We all need more energy, the vitality that helps us stay motivated, focused and productive in life. We know we receive energy from good nutrition, along with working out, adequate sleep and maintaining positivity. But there is another major source for the energy we need: having the right kinds of relationships with others. Not the ones that drain us, but the ones that refuel us. Join us for part one of this conversation with Dr. John Townsend about his new book, People Fuel: Fill Your Tank for Life, Love and Leadership. Listen in as Dr. Townsend shows you how we need the fuel of "Relational Nutrients" from others, and, in turn we can then provide them to others.

More About Our Guest

John Townsend

Dr. John Townsend is a New York Times best-selling author, speaker and leadership expert. He has more than thirty books with over 10 million copies in print. He is an internationally recognized business consultant, leadership coach and psychologist. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and Rosemead School of Psychology. He is founder of the Townsend Leadership Group and the Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling at Concordia University.

Episode Transcript

Scott Rae: Welcome to the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith & Culture. I'm your host, Scott Rae, Dean of faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics at Talbot School of Theology here at Biola University.

We're here today with the New York Times bestselling author, Dr. John Townsend. He's the author of more than 30 books, 10 million copies in print. He's a leadership expert. He's a psychologist. I might also say he's my long time friend. In fact, John, I'm sure you remember when you were a Grad student here at Rosemead School of psychology here at Biola and you were waiting tables at [Conos] Restaurant. You actually were the server for my wife, Sally, and I on our very first date.

John Townsend: I remember it well, and it was a great night. And you didn't spill anything on the table. I was so proud of you Scott.

Scott Rae: I was very pleased and yeah, that evening was the beginning of a wonderful story. So yeah, that was a great evening. Well, the reason we're here today, John is coming out with a new book called People Fuel: How Energy From Relationships Transforms Life, Love, and Leadership. So John, congratulations on book number 31 and this just has all kinds of great stuff in it. It's incredibly practical. It's biblically grounded. In fact, I think, I think of of all the people who are working today in the integration of psychology and Christian faith, I find you to be one, one of the most, if not the most insightful person around who's integrating those two areas just incredibly well. So thank you so much for coming on with us and to talk. There's just tons of good stuff here in this book that we want to get into.

John Townsend: Thanks. By the way, can I say worried about the integration piece?

Scott Rae: You may.

John Townsend: It's really cool that most of what I study these days is in the world of neuroscience, you know how the brain operates. And one of the big revelations for me over the past years of studying neuroscience about what we're finding out is that all of the robust studies, they're really well done studies about how people grow and change and have great relationships and success and have resiliency. Every one of them affirms and backs up that the Bible is true. They all back up to what God's been saying about growth forever and ever and ever. It's just great to see God get some credit through hard science.

Scott Rae: How about that, give our listeners just one example of what you mean by that.

John Townsend: Well, let's talk about, for example, Proverbs 20:5 where Solomon says that a person's heart are deep waters and a person of understanding draws them out. Now what that's saying is that we all have stuff inside of passions and core values and feelings and thoughts and opinions, and sometimes it takes relationship with somebody to draw us out of ourselves. Those great conversations you have when when somebody says that, "I see this in you" or you know, "I'm noticing this in you," and, "I really, that's about me?" Because we need others. Well, you look at the neuroscience science research and it says that we are, we are geared for empathy. That our brains work better when somebody is entering our world empathically.

Scott Rae: That's great. Great stuff. So John, let's turn to your book People Fuel. What do you mean by that term and why did you pick that for the title of Your Book?

John Townsend: Well, it's based on 1 Peter 4:10 is the key passage, Scott and, and where's where Peter says that we are the stewards of God's manifold grace. And the idea there is that, you know, Christians, we're pretty good at the vertical aspect, what I would call the vertical aspect of faith. You know, we're supposed to relate to God by reading our Bible and studying that we're supposed to pray. We're supposed to relate to the Holy Spirit and the indwelling Christ. We're supposed to surrender to Jesus.

And those are all things the Bible says about growth and following him a discipleship. But there are hundreds of verses about what I call the horizontal aspect of our faith too. Like I just mentioned, 1 Peter 4:10 or Ecclesiastes 4, where Solomon says, "Woe to you if there's not another to lift you up," or maybe even the passion when Matthew 26 when Jesus who was connected to the father and his time of great travail turns around and Peter, James and John and says, "I need you here with me."

