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Leading in DisOrienting Times: Navigating Church & Organizational Change

SKU 9780827221765

by Gary V. Nelson and Peter M. Dickens

Leading in Disorienting Times delves into the essence of leadership, portraying it as a practice that illuminates the world with humility and authenticity. Authors Gary Nelson and Peter Dickens, grounded in Christian faith, underscore love as a pivotal element of leadership, drawing inspiration from God's profound love. The book skillfully intertwines leadership theories, Christian principles, and real-world examples from the authors' diverse organizational experiences. It presents leadership as a Christian witness, manifesting faith through acts of service and sacrifice.

Influenced by complexity science, Nelson and Dickens challenge traditional leadership theories, asserting that they often fail to capture the messy reality of leading faith-based organizations. Leading in Disorienting Times advocates for reflection on failures as valuable opportunities for learning. Although the book avoids simplistic checklists, its nuanced exploration encourages profound personal reflection and prompts readers to integrate their faith with their leadership journeys. The authors engage in a dance between the particular and the general, drawing inspiration from the complexities of life and the wisdom of the ages.

While not catering to those seeking easy answers, the book offers a thoughtful and challenging perspective on leadership in disorienting times. It serves as a meaningful gift for readers on a quest for deeper self-reflection, aiming to foster a comprehensive understanding of leadership within the context of faith and the complexities of the modern world.

Blending current literature from both Christian and secular scholarship with individual and organizational examples, Leading in DisOrienting Times provides support for the concept of servant leadership that may be initially disorienting, but is ultimately liberating.


“G.K. Chesterton was once asked, along with several other pundits, what book he’d choose if stranded on a desert island. While others chose classic works of world literature, Chesterton answered, Thomas’ Guide to Practical Shipbuilding. Well, if you could choose one book to help you navigate the challenges of leadership in these turbulent times, you’re holding it. It’s wise, it’s deep, it’s simple, and it’s workable. Unless you enjoy being stuck, buy this, read this, apply this: everyone will be happy you did.” —Mark Buchanan, Author of Your Church Is Too Safe

“Nowadays we are looking for a new kind of leader that we do not know how to describe. Not a dictator, but not passive either. Relational, but not timid. Relentless with vision, but a collaborator as well. In Leading in Disorienting Times, Gary Nelson and Peter Dickens not only describe this new leadership, they take us through the journey to get there. From their deep and tested wisdom, in both ministry and systems, they display how to do this leadership amidst the unparalleled culture shifts of our day.” —David Fitch, BR Lindner Chair of Evangelical Theology, Northern Seminary and Author of Prodigal Christianity

Leading in Disorienting Times highlights how the western world is careening towards a new and mostly unknown cultural shift. Demonstrating a strong grasp of the upcoming changes that are bewildering most in the church, Gary Nelson and Peter Dickens frame the issues with helpful language and concepts that provide a personal, practical, and insightful introduction regarding the kind of leadership that will be needed to navigate the future.” —Bruxy Cavey and Tim Day, The Meeting House

“Navigation using the maps of the past is uncertain at best and perilous at worst in a world where the landscape is in a state of continuous and disorienting change. Thankfully, Dickens and Nelson have leveraged their combined and proven leadership experience to provide a steadfast compass that will help leaders wisely and practically pilot their organizations into the future.” —Steve Brown, President, Arrow Leadership and author of Leading Me

Leading in Disorienting Times will help leaders to nurture healthy churches and effective organizations in the 21st Century. Interpreting a wealth of contemporary literature on leadership through years of experience leading church and non-church communities, Nelson and Dickens show us that leadership is more than tactical and technical. It is relational and transformational. They encourage us that uncertainties and complexities can be places of possibility and vitality when Christian leaders are grounded in God's love and connected to the people they serve. This book can help leaders to thrive despite threatening changes in contexts, communities and world.” —David Goatley, Lott Carey Mission Society

“I am usually skeptical about reading books on leadership. What can another book on leadership offer? However, as I have known Gary for many years and recognize the depth of his thinking and the breadth of his experience, I knew that I would learn a lot from this book. Gary and Peter managed to distill theory from major works on this topic reinforced by their years of experience and high level of expertise. They were are able to give language to critical concepts, some of which I have learned by intuition. They were are able to affirm, challenge, and inspire a new and radical way in how I think about leadership. In addition, the concepts are very relevant and meaningful across different cultural settings. The book speaks to my context in Beirut, Lebanon, as effectively as it does in other contexts. I wish for every leader at my seminary and at my church to study this book and be challenged and inspired by its content.” —Elie Haddad, President, Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Beirut, Lebanon

