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


Written by: on October 14, 2022

Whether it is Alexander Solzhenitsyn, N.S. Lyons, or Tod Bolsinger, the clarion call to the always burgeoning change leaders face is to PIVOT! PIVOT!  It is not that the presence of change is a new dynamic in this world. In Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change, professor of leadership formation at Fuller Seminary, Tod Bolsinger, says “the key difference between today and leadership roles of the past is that the frequency and speed of change mean that leaders are almost constantly in a crucible moment…today that crucible is the constancy of change.”[1] Todays reality for leaders is to garner what I call the “pivot capacity”, to be flexible in body, mind, and spirit to traverse the shifting grounds without losing one’s well-differentiated identity while continuing to be connected to the community.

Bolsinger offers a blacksmithing metaphor for a process leaders can utilize to deepen their adaptability as leaders amid the crucible that is change.  He outlines his process for tempered resilience in terms of what a blacksmith does to form a metal implement: Working (leaders are formed in leading), Heating (strength is forged in self-reflection), Holding (vulnerable leadership requires relation security), Hammering (Stress makes a leader), Hewing (resilience takes practice), and Tempering (resilience comes through a rhythm of leading and not leading). I liken his focus on how the stress that comes with change to Eva Poole’s thought in Leadersmithing that encourages leaders to intentionally put themselves into stressful situations in order to learn muscle memory for those extreme moments’ leaders will inevitably find themselves; it builds strength and flexibility.

Bolsinger tethers his purpose of Tempered Resilience to help leaders be empowered to not have “a failure of nerve”[2] and a “failure of heart”[3].  For a leader to navigate the crucible, one curates one’s pivot capacity through intentional engagement with personal reflection, nurturing accountability in relationships, and leaning into purposeful balance of leading and sabbath making. For Bolsinger, to lead adaptive change in a community requires the leader to have a grounded identity (know that he/she is first and foremost loved by God no matter what), and a teachable, listening, tenacious, and adaptable character.[4] The leader must be vulnerable to shout to themselves “Pivot! Pivot!”

Pondering my NPO and my role as a leader in a new context, I ask myself, what can I take away from Tempered Resilience? Bolsinger states several times through his book that leadership isn’t necessarily one person’s job.  He concurs with Friedman that a leader is anyone who is cognizant of ones own emotional process and remains self-differentiated and self-regulated all the while working to move the community forward even amid resistance. If I am going to take this charge seriously, I must create a space for others in the community to employee the same forging process.  “Adaptive change only occurs when the work is ‘given back to the people…adaptive change comes because the community, the group, the team, the institution, the organization, the congregation take responsibility for their transformation and begin to change’”.[5]  But the struggle is real for individuals and community alike to engage in adaptive change.  I think of the rich man who comes to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark and asks what he needs to do to inherit the kingdom.  Jesus looks at him and loves him and then challenges him to adaptive change, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”[6] The awareness of loss was too much for the rich man.  It is the case for many people of faith when facing the crucible.  Bolsinger encourages leaders to frame change not as a loss of identity but as a growth/deepening of who we are and who we believe God has called us to be.[7]

Another take away for me is the importance of sabbath in the process of nurturing resiliency. Bolsinger references the pattern of fitness training.  An athlete gains strength and flexibility through the process “stress-recover-improve”[8] For my personal reflection on this thought, I have recognized my 4 weeks away from leadership has been restorative and provided areas of growth in the challenges.  In particular, the 3 weeks spent in South Africa has afforded me copious time to reflect honestly with myself and with ladies I have come to trust deeply.  Bolsinger reminds me of the deep value of sabbath.  But not just for myself. How do I nurture an integration of sabbath as a priority for the community I serve?  What are ways we can live into a balance of leading and sabbath together? What are the effective ways to communicate the importance of “why” in the ongoing crucible?

“[Resiliency] is formed over a long period before the crisis of testing so that it can continue the transformation during the moment of challenge”[9] Resiliency is most assuredly hard won. Remembering that adaptive change is not only about my change or the change of leaders of the church, but the need for organizational culture to adapt is important for pivot capacity.  I am guessing my shouting “Pivot! Pivot!” to the community will need nuancing.

[1] Bolsinger, Tod. Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020. Page 56.

[2] Bolsinger references Edwin Friedmans, A Failure of Nerve, a number of times throughout the book. Bolsinger depends on Friedman’s ideas around anxiety that is the impetus of resistance to change.

[3] Bolsinger, Tod. Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020. Page 29.

[4] Ibid. Page 207.

[5]Ibid.  Page 215.

[6]Foundation, The Lockman. NASB Large Print Compact Bible, Brown, Leathertex, 2020 Text. The Lockman Foundation, 2021. Gospel of Mark 10:17-27.