That the horizontal aspect of our faith is just as important as the vertical aspect. And so if we want to be successful and we want to have great relationships and spiritual life and emotional life and great careers, we've got to avail ourselves of all of God's resources, not just the vertical, but also the horizontal. So I wanted to write a book about basically a science, a very practical science on how we can get the energy we need from others, the support we need, the nutrients of life to be healthier and more successful people.

Scott Rae: And it sounds like, correct me if I'm wrong on this, but it sounds like that you intended for this to be just as applicable to non-Christians as it is to Christians. Is that true?

John Townsend: Absolutely. It was it was a marketplace friendly book. I mean it's got a million verses in it because I wanted it to be clearly biblical, but I work, I do a lot of corporate work, Scott and I just work with lots of people, lots of organizations that are just marketplace organizations and they don't have a problem with that. They just go, "This stuff makes sense. You know? I don't know what all these verses mean, but I know these principles about getting the right place... People in your life make a difference into how our families work, our marriages work, and how our organizations work."

Scott Rae: All right, so are, the people who taught us preaching. I think it would be proud of this next question. What's actually, if you could summarize the big idea of full book in one sentence, what is it?

John Townsend: Probably the most pithy way I could think about it would be that we are as successful and healthy as the people we let in our lives.

Scott Rae: Okay. We are as successful and healthy as the people we let into our lives. What do you have to say to those of us who are introverts and that real relationships, for us, take a whole lot of work and generally leave us more drained than energized? In fact, I get energized by solitude, not relationships.

John Townsend: Well, you know, there's no such thing as a black and white introvert extrovert thing. You know when you go to Meyer's Briggs, that's a great instrument and somebody, two people take in a black and white way. They like, oh, I get no energy from people. It's all a drain. And I go, "Tell your wife that. I mean are you sure about that?" It's that unless somebody, if somebody gets zero energy from people, it's not introversion. They have a psychological problem called an attachment deficit. Now an attachment deficit is very different than introversion. Now the other end, we're finding out that even extroverts need cave time. There's no such thing as an extrovert. That has no positivity from cave time. And if it, if I have a person who says to me, I never need to be alone, I would say you have the opposite of an attachment disorder.

So when we go to the gray areas, absolutely some natural introverts get more energy from solitude, but they did to be the healthiest person on a design level. I'm talking about a design level, how their brains work or how God made him. They've got to have some quality relationships. My book talks about a life team of 3 to 10 people somewhere in their lives that are feeding an encouragement, care, empathy, and wisdom to them. So this, the black and white part of no people in my life versus nothing but people that doesn't work in reality. Everybody's on a continuum.

Scott Rae: Promise me, you won't tell my wife I asked that question.

John Townsend: I know you guys and I see and actually, Scott, we've been out with you enough that we see how much energy and positivity you get from Sally. So no, it's not true on a black and white level.

Scott Rae: You wouldn't say a just off the top of your head that I have an attachment disorder.

John Townsend: No.

Scott Rae: Okay.

John Townsend: No, I don't think you're really a relational person. I know you got to have this certain amount of cave time because all [I's] do. Right?

Scott Rae: That's right. So in the book you, you've sort of frame this idea that we can't grow without really meaningful people relationships that are regular part of our lives. And you framed this around the idea of a tree that you described as the growth tree. Could you explain that concept to our listeners? I found that a really helpful way to frame this whole conversation.

John Townsend: Sure. I think it from one of Jesus' lesser known parables, Luke 13, the parable of the barren fig tree where he talks about a tree, a fig tree, that wasn't bearing fruit and the landowner who has God, the righteous judge and in the metaphor says to the Gardner, who is Jesus just cut it down, why should it take up the sand or why should it taken of the Earth, the space? Like, and people feel like that sometimes they feel like, "Gosh, I'm just useless." But Jesus, the advocate to the Father, goes to him as his, well first let me dig around the soil. In other words, let me change the nutrient structure has gotten because maybe that's not the problem. And then if it still doesn't bear fruit have at it.

