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

Can we survive it?

Written by: on October 14, 2022

Tod Bolsinger, the author of Tempered Resilience, has been researching and teaching leadership over the years as he served as a senior pastor of San Clemente Presbyterian Church and as a professor at Fuller Seminary. Tod introduces his book with a question that he has been asking over the years: ‘Can I survive it?’ In his experience, he was accustomed to hearing the same type of context over and over again. Many leaders from all over the world that leads in different context experience similar hardships and challenges in their lives that makes them question themselves: ‘Can I survive it?’ I am sure that many of us have gone through a similar experience of survivorship. Oftentimes, the leaders of the 21st century are challenged to overcome many impossible difficulties that require “stamina, the strength of purpose, the perseverance necessary to lead a church, institution, or organization through deep organizational change.”[1] Bolsinger gives an amazing insight into the difference between management and leadership: “Good management is usually met with a grateful response from those whom we manage. Leadership is often met with stubborn resistance from the very people we are called to lead.”[2] The rest of this book introduces and discusses the six aspects of the spiritual formation of a leader by using the imagery of a blacksmith’s shop – Working, heating, holding, hammering, hewing, and tempering. The outcome of these spiritual formational processes will be a tempered and resilient leader who will be “strong and flexible enough to withstand both a failure of nerve and failure of the heart.”[3]

This was my second time reading through this book and this time I pondered upon the idea of hammering in chapter 6 – Stress makes a Leader. It’s been a very stressful past three months because so many things blew up all at once and my wife and I had to lead and grind through it together. One of the personal questions that I have been asking myself over the years was ‘Can I live my life without stress?’ Stress causes hair loss, heart attacks, insomnia, and many other things that are damaging to life. Growing up as a person requires handling many different responsibilities well. When I was a child, the only responsibility that I had to do well was doing well in school. Everything else in life was pretty much provided by my parents when I was younger, but as I grow older the responsibilities are increasing at a rate where I ask myself the question: ‘Can I survive it?’ And many of the activities and things of this world are constantly fleshing before our eyes saying escape your stress and live a stress-free life. Many of the young adults here in Silicon Valley dream of retiring at 40. I see them on Instagram posting the amazing foods they eat and fabulous places in the world they travel to escape the stress of their life. The human instinct built in us is to escape and dodge away from all stress, but the right posture to learn as a leader is to embody all stress from life. I believe one can only experience a true state of stress-free life when a person dies. As long as we live and breathe, we have to deal with all kinds of different stress in life in a greater capacity. I agree with Tod in the fact that “all practices are embodied; that is, they are more than a mental activity or attitude, but over time for a Christian they increase the capacity of a Christian to act more like Christ.”[4] Definitely, the practice of viewing stress in a different way has been very helpful in my life. Growth as a leader requires increasing the capacity of a Christian to think, make decisions, and act upon our convictions more like Christ every day.

And the alarming reality of stress is the fact that it will increase in strength and force as we grow older and older. Unless we learn to view stress and handle stress in a spiritually forming way, then we will find ourselves releasing stress in a harmful way that might one day blow up in our faces one day. Tod discusses the process of tempering as a leader in chapter 8. Many leaders are caught up in an environment of fast-paced and heavy responsibilities where one can lose sight of asking oneself: ‘What does it take to be ready for the next day of leading?’[5] If we don’t learn to remain in our resilience, the strength of the steel of the inner core that holds life together will break down and crumble. Tod explains that “tempering, again, is not a one-time plunge into a cold pool or a once-a-year vacation or retreat. It is a regular, repetitive process: the heat of the crucible of leadership is only intensified through reflection.”[6] I think the spiritual formation of a leader requires both an inward journey and an outward journey. The stress of this world reveals what I am really made of the inside of me, where I have traveled, and where I am going. The ongoing stresses surface many of the fears and failures of our nerves and our hearts. The question that we must ask ourselves isn’t how or when we can escape all the stresses and tempering environment around us. We must ask ourselves spiritually forming questions as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Henri Nouwen wrote, “Spiritual formation is a call to discipleship, a call to follow Jesus radically and so become his true brothers and sisters- sons and daughters of God. When we belong to Jesus, we belong with him to his heavenly Father and to each other. Having found a true home in God, we then can live in the world without becoming subject to its obsessions, compulsions, and addictions.”[7] We can lead in the way that Christ called us to lead. In the midst of ongoing stress and tempering, I remind myself of a couple of practical things that helps me to be formed by Christ:

  • Go out to nature and walk and pray – practice silent prayer and listen to the Holy Spirit
  • Spend some more time reading the Bible – ask yourself what is causing stress and how the Bible teach to deal with that type of stress and most importantly, reflect upon how God forms His Children and His disciples in the Bible.
  • Spend less time watching stuff on my phone and tv. Instead, go read a book, ponder, and reflect.
  • Go and buy your friend you miss a meal and have small talk and laugh a lot.


What are some things you practically practice to be spiritually formed in the midst of heavy stress?

[1] Tod Bolsinger. Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020), 3.

[2] Ibid, 3.

[3] Ibid, 4.

[4] Ibid, 131.

[5] Ibid, 194.

[6] Ibid, 196.

[7] Henri Nouwen. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Reprint edition (HarperOne, 2015), 18.

About the Author


Jonathan Lee

President of Streamside Ministry Lead Pastor of EM @ San Jose Korean Presbyterian Church in Sunnyvale, CA

8 responses to “Can we survive it?”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Jonathan, I really enjoyed your post, especially the big paragraph near the end. You wrote: “I think the spiritual formation of a leader requires both an inward journey and an outward journey.” Of those two journeys, which do you think is hardest for a leader? Personally I find the inward journey a more difficult pursuit. I’m sorry to hear about things getting challenging for you lately. I trust you and your wife see God’s presence and provision for you.

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      Personally, I think both is important because growing requires growing both inwardly and outwardly. But We have to pay attention to a natural outflow that overflows inside out. It takes intentional focus to reflect and grow inwardly.

  2. mm Andy Hale says:

    Since most of us are well-versed in the spiritual disciplines, I thought I’d address some physiological approaches that can also be spiritual practices.

    Exercise – sounds counterintuitive, but it is one of the best ways I address stress. Science has proven that getting up and walking just 5-8 minutes will help alleviate stress and clear your mind of mental roadblocks.

    Eating healthy – The Bible talks about gluttony more than most of the “sins” that the Evangelical church rails against today. And yet, how many leaders face a litany of health-related issues due to their poor diets and eating habits.

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Jonathan: Nouwen is one of my favorites as well. Considering your NPO, how do you see todays youth engaging with stress and what, if any ways, do you want to address that in your discipleship material with them?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      Hi Kayli!
      I find many youths relieving stress by binging on playing games and watching entertainment mindlessly. I think kids these days are lacking exercise and simply hanging out with friends. I plan to include it in my design project by introducing healthy lifestyles vs unhealthy lifestyles.

  4. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Like Kayli, Nouwen is one of my favorites. He does a great job articulating how to abide in Jesus. You do a nice job describing the tension between stress that tempers and refines us, and stress that overwhelms and paralyzes. How do you help your youth find the sweet spot in managing their stress?

    • mm Jonathan Lee says:

      Hi Denise!

      I want to help them learn to handle stress and relieve stress. Many of them struggle to identify stresses and cause of stresses in their lives. I think it will definitely help them as they learn to look into themselves and learn to reflect to resolve inward and invisible struggles.

  5. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Jonathan, Bolsinger talks about strengthening comes from leading and then not leading. I like your list of things to practice while not leading…what intentional ways do you reflect on the stresses in those not leading times? Who do you go to process?

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