[7] Bolsinger, Tod. Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020. Page 177.

[8] Ibid. Page 198.

[9] Ibid. Page 30.

About the Author


Nicole Richardson

PC(USA) pastor serving a church in Kansas City. In my spare time I teach yoga and scuba diving

16 responses to “PIVOT! PIVOT!”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Well it is certainly true that the only constant is change. We have lived long enough now to know that is true. As I age, resilience seems to be more and more important. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. I thought this book approached the subject with honesty and truth. Nice summary, do you think it will help you in this next season of your ministry?

  2. Nicole, excellent summary and reflection on Bolsinger! I appreciate how you distill his tempering metaphor. Very helpful.

    You quote Bolsinger, “Adaptive change only occurs when the work is ‘given back to the people…adaptive change comes because the community, the group, the team, the institution, the organization, the congregation take responsibility for their transformation and begin to change’”

    How do you you hope to ‘given back’ the work to your congregants?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Thanks Michael. My first step I am currently working on which is having Elders and Deacons read A Failure of Nerve with me. So as we read this book together we can see the ways to apply Friedman in the work before us. I am working to be intentional in having them “own” the work as we move through a decision to change some of the technology in the sanctuary…it is a technical change but I am hoping they begin to see how it takes adaptability to lead the technical.

  3. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Ty for your exellent summary Nicole!
    You mentioned that “Bolsinger reminds me of the deep value of sabbath.” Can you elaborate more on your deep values of sabbath and how important renewing through a regular sabbath is in a person’s life?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      TY Jonathan. What’s funny is that the deep value of sabbath that I hear from Bolsinger was illuminated only because I have been away for a month. My priority of sabbath has been low up to this point. Reading Bolsinger at this time was serendipitous. My hope is that I will not fall into my same old pattern.

  4. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Nicole, thanks for you post. “Pivot capacity” – I think you’ve pictured something very helpful there! You wrote about Sabbath and its benefits over the last weeks. What are your plans to benefit now that you are back in-country? Is there a way to make Sabbath in your ministry context interruption-proof? Also, how do you think pastors best help congregations to develop a pivot capacity? If constant change is the norm, what are some ways to help people come to terms with constant change?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Geez Roy…..just one question per blog please!! LOLOL
      I am not sure there is a healthy way to make sabbath “interruption proof” per se. I think we see even Jesus had to adapt his time due to ministry. But I think Jesus also modeled for us that we can not let sabbath time get away from us….which I have definitely done.

      My hope is to integrate sabbath time once a quarter WITH my leaders. To “force” the importance of leading and not leading.

      Regarding constant change….the crucible of our shaping…I think the first step is reinforcing the foundation that our identity is profoundly shaped by the fact we are gracefully and mercifully loved by God. Holding onto this identity tethers us in that crucible. I also think it is important to be intentional about speaking words into the sense of loss that comes with the constant change.

  5. mm Andy Hale says:

    Nicole, now months removed from the challenges you faced in Missouri, I wonder how they strengthened you as a leader? How has the difficulty you experienced been applied to your current context?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Andy those years in Missouri revealed the growing edges (you may read mistakes) I have when it comes to my leadership identity. It also helped my see the ways that my time prior to Missouri forged me.

      I am learning the strength in being teachable and finding ways to be empathetic without be held hostage by it.

  6. mm Eric Basye says:

    Nicole, sounds like you have a good book title that is very relevant to our times (or at least a sermon title!) – PIVOT!

    I would agree with you. If nothing else, Covid has demonstrated the importance of pivoting especially in the context of leadership.

    I also appreciated your observations regarding sabbath. Boy, I am really terrible at rest. What does this look like for you (in the ideal world) and how do you ensure these rhythms in your life?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Eric, I have been an awful Sabbath keeper. If I am honest, I have been prone to being impacted by martyr syndrome. Having a month away from ministry has offered me the gift of recognizing how shallow my leadership has been because I have not accepted the gift of sabbath from God. I would appreciate prayers that I can create that rhythm of leading and not leading. I think it means I need someone/s to keep me accountable.

  7. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Nicole: Do you feel like in this new pastoral season that you are resonating with one of the six aspects of blacksmithing (working, heating, etc) more than the others?

  8. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Nicole, Great post!
    I’m so impressed that you a brain for it. Your questions about how to lead your spiritual community into a sabbath rhythm is fascinating. Have you come up with any ideas on how to do that?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Thanks Denise!

      I am going to start with a once a quarter sabbath time with the Elders and Deacons….where we either do not do a meeting that month or we have a mini-retreat together once a quarter.

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