“Nelson and Dickens have come together in a way that has rarely worked previously; they have brought together exceptional church learning and outstanding secular business learning and communicated insights for all Christians who have a servant heart and desire the application tools to lead in powerful ways in their family, church, and community in order to connect others to Christ. This is a must-read for all those who are seeking to have an impact on others for Christ through their actions, words, and deeds., whether this be as a servant leader or spirit-led leader. The humble, generous way in which they have communicated their experience and challenged readers to examine themselves in the light of how Christ calls us to lead is encouraging and insightful and leaves the reader wanting to engage with them personally; fortunately, I have had the privilege and have been deeply blessed.” —Steven D Holmes, President and CEO, VerifEye Technologies, Springfree Trampolines and Chair of the Board of Governors, Tyndale University College & Seminary

"Another book on leadership? Really? Yes. Really and much needed. “As someone who, over the past 40 years has led churches, businesses, and international development agencies, I welcome a book that will get me beyond the mechanical models of leadership that are so common today and replace it with an understanding of the realities of leading complex people and complex organizations in complex times. Gary Nelson and Peter Dickens bring solid scholarship and decades of real world experience to this discussion. As they outline the kind of leaders that are needed today, I for one am both challenged and encouraged by what they have written. Regardless of your post, if you can recognize who and what you are actually leading (a complex adaptive system versus a machine) you are ready to become the leader your people and your organization need. Gary and Peter can help on both counts.” —Mike Baer, President and CEO of the Third Path Initiative

Leading in Disorienting Times hit me where I live! Nelson and Dickens artfully blend contemporary leadership thought, lived story, and the Canadian context. A relevant and timely contribution to finding our way as we seek to lead our organizations through difficult questions, challenged assumptions, and revolutionary change.” —Melanie Humphreys, President, The King’s University, Edmonton, Alberta

“Insights help us see more and go further than what we ever could without them. In Leading in Disorienting Times, Nelson and Dickens provide multiple insights and illustrations that help us see the terrain of the land that has so radically changed in our disorienting times. With a breadth that comes from divergent backgrounds, Nelson and Dickens provide compasses and outlines for the journey that lies ahead for all of us. Not only do they provide key markers for this journey, they do so in a format that is compact, concise and highly readable. After you read this material, you will want to have others read it as an aid for building a community of leaders. A key word to describe this book is "apt." It is unusually fitted or qualified as a resource, guide and encouragement. You will nod your head when reading and you will be glad for this companion that you will return to again and again.” —Jul Meldenblik, President, Calvin Seminary

“This book will disappoint readers looking for checklists and recipes. But for readers who want a book that will stir personal reflection and challenge them to integrate their faith and leadership journeys, this book will be a gift.” —Brenda Zimmerman, Director of Health Industry Management Program and Associate Professor of Strategy/Policy at Schulich School of Business, York University and Coauthor of Getting to Maybe and Edgeware

"This is the book most leaders I know will want to read. I will strongly recommend it to my seminary students. Its great strength is that it delves into all the current discussions about leadership, but does so with rich case study illustrations. Throughout, it threads the theme of relational leadership that appreciates the complexities of servant leadership today. Its chapters on transformational leadership and complex adaptive systems are superb. These are issues global leaders are addressing, and often what is suggested can have toxic outcomes for the leader and the ministry alike. However, Nelson and Dickens lead the reader forward in a nuanced and creative way. This is a most helpful addition to the literature on leadership from two highly respected practitioners. Highly recommended.” —Ross Clifford, Principal, Morling Theological College, Sydney, Australia

“Some people see leadership as it was in former times. Some see it as it is today. Most important is seeing leadership as it is becoming. This future orientation calls for comfort with the concept of chaordic, which is the simultaneous existence of chaos and order. No one has a crystal clear view of future leadership. It is something we must live into with great wisdom and then appropriately reflect on what we have experienced. Yet there are values that characterize future leadership. The deepest core value is a sense of calling—especially a spiritual calling—to leadership. Nearby is having a passion for something for which leadership is being expressed—a church or other organization. Essential is insightful awareness of the times in which leadership is being provided. In Leading in Disorienting Times Gary Nelson and Peter Dickens help us navigate a journey involving all three of these values.” —George Bullard, President of The Columbia Partnership and General Secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship

