how over the past year we have all gone from the status of “people in a class together” to “good friends that honestly care for one another.”   I would have loved to have seen our facial expressions when that heartfelt and true sentiment was shared.

One of the main reasons we have grown so well together is because of the vulnerability we have demonstrated and shared with each other.  Over the past year we have not only grown together, but also “grown up” as leaders.  This is due in large part to the vulnerability we have learned is so powerful, and the awareness to frame that vulnerability for further growth. As Brene Brown writes, “to grow up is to accept vulnerability”[1] and when Jason started the call by reminding us that we are now seniors, the fact hits this blogger home at an even deeper level.

But the vulnerability we have shared in our Zoom chats hasn’t come without a price.  Members of our humble band have experienced transition of many kinds over these past 16 months. From staff turnover and budgetary restrictions throughout our institutions, to the theatre of denominational elections, to cross country moves and changes in call, to the satisfaction and struggle of being in a program that forms, challenges, and then reforms us again.  We are better leaders because of the individual journeys we have shared, and the collective journey we have taken together.

Which leads me to Friedman, a former Washington DC based Rabbi, who posits that the “real problem of leadership is a failure of nerve. Leaders fail not because they lack information, skill, or technique, but because they lack the nerve and presence to stand firm in the midst of other people’s emotional anxiety and reactivity.”[2]  The search for the next great book, seminar or paradigm is all for naught according to Friedman, the real emphasis on leadership development should be placed on “shifting our orientation to the way we think about relationships, from one that focuses on techniques that motivate others to one that focuses on the leader’s own presence and being.”[3]

I write this blog post as I am currently eleven days in to serving a new church, in a new location, uniquely close the one that Friedman used to call home.  I do not have a job description . . . but have been asked to help the community discern a vision, provide a framework for the community to live into that vision, and then move the community towards living into the vision that we discern and create together as faithfully as we possibly can.  Throughout the process, I will need to focus on my own presence and being. There will be moments that are uncomfortable, moments when momentum slows or when the pressure to produce the “quick fix” is strong and vocal.[4]  And yet, my greatest challenge will not be to create a finished product, but will be to discern and navigate the emotional and relational climate of my new organization, and to do so with courage.

Eleven years and three churches ago, I had a colleague who shared that during the first year of his call he wanted to be sure that he was “sharp about his prayers.”  It was the way that he would stay grounded, connected with the divine, and fortified for the inevitable church drama that would come his way.  My hope is that during this first year at my new call, my prayers are sharp, and my nerve is strong.  With the support of this cohort, knowing the faces I will see every Monday, my confidence is high.


[1] Brene Brown, Dare to Lead, (New York: Random House, 2018), 25.

[2] Bob Thune, “Summary: Edwin Friedman’s “A Failure of Nerve” in 500 Words,” June 6, 2016, http://www.bobthune.com/2016/06/summary-edwin-friedmans-a-failure-of-nerve-in-500-words/.

[3] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, (New York: Seabury Books, 2007), 4.

[4] Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, 163

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

7 responses to “Building Our Nerve”

  1. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Good for you to produce the first blog this week! Your reflections are so spot on, I believe it was Sean who expressed the sentiment of all of us becoming true friends not just a band of fellow students. I will be praying and smiling as I think about you growing and developing your call in a new setting. You enrich my life and our cohort, I pray you take Friedman’s admonition to heart and focus on taking care of yourself as you continue to lead and pastor well. Blessings!

  2. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Excellent post, Jacob! I could hear the growth and depth in your words, you spoke like a well-seasoned pastor. It is a joy to be on this stretching journey together. I think you have hit the nail on the head, sharp prayers and strong nerve. Thank you! I needed that today.

  3. Thank you Jacob, you’re spot on the fact that we are growing together as family, this presents us an opportunity to hold one another accountable on our leadership and to support one another. I’m so glad that we get to walk together on this journey.

  4. Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Loved your post, Jacob – so heartfelt and warming. I know you will make positive changes in your new position in D.C. I will be praying for you that “your prayers will be sharp and your nerve will be strong. God’s got this with you, my friend!

  5. Jenn Burnett says:

    Thanks for your presence and honesty in our cohort Jacob. You talked about resisting the quick fix in your post. Something that is much needed in many sectors today. What strategies will you implement to resist this in both yourself and your people? What broader influence might the church generally be able to have if we were to embrace this thinking? Bless you my friend!

  6. Digby Wilkinson says:

    11 days in! A new adventure. Remember Friedmans mandate to differentiate yourself from the crowd so you can see differently. It’s all part of the challenge in those early days. Quick fix equals comfort and comfort is the destination of every declining organisation or family. The great gift of a new parish is to begin anew with all your new learnings – find your nerve by knowing yourself and what you bring to the table. And Jacob, you bring a lot. Don’t forget it.

  7. Karen Rouggly says:

    Jacob – this is so good! And so encouraging to us all! Thanks for the ways that you contribute so much to our cohort and to the churches you lead. You are powerful!

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