Review: Tempered Resilience

John Davis, professor at Hardin-Simmons University, reviews "Tempered Resilience" by Tod Bolsinger.

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Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change

By Tod Bolsinger (InterVarsity Press)

Pastors, this book is for you. Tod Bolsinger is back, and many of you will do well to read, to study, and to apply the lessons in his latest book, Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change.

Throughout the book, he makes use of the metaphor of blacksmithing. He uses the metaphor to “find a glimpse of what must happen in our lives if we are going to be able to lead—and thrive—in leading.” Bolsinger begins by introducing the metaphor of blacksmithing as a way to understand the tempered leader as one who is “grounded, teachable, attuned, adaptable and tenacious.”

Chapter 1, “The Crises of Leading Change,” considers leaders’ failures of nerve and some of the problems those failures bring. Chapter 2, “Resilience,” addresses the raw material of which leaders are made. We are grounded in being “known and loved by God.”

Chapter 3, “Working,” recognizes the reality that leaders are formed by leading, not by reading books on leadership. Chapter 4, “Heating,” outlines what Bolsinger finds to be a paradox of leadership: strength comes from the leader’s vulnerability.

Chapter 5, “Holding,” stresses the importance of relational security to the leader, using—among others—the example of Moses’ relationship with Jethro. Chapter 6, “Hammering,” hammers home (so to speak) the necessity of the leader’s dealing with stress.

Chapter 7, “Hewing,” reminds us of the necessity for intentional practice as leaders. Chapter 8, Tempering,” completes the metaphor with a reminder that “worship, not work … is the first priority of every week.” The epilogue—charmingly and accurately titled, “Why Is This So Hard?”—acknowledges most organizational change efforts fail and people, not just organizations, have to change as we adapt to reality.

It wouldn’t be any fun to write a book review if I didn’t get to offer at least one criticism. I chose Bolsinger’s repeated use of the term “sabotage” to describe opposition to the leader. Not every act of opposition to pastoral leadership (or any other kind) is necessarily sabotage. The organizational literature describes multiple legitimate reasons to resist a leader. Likely, Bolsinger didn’t have space to discuss this with the nuance it would require and chose to leave it out. Still, I wouldn’t want naïve readers to make the mistake of assuming all opposition actually is sabotage. It isn’t.

Leadership scholars will look elsewhere, of course, but that’s praise, not criticism. Bolsinger has focused his book on working, practicing, professional clergy and has avoided the tendency to try to please everyone. That’s a good thing. This book contains both biblical support and practical wisdom for pastors.

I enjoyed reading Tempered Resilience. Pastors, I’m not one of you. I’m a mere layman who knows a few things about leadership. I am, however, persuaded that pastors serious about improving as leaders will benefit from buying the book, from studying the book, and from applying the book’s concepts in their own lives and ministries.

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To encourage you in this, Bolsinger has written a companion study guide. You should have it, too. The study guide is designed to support small group study of Tempered Resilience, across eight study sessions. Finding the right group leader will be key, but will be worth your while.

John Davis, professor of management

Hardin-Simmons University


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