And the idea that I got from that was that so many times in our marriages, our parenting, our self care, our careers, we have a problem and our answer is either to judge ourselves, "Oh, I'm just useless." Or to just kind of use willpower. "I'll try harder. I'll wake up earlier, I'll work on weekends, I'll work 12 hours a week." And you know, trying harder rarely solves a problem when the words Jesus said was, "Maybe you've got a root system that's empty." For example, are you emotionally isolated? Do you not have any vulnerable relationships where people are feeding you care, understanding, and wisdom? And so the tree itself, in my... In the design and the book is, there's the top of it, which is, you know where the fruit is. In this case, the fig. So we all want great fruit.

We all want, I call it the three P's in the book, P as in Paul. There's that we all want great personal fruit, means I want healthy emotions. I don't want to have depression or anxiety or that sort of thing. I want to have great behavior. I don't want to have an addiction or a bad habit. I want to be a self disciplined person. And I also want to have great thoughts, healthy thoughts. So that's the... that's how you know your fruit in your life, in your personal life, Those things within your skin are healthy.

And then the second P is the a the people part. I want to have great relationships, thriving relationships with two characteristics, great relationships where I can be vulnerable with others and trust them and open up. And I've got to have a few people in my life that I really can be all myself with. But I also want to have relationships where I can solve problems and we can tell the truth to each other and we can, you know, sort of like be honest.

And when I don't have trusting relationships or honest relationships, I've got bad fruits. Then the third P is the P of performance. And that has to do with the task and doing and working things in life. How's my career going? How's my financial health, how's my mission in life going? And if I'm doing well there, that's great. But some people find they have a performance [inaudible 00:12:09]. They're not happy in their career, they're not doing well in their career. They don't feel like they're a good fit. So you look at those three P's and you either you kind of evaluate is my life where I needed to be?

Well, the way that successful people, and it makes it basically what I do is study very, very successful people that I work with to find out what their secret sauce is. And a healthy fruit comes from my healthy trunk because the trunk is what delivers the nutrients that protects the tree. And I'll call that the trunk of character, and character is all those capacities that we need to meet the demands of reality.

And therefore those in the illustration, there's bonding, the ability to have great relationships and be vulnerable. There's boundaries, and you know the boundaries stuff that I wrote about how to say no and have a voice and confront when you need to. There's reality, which means how to handle the losses of life and the negatives and be resilient and adaptive and not be stuck in perfectionism. And then there's capability, which is knowing who I am and where God has me in my mission. But then the third part of the tree, as we all know, is the root system because that's where the nutrients of the soil feed it. And there are three main nutrient areas that God provides for us to run up the trunk into the fruit and give us great, great, you know, fruit and our lives.

And those are those nutrient systems are Grace, which is that God and people in our lives are for us. They may not agree or approve all the time, but God's for us and so are the great people in our life. And there's truth which has information, data, biblical principles, skills, research, feedback. We all need the data. And the third is time, because to grow and be healthy and successful takes time. So to the extent that we're taking in grace, and grace, and truth, and time from the people we care about, it runs up the trunk. Integrating a great personal life, a great performance life, and a great people life.

Scott Rae: John, you use the term just a minute, when you started out describing this as the a that you when you work a lot with leaders, they find that the roots are empty and that they've been, you know, giving out and giving out, but there's nothing that they're taking in to replenish with what they're giving out. Now, I think you sound like you've seen this pretty regularly among the leaders that you work with, that they're operating on what I wanna call a deficit at the root level.

How do they go about fixing that? Because my, I mean, in my experience, most leaders when they, when they don't have the fruit, they just ramp up the effort and try a lot harder and figure if I'll just, I just work at it a little bit more and I get better people around me then it'll just happen. But it doesn't just happen. In fact-

John Townsend: It doesn't just happen, Scott.

Scott Rae: One, I guess, how do you get leaders to see that the problem really is at the root level, not the fruit level. And then to get them to attend to that before they crash and burn.

