Conversation with Tod Bolsinger

Dr. Tod Bolsinger is Vice President and Chief of Leadership Formation and Assistant Professor of Practice Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Bolsinger has authored three books, It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian: How the Community of God Transforms LivesShow Time: Living Down Hypocrisy by Living Out the Faith, and we will have a conversation around his third book Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory and its implications for the work of racial justice and equity.

Video Highlights

1:30 – Racism as an adaptive challenge. “The key to Lewis and Clark’s being able to go into uncharted territory was their capacity to learn from people that they would have considered marginalized.”

2:03 – When the expedition crossed the Lemhigh Pass … “the only person who wasn’t lost was a native American, teenage, nursing mother, Sacagewea.”

3:00 – The Lewis and Clark corps had to “grapple with their own bias to learn to listen to Sacagewea and to recognize her as the expert in this uncharted territory.”

3:14 – “The place where the church is growing and thriving is the global south, the majority world, the immigrant church, and mostly, the African American church and the Latino church. The places where the church is declining these days are the traditional churches in the West.”

4:21 – Distinction between a technical problem and an adaptive challenge. Technical problem – a problem that an expert can solve Adaptive challenge – an expert can’t solve it. It requires the learner and the group to learn and to face losses so that they can be able to get their capacity and perspective they need to be able to face that challenge. It takes growth. It’s learning and loss.

5:15 – “One of the hardest parts about implicit bias is if we don’t know we have them, we will default back to our training…”

5:25 – In our dominant culture, “we believe that for every problem, we either should have the solution or we should find the solution. The problem is will, and not your inability to even see the problem. Adaptive challenges require you to do deep observation before you try to do intervention. Observations that lead to interpretations that lead to interventions. It’s really about the multiplicity of voices being able to see the problem more clearly before you try to solve it.”

7:40 – The implicit bias inherent in assuming western (white, male, European) systematic theology as the normative theology, and “other” theologies (e.g. liberation, feminist, black, etc.) as “contextual” theologies.

9:50 – “Change is always experienced as loss. People aren’t resisting change, they’re resisting the loss.” 13:48 – Personal practices of observing, learning, and listening instead of giving advice.

14:50 – Cultural competency vs. cultural humility

16:36 – “We need both experience and expertise. We need more of us at the table, not less.”

16:50 – “We need to safety to learn as we go, and we mostly learn by failing. How can we fail safe, and learn from our failures?”

17:30 – “What I need is a place where I can show up and I know it’s OK if you correct me if I say or think or miss something. And I also need to know that you are not going to hold back because you’re afraid of insulting or hurting me. And that you are a competent person who own your own stuff, so that when I step on your toes, or say something wrong, you’re not going to kick me out of the room because what I’m learning to do is something I don’t know how to do.”

18:03 – Part of what adaptive leadership is about, is about learning. “Adaptation is when the environment changes, and for you to thrive, you need to be able to hold onto the thing the most important about your sense of your core DNA and learn how to adapt into this new environment. That learning takes humility, and it requires loss, and it means wrestling with competing values.”

19:15 – When we consult with churches, we spend the bulk of our time asking the question: “What are you going to hold on to? What should never change about you? What is it about your core DNA that if you lost it, you stop being yourself?” It doesn’t do any good for you to adapt into something that you are not.

21:00 – “Christianity and faith is about laying down for the sake of God’s work in the world.”

21:53 – What to remember and what to forget. “The Scriptures are filled with places where the people of God forget…and they fall into idolatry. And they are told to remember. But part of what they have to do is to forget their privilege to remember their roots.”

23:30 – “We default to our old mental models over and over again. Repentance is learning to see what God is doing.”

25:19 – “Being adopted into God’s family and sharing that common memory. “Part of what it means to be the people of God is that we are adopted into a new family that shares a purpose that will ultimately be about the entire enfolding of the entire world. And not in a hegemonic way, but in a way that all the kingdoms of the world knows Christ and where there is now justice and goodness, and every tear is gone and every unrighteousness is banished. And that becomes the way that we live into this future. And for most of us, if we’re used to holding on to what is familiar to us, we will never get to experience what the Scriptures say is core to God’s family.”

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