The Record Fall 2013 - Don Bastian '53


Lessons in Leadership: Campus and Congregation

Don BastianDon Bastian ’53 thinks maturity may have given him an edge as GC’s student body president. About five years older than his classmates, he was married and had two children when he took office. “As far as being trusted as a leader,” he recalls, “I think my extra years worked in my favour.”

Bastian went on to pastor congregations in Canada and the U.S. He eventually served as bishop in the Free Methodist Church for 19 years, a role that afforded him many opportunities to observe effective leaders. “I saw that, wherever it is exercised, good leadership takes energy, focus, goodwill, some flexibility, clarity and steadiness of purpose,” he says, “sometimes candor and sometimes just ruggedness in staying on course.”

Here are five lessons Bastian picked up along the way.

Opposition doesn’t preclude good relationships
“Frank VanValin and I ran against one another for the position of Greenville College student body president,” he recalls. “At first, students predicted a shoo-in for me, but coming down to the wire I was ahead of him by only three votes. He and I have gone on to be lifetime friends.”

Surround yourself with good people
Bastian claims that his greatest asset was his vice president, Don Riggs. “He jokes that I was good at delegating,” says Bastian. “I fear he was right, because with a family to provide for, I struggled to keep my head (and theirs) above water. During the year, I often went out singing and preaching on weekends. Don was a saint about it.”

Eight years after he graduated, Bastian returned to Greenville to pastor the College church. He again surrounded himself with good people, an asset when the congregation renovated their church’s sanctuary and built an education center. “Several members who held the respect of the congregation served on the building committee, including an experienced builder, Howard Krober,” he recalls. “The congregation moved forward very supportively without the wrangles that sometimes go along with church building projects.”

Due diligence paves the way for success
Filling more than 150 positions each year for individual jobs and committee posts may seem daunting to any administrator, but Bastian hit on a system that generated dependable results. “I began meeting with the nominating committee of four plus myself as early as March. Prayerfully we discussed and decided on persons to be presented as nominees. At the close of each meeting, we would divide up the names among the committee. Before the next meeting all persons would have been approached seeking their willingness to let their names be on ballot. With this detailed preparation, the election in late spring would go very smoothly, and when fall came, the offices would be pretty well filled.”

No substitute for integrity
“Leaders who can't gain and hold trust don't last,” says Bastian. He observes that effective leaders have a certain energy about them, “whether it's quiet and well governed or robust and commanding. They have a well-developed work ethic. They aren't always brilliant but they are knowledgeable about what they are attempting. They are flexible enough to adjust as circumstances change but not merely elastic in their responses to every new challenge. And they have staying power. They seem to know where they are going and have a knack for attracting a following.”

Learn from the best
“Whether in the context of a student body or a local church or a larger Christian assignment, why should any leader go off course when we have the world's best leader ever for an example and a source of renewing energy, Jesus Christ the Lord?” asks Bastian. He cautions, however, that in tough times, Christian leaders have to remember that Christ’s leadership also involved the suffering of a cross.

Editor’s Note: Bishop Bastian’s book The Pastor’s First Love: And Other Essays on a High and Holy Calling has been recently published. It is available on or through your local bookseller.

Visit Bishop Bastian's blog, Just Call Me Pastor.

(Image from The Vista, when Dr. Bastian served as college pastor at the Greenville Free Methodist Church.)

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