John Townsend: Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah. It's a big issue because a lot of times if somebody very gifted in this discipline, they won't, they'll be totally isolated from God's source of people. And when I, you know, sometimes a company or a board or a CEO or somebody will call me into evaluate a leader. So I have a structure I take them through, I ask them about their relationship and they'll go, "Oh, I'm not isolated. I've got plenty of relationships." And I'll say, "Great, tell me about them." "Well, I'm guiding this group and I'm leading this team and I'm mentoring this person, am discipling." And I go, "Man, I'm getting tired listening to you." I said, "That's all great, but that's all outsourcing. What about the in-source? What about the people that are feeding you?" And they'll go, "Well, let me think." And they all don't say, "I've got God," and I go, "Great, we need God." "And I've got my spouse." I said, "Great." "And I've gotten my Labrador retriever, Max".

Scott Rae: Seriously?

John Townsend: Yeah. And I'll say, "Oh, you know, we all need God. That's great. Check. And you know, glad you got supportive spouse, and you know your dog kind of genetically is wired to lick you. So that's kind of like who he is," said, "But as I look at this, Sam," I'll say, "You know, I think that your spouse is very tired and is wondering when you're going to be the... That there's going to be another person in your life that wants to hear your fears and frustrations and anxieties." And every time I speak on this, if the spouse is around, they come up to me later and go, "Oh my gosh, you got to fix him."

So it's a problem because they kind think, because I'm around people that I'm getting nutritious. No, you're outsourcing, which all leaders need to do, but you can't give what you don't possess. I'll tell you a story from you. One of my, you're in my favorite people, Scott, from Professor Howard Hendricks, and this really happened.

Back when you and I were at a Dallas seminary together. He mentored a lot of us. You know, he had a big impact on you and me and a bunch of people.

Scott Rae: Sure did.

John Townsend: And I remember sitting in Chapel one day and he said, he was preaching on some passage. He said, "Now, let me tell you about these cause men and women." He says, "Let me tell you what this says. This says, you better not have a best friend, and you should never have a best friend because various reasons don't make an idol out of a person and people let you down. If you're going to lead a church, you shouldn't have the best a best friend, blah, blah" And since I'm kind of relational, I thought, "Ooh, something's wrong with me. But you know, Moses said it and of Moses says, I better write it down, right?"

So I've put it in my little notebook. And then I was then by that time, I'd entered Rosemead for my doctorate and a friend of mine that was in the seminary a couple of years behind me, I met him and he said, "Oh, you know, I've, I was at chapel the other day, well after you left and Professor Hendricks was doing a chapel a couple of years after you left and he said, he said the most interesting thing, he said, 'You might've heard me a couple of years ago when I said that you better not have a best friend.'" He said, "And then professor Hendricks paused and said the following, 'I was wrong, I was wrong about that.'" And he went through the passages that talk about the one that I just mentioned 1 Peter 4:10 and all this and he said, "You better have a best friend." So now I'm really confused cause Moses kind of recanted, which is unusual, right?

So I used to fly back from California to Dallas then in what I would do that I would trying to have coffee with Prof and just catch up. And so we were having coffee and I said, "So what's this deal about you reversing your position on best friends here Prof?" And here's the story. The seminary had a due diligence because they were really concerned about success for their graduates to follow up anytime there was a problem in a graduate or an alumnus who had a problem, a church split, a moral failure, a burnout, a lack of success, financial problems, and they wanted to make sure they were learning about this so they could teach in a better way so we'd have successful alumni. It's a wonderful project.

And so when they would send the body bags, metaphorically speaking, of these people who had had really failed, guess who was supposed to be in charge of that project of understanding them? It was professor Howard Hendricks, and guess what he found to be true in 90 some percent of those alumni? This is no rocket science, Scott.

Scott Rae: Yeah, no best friends.

John Townsend: No best friends.

Scott Rae: Unbelievable.

John Townsend: They were isolated. It was just [bout] them and their spouse and their dog and their prayer life and nobody to vent to, nobody to unpack to. Nobody talked about the fears and the shame and the failures and the neuroscience would take over and say you're going to be lowering your performance and going into the bad problems if you don't fix this. Professor Hendricks saw it before anybody did.

Scott Rae: So basically not much going into the roots.

John Townsend: There you go. That's the problem.

Scott Rae: Yeah, and wow, that's a lot... That's a lot of damage that's caused to people's lives, to churches, to marriages, to families.

John Townsend: The hard science says that without those relationships, a person... How does it go? They have a less of a successful overall life, more physical health problems, more emotional problems, and they die sooner. I mean, it's not even, it's not even an opinion anymore. It's just science.