“Most of my life has been spent working with younger leaders and those who inspire, encourage, and serve them. I love their passion, vision, and deep desire to be a transformative and redemptive presence in the midst of constant change and a profoundly complex and uncertain world. But how they see it playing out in the midst of the challenges that they face is where vision and reality often collide and go their separate ways. What Nelson and Dickens have deftly achieved through a rich blend of theory, praxis, and their own personal stories and leadership experiences is the provision of a hopeful relational framework for fresh structures and processes to emerge and to bring purpose and rootedness to Leading in Disorienting Times. High value for all leaders.” —John H. Wilkinson, Executive Coach and Strategist, Youth Unlimited Toronto/Youth For Christ Canada

“Gary Nelson and Peter Dickens exemplify what the late John Stott labeled double listening in this well-researched, convincingly-reasoned, and richly experience-seasoned book. Managerial leadership, they insist, will serve adequately neither our churches nor our social institutions in a world of accelerating complexity. The renewing change so urgently required of our churches and societal institutions in post-Christendom culture requires biblically and contextually informed changes of leadership disposition, vision, relational commitments, and motivational instincts—nothing short of comprehensive leadership re-imagination. I savor the prospect of sharing it with my students and colleagues in biblical higher education leadership.” —Ralph E. Enlow, Jr. President of the Association for Biblical Higher Education

“This book gives voice to things that many leaders in our generation feel and live. It offers earthly inspiration to keep engaged with transition in order to facilitate transformation. The authors’ refreshing take on contemporary leadership encourages us to know that in the midst of cultural disorientation, we are not left without compass or companions.” —Anna Robbins, Academic Dean, Acadia Divinity College

“Peter Dickens and Gary Nelson have articulated, effectively, the concept that leadership is well-advised to think of organizations as living organisms rather than machines. They have applied their respective experiences in the world of health care (Dickens) and the church (Nelson). In so doing, they enunciate the complexity of organizations and the multi-dimensional cross-hatching of the systems within which these organizations exist. Out of these considerations we learn of the ways by which leaders can encounter and creatively reshape the worlds in which organizations exist. Their experiences in the fields of health care and of faith, as it happens, involve some of the most intensive of relationships among the people involved. This treatment by Nelson and Dickens will be valuable to leaders who wish to work successfully with the complexities they encounter–to the benefit of the people they serve and with whom they work.” —Lloyd Mackey, Canadian Journalist

“This book captures the reality of leadership today and the challenges we face in order to navigate our ambiguous future while remaining committed and passionate in God's mission. With authentic experience, sensitivity, and wisdom, it serves as a guide to promote the adaptive and continuous dialogue leaders need. Like a map it points out where you are, where you want to be, and the areas you want to avoid. Eminently practical.” —Stacey Campbell, CEO, Prison Fellowship Canada

“One of the biggest ideas in this book is the wake-up call for leaders to focus their goals on the overarching question, “what kind of organization do we want to be?” Purpose, not programs, is what drives Gary and Peter to give us the best of their leadership advice in this gutsy book. It’s a great reboot from seasoned experts who lead in a daunting field of faith for all, versus the zeitgeist of individualized secularization.” —Lorna Dueck / Context TV President, Globe and Mail Commentary Writer

“As an academic leading a secular life, teaching secular ideas about leadership and change, I wouldn't have expected to find such insight, even inspiration, from a book that weaves together leadership and theology. Nelson and Dickens have not just taken leadership theory and applied it to church leadership; that, I'm sure, has been done. No, they've created a wonderful amalgam that reinterprets Christian doctrine through the lens of leadership theory, and leadership theory through Christian doctrine. A marvelous example is their treatment of servant leadership, a theory of leadership that arguably has been misinterpreted more than any other. Nelson and Dickens, through their exegesis of the teachings of Jesus, give servant leadership a power and nuance that has been missing in most scholarly literature. I recommend this book, not just to church leaders, but to charitable and nonprofit organizations everywhere, whether faith-based or not.” —Jon F. Wergin, Professor of Educational Studies, Antioch Universi