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7 Questions with Bruce Stevens (Lieut. Colonel)
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Bruce Stevens (Lieut. Colonel)
Name: Bruce Stevens (Lieut. Colonel)
Current title: Executive Officer - Investigations (previously Victoria State Leader)
Current organisation: The Salvation Army
I have served as a Salvation Army Officer since 1992, spending 16 years in congregational ministry before taking on denominational leadership responsibilities. I have always relished opportunities to work alongside and develop effective leaders. From our origins, The Salvation Army has focused on sharing the gospel holistically; responding to the spiritual and practical needs of people.
Prior to moving into ministry, I worked as a Corporate Tax Consultant for a multinational Business Consultancy Firm. Those business skills certainly proved to be a great asset and I have had extensive responsibilities with The Salvation Army in business and governance matters over the last 13 years.
In recent times, I led the VicOne Project that brought together the multiple divisions of The Salvation in Victoria Army into a single structure. This was part of the largest 'merger' in Australia in recent years given our extensive community service ministries and it even got the attention of many corporates. Throughout that period, I served on the Steering Committee that guided the process.
Together with my wife, Debra, I moved into leadership of the newly created Victoria Division and served through until January 2021 to drive the new culture and mission strategy developed.
I have now moved on from strategic leadership into a support role with our National team. At aged 62 and being a survivor from a recent cancer journey, my focus is moving to new ways of investing in leaders.
As an aside, I love music and enjoy serving with the Melbourne Staff Band, the premiere brass band of The Salvation Army in Australia..
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
My mandate for many years has been to 'choose to trust.' God has so often brought me to the point where I am reminded that only by leaning on him can I manage. With endless exciting possibilities of what God can and is doing, the challenge on occasions has been to get my ego in check and make sure I am listening to the Spirit. This is a continuing wrestle as I invest in situations where bringing challenge to small thinking must come from a position of grace and humility. Leaders find a way to do this in a way that reflects the characteristics of Christ.
Another key challenge is there is always tension being part of a large denomination when you are wired to lead. On several occasions, I found myself serving as 2iC in structures and as difficult as that was, those experiences grew me as a leader and shaped how I empowered and related with my team.
Challenge always brings growth if our eyes are open.
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
From growing up pursuing corporate life and the associated lifestyle, I found myself attending a Bible Study together with my wife. Surprise, surprise ... my faith quickly deepened and I began sensing God's presence in an ever increasing way. The leaders of that group were a wonderful Christian couple we looked up to and they had a profound impact on us.
Some years later, I experienced God directly challenging me to offer myself for service as a Salvation Army Officer. My background in business and being more conservative at that time, God needed to do something quite miraculous to get my attention and that was the beginning of a journey to a new life of service. It was that couple who led our Bible Study group that we turned to for counsel.
There have been times when the journey has been way beyond my coping mechanisms. In those times, the reassurance that God specifically called me has held me to the commitment I made to him.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My pattern has changed depending on ministry responsibilities and other seasonal factors in our family life (we have two children who are now both in ministry.) Ultimately, only by having space to listen to God can I lead well.
I have always thought about my routine with a whole of life perspective, hence it has not just been about how I connect and listen to God. Time for family, exercise and other recreational activities have proven to be significant to my overall wellbeing. Interestingly, I played competitive cricket well into my 50's and always sensed I led better in the cricket season than the football season.
Like many preachers, I was confronted with changing dynamics when I moved into denominational leadership and wasn't preaching as much. That meant I needed to find a way to hold myself accountable for reading the word. These days, I find the YouVersion app really helpful to hold myself accountable. Similarly, I use an exercise app to help hold myself accountable for my physical wellbeing.
At this stage of my life, I like to start slow with a coffee, the word and the newspaper. There is something beautiful about the first hour of the morning. For those leaders who have young children - be kind to yourself.
4. What's one book apart from the Bible that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
'Leading from the Second Chair' by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson was a very significant read for me. This helped me navigate the joys and challenges of being a 2iC, plus also shaped how I worked with the teams I subsequently led. I also recall this being the subject of an interview on a Willow Creek Leadership resource which helped it come to life for you.
As a leader that was quite driven, especially in my 30's and early 40's, Arch Hart's book 'Adrenaline and Stress' was also a winner for me. This helped me become more astute at being self-aware about what was happening in my life holistically. Many leaders find themselves grappling with managing emotional health and this book provided some challenging, yet helpful learnings for me.
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
The privilege of casting vision, inspiring a team and empowering churches and leaders to greater things does not obviate us from the responsibilities of good governance. It is imperative that our governance protocols and disciplines match the values we espouse.
I am also conscious that no matter how much you empower leaders, there will be times when they choose to defer to you for decision making. Sometimes, you simply need to step up and make the best call with the information available. The worst thing a leader can do is not make a decision at all.
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
For me personally, developing leaders occurs best in the routine of the journey. It is the classic 80/20 leadership development principle where as much as training and upskilling are important, 80% of the best learning happens 'in the trenches' as you serve and wrestle with challenges.
Words of encouragement are of immense importance as we come alongside young Christians, just as is taking time to invest in them and be prepared to have courageous conversations. For those further along the journey and emerging high calibre leaders, mentoring/coaching relationships rarely fail to yield dividends if the chemistry is right.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a church leader so far?
I recall leading a congregation that struggled to have clarity about the mission God was calling them to in their unique community. We initially applied our best strategic thinking, yet seemed to be getting nowhere and it was as if God was laughing at our self-centred efforts.
We embarked on a journey of seeking God's heart and listening to what he revealed to us, which actually took several years. During this time, we invested heavily in the corporate prayer life of the congregation with several key leaders stepping up. After quite some time, we found ourselves experiencing an incredible sense of God's peace alongside great excitement and renewed passion amongst our people. From that time on, we saw fantastic Kingdom outcomes that we had only dreamed of previously.
God reminded me that we are at our best when our foundation is cemented in prayer, we are listening to what he reveals to us, we are getting onboard with what he is already doing and we are also using our best strategic thinking.