Scott Rae: I was going to say, sign me up for that, you know? Wow. Yeah. Well I think this, yeah, I think the concept that you've laid out here about having good stuff coming into your root system, I think that's a really, that is so important. And I think the point you made just a minute ago about how we mistake outsourcing for in-sourcing relationally, that is so common among people who are in leadership who are high achieving people. We just, I think we just assume that if we are around people enough it just, it doesn't matter what capacity we're around these people in. They are good for us, but that's not necessarily true.

John Townsend: Here's the mistake there, Scott also on top of that is since the leader is, they draw people, they're smart and they care about people and they've got gifts. So like a moth is drawn to a flame. Leaders just attract people in that level, it's not bad, those people's needs aren't bad. But I'll also, and when I'm doing my interview, I'll say, "You ever been in small groups? Yeah. A million." and I will say, "What happened? Every time you hang out in a small group?" You'll go, "Without exception I end up leading that small group. So now I'm facilitating and I've got the wisdom and I'm," and I go, "So one more case of, of outsourcing. It's just because of the dynamic of leadership that you've got to, you've got to pay attention to and realize this is not going to work over time for me"

Scott Rae: I've always felt like I'd be happy to be in a small group as long as I can pick the people who are in them. In part because you know, you can see it in a church based small group, people who have theological background end up being facilitators in leading and things like that and it ends up being additionally draining, not nourishing and encouraging. Now let me-

John Townsend: Well that's why in the book I talk about the concept of the life team, which I do train people at a very practical level. And you know about this in the book, I train people, I'm a small group Guy, but I have picked my own life team because I had to survive. So I think you should pick your life team.

Scott Rae: Well I that's, that's actually the part I wanted to go to next. What do you mean by a life team? You know, I'm encouraged to know that you can pick them yourself, but what is that, why are they so important, and who should constitute a life team for you?

John Townsend: Well I have these values that I put or these, let's call them suggestions, in the book, seven or eight of them that talk about the things you need to look at because you've got to have the right people in your life to give you the nutrients you need as well as you give them the nutrients that they did. So the qualities are they've got to have, I think first off, essentially the similar core values. I mean, not perfectly similar because that's just not good for us. But essentially looking through life in the same lens about God, excellence, integrity, relationship, and honesty.

Secondly, they've got to be full of grace and never have a condemning bone in their body, and accept you, even though, if you're being on the wing nut. Thirdly, they've got to be honest and be able to confront you when they see you making a bad decision or [inaudible] they've got to be vulnerable.

And there's the big key one, they've got to be able to talk about their hard times to. Fifthly, it's gotta be mutual so that you're with them, and they're with you and nobody's the parent. Nobody has a child and nobody's the Yoda figure and nobody's the young Luke, the Jedi, we're all working on this together.

The sixthly is, they've got to be serious about their growth. It's not like, "Well I'll meet you once a year for Starbucks coffee." That's not enough of a dosage system in the root, I think you've got to be at some level, whether... A team is not always the people in the same group. Now for me, I've got people on my life team that don't know each other, because I've got people around the country that hold me up and that's fine. I just want the quality.

So, but you've got to be in some contact with them like once a month to get the right dosages. And then there's got to be availability and they've gotta be around. And then the final one is chemistry. It's gotta be somebody you look forward to being with not somebody you wake up and think, "oh, I've got lunch with Joe. Man, he's a pain, but he's probably a good for me." I don't want to live like that. I want to say, "Hey there Scott Rae, I want to be with him." So I lay those out and I say, "You've got to find three to ten people like that and we're going to talk about the relational nutrients that we give each other, cause I have a very simple way to look for the nutrients. But you gotta have the people that have the nutrients basically."

Scott Rae: Okay. And those criteria are how you determine who's got the right stuff to be in your life? Now these are people that you meet with separately, sometimes in a group? How does that work?

John Townsend: Well yeah, the ideal would be in a group because groups of great, but some people, you know, I've got a friend who's in China, he can't do that, right? So you start with the ideal and go, "It'd be great to have my dearest and closest growth friends in a group." And maybe half of them can be in a group because you're all in the same zip code and you shoot for that. But go for the quality. You got to have people who really get you and know you and and see life in a similar way. Get what you can.

Scott Rae: Do you think most people have that many people in their life? Who are like that?

John Townsend: No, they don't, but I can fix that. I've got a system. Now you're going to laugh at this, but it really works.

Scott Rae: Do tell.

John Townsend: I've taken it to myself. All right, and man, I've taken it to many of my clients, it works. People say, "I don't know people like that. There's just, all I've got is just people that sort of like are nice, but they don't have these qualities." I go, "Okay, that's not true. You just haven't seen him. Go to your Microsoft outlook contacts and we've all have between, I don't know, 700 and 2,000 names. Give yourself a couple of hours." I did this myself to eat my own cooking, and you walked through that list and you just think, "Oh yeah, he's a smart guy. She's a kind person. This person is wise. This person would open up," and you might say, "Oh, this person is still in prison. That's probably not a good idea."

So you can [inaudible] through and then you have the, you'll have, I don't know, 20 people let's say. These are all people I would just love to spend more time with. Then you pick one of them and you ask them to lunch and you say, "Hey, haven't seen you for awhile. Let's grab lunch." You know, catch up. And during that lunch, the key is you make one vulnerable statement, just one, stick your toe in the water. You might say, "Work has really been a challenge, I'm kind of concerned about some things in my metrics or my results or market share," "I've got some cultural problems," or you know, "Our daughter's a teenager and she's really kind of going upside down and we're concerned," or whatever, but some kind of a vulnerable statement. Now you'll get one of three responses, Scott, and that will tell you whether they're ready for the next level of life team.

The first group will tell you, "Oh my goodness, the weather today is phenomenal, isn't it?" All right. Now Scott, if that, if that's the response you get after a vulnerable statement, what are they trying to tell you?

Scott Rae: I'm not interested.

John Townsend: I'm not interested. I'm not going there. Nice person, but they'll never be on your A-team. The second response when the person says, "Oh, you have your daughter's having problems. Yeah, okay, here's a good book. Now, start waking up early and pray more for her. By the way, go to this conference. Now I'm going to make you accountable. I'm gonna ask you if you're asking your, have you [inaudible] your daughter?" What they're telling you is, I want to be your coach. I want to be Mr. Advice with you. I don't want to listen to you. I don't want to be with you. I just have a billion answers. So no, that's not what I'm after.

But the third response is the great one. They put down their fork and their eyes opened and they leaned towards you and they go, "I had no idea. I had no idea that you guys were struggling. We loved your daughter. I'm so sorry. Well, how's that feeling? What can we do for you?" And they're telling you I can live with a real person. So that means they qualify for lunch number two a month later or whatever, two weeks later. Now this is about a four month process.

So you do this three or four times and after about the third meeting, fourth, that's when you say if it goes well, "You know, I'm getting really serious and intentional about my personal growth and I realize I've got to have the right people around me and I love talking to you and I feel like we've got some values and challenges and stuff that we can walk together through life. I'd love for us to meet on a regular basis, either together or with some other people in our lives. And I'd love for us to be together, pray for each other, share our struggles, share our challenges, find great Bible verses for, read a book, but I just need people like you on a regular basis."

And when I do this my clients will come back to me after doing my isolated, high performing leadership clients. They'll say, 90% of them will say, when I made the proposal, the person went, "Are you kidding? I don't have this either. Sign me up. I need this in my life too," and they're off and running and they've been doing it for years now since I came up with the system.

Scott Rae: Well, that's incredibly insightful and also super practical and there's no reason that anybody who feels that kind of a relational deficit in their lives can't do something like this to get this started. John, this is just incredibly helpful.

I look forward to to part two of our conversation, which will come up next on your book People Fuel. There's a lot more. We're going to talk about relational nutrients. What are the kinds of things that you need to have people building into you? Different types of relationships, the gains and drains relationships. There's a lot more to talk about, so stay tuned for part two of my conversation with Dr. John Townsend.

This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically: Conversations on Faith & Culture. Listen in next time as we invite Dr. Townsend back to consider this really important discussion on his book. People Fuel. To learn more about us. To find more episodes, go to www.biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's biola.edu/thinkbiblically. If you enjoyed today's conversation, part one, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening and remember, think biblically about everything.