Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Fighting the war of the NPO

Written by: on December 4, 2023

Finishing a semester feels like finishing a Sunday.

Every week on Sunday I get up much earlier than usual and prayerfully enter the space where for the next few hours I’m going to be in the ring and fighting for lives, sometimes my own. The battle isn’t against flesh and blood and I’m building people up, not tearing them down, but spiritually I can identify with the line in the U2 song, God, Part 2, as I “kick the darkness ‘till it bleeds daylight.”[1]

I regularly get in my car at the end of the day with the feeling of both deep satisfaction for having been useful to God’s purposes, as well as having left everything, including my blood, sweat and tears, out on the field. Often, I’m broken, and bruised, but not beaten.

In other words, I’ve gone to war.

I was once told by an older pastor that preaching a sermon is like playing a basketball game. Intense. Fun. Life-giving and exhausting at the same time. And there’s always a need for some recovery if you’ve done it right.

Carey Nieuwhof concurs. In a recent blog post he wrote about him preaching a sermon series for the first time after a years-long hiatus, he wrote “preaching is far more exhausting than I remembered.”[2]

The war is necessary and worth fighting, but as a war it necessarily includes fighting battles.

Steven Pressfield understands that all creative work is a battle. In his book The War Of Art, he winsomely and compellingly writes about passion, and inspiration, and creativity, and what a professional artist is and does, and a lot of other things, but mostly he is explicitly and implicitly writing a book about resistance and hard work.

All true art—in which I include writing a sermon, preaching, and even leading—is hard work because there is resistance. And it’s not just the normal “I don’t feel like working” resistance, but the kind that is “evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius.” [3]

There’s been a lot of this kind of resistance in my schoolwork this semester. I’ve been at war with my NPO, with my reading, and with my writing. But here’s a secret: I love the struggle. I feel like I’m leaving it all out on the field. I’m a fighter, and when I’m fighting like this, when I’m battling resistance, I have deep conviction that I’m going to win.

More importantly, I know that I’m making art.

In last week’s post I mentioned that the definition of leadership is slippery. Art is hard to define, too. My son is in art school, and I get a kick out of asking him to define art because even for him it’s difficult to nail down. But some core definition includes that art is an expression of the artist. It makes an impact. It inspires emotion. It can catalyze action. It sheds new light on, or even changes, something about the world, or about somebody’s worldview.

I’ve always yearned to be an artist, not to draw or paint pictures (which I can’t do) or even write songs (which I can do) but to inspire emotions, activate action, change hearts, and challenge worldviews. To express who God has made me to be so I can make an impact on, and for, others.

So, an enduring question I’ve had through my ministry life is “how can a pastor be an artist?”. Lately I’ve added the word student alongside the word pastor in that question.

And that’s what I want to leave you with in the final post of this semester. You see, what we’re doing isn’t just academia. We aren’t just contributing to an intellectual conversation, as important as that is. There’s something deeper going on here.

We’re creating works of art.

I know it could sound like hubris to believe what we’re doing could inspire wonder, or catalyze action, or change the world, but why else would we be fighting through the resistance?

Not just to have a conversation.

We may be ending this semester having left everything we have, including our blood, sweat and tears, out on the field, but at the end of the day I believe it will have been a deeply satisfying fight to have been useful for God’s purposes in other people’s lives.

And make no mistake, that’s what each of our NPO’s will do, further God’s purposes in and for others.

I’m so grateful to be a part of a community of artists who are each fighting to answer needs, problems, and opportunities that will make an impact in our world that so desperately needs it.

Keep resisting. Fight hard. Win the war.

It’ll be worth it!

[1] U2, God, Part 2 (I believe in love), Rattle and Hum, 1988.

[2] https://careynieuwhof.com/6-lessons-from-my-year-long-preaching-hiatus/

[3] Steven Pressfield, The War Of Art; Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles (New York: Black Irish Entertainment, 2002), xi.

About the Author


Tim Clark

I'm on a lifelong journey of discovering the person God has created me to be and aligning that with the purpose God has created me for. I've been pressing hard after Jesus for 40 years, and I currently serve Him as the lead pastor of vision and voice at The Church On The Way in Los Angeles. I live with my wife and 3 kids in Burbank California.

13 responses to “Fighting the war of the NPO”

  1. mm Kim Sanford says:

    It’s interesting that you describe ministry as a battlefield. My husband and I have been talking recently about developing a sort of “battle cry” to keep us going when we feel that dreaded, inevitable resistance. How do you handle your own resistance that might crop up on a Sunday despite your clear passion and battle-readiness?

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      Kim, great question. The truth is I don’t often feel resistance on a Sunday. I’m always down for that fight. What I ALWAYS feel resistance about is the preparation for Sunday. And I’ve learned from 30 years of doing this that if I’m not prepared it WILL impact me and the people I’m serving.

      I love the idea of a ‘battle cry’ for when we are in battle, whether it’s in the middle of serving or in the preparation for it. Thanks for the thought.

  2. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Tim, I like how you drew similarities between our studies and art. I also like that you see your vocation as an art form. I wonder if there is a connection to when people are working in a place of their gifting and passion that this is where the work of art begins? Just a thought,

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      I totally think so, Jennifer. I’m a firm believer that ALL of us were created to be artists and creatives in some way. How that gets expressed is so…. creative. 🙂

      When we work in our gifting and passion I think it’s highly possible that we are going to make some kind of impact of beauty on the world…even if it has to do with numbers, or business, or other things that are usually considered non-artistic. But when doing so, in my opinion, approaching the ‘sublime’ requires we press through resistance… or else it’s just numbers, or business, or painting, or writing and not really art.

  3. mm John Fehlen says:

    Your post made me think of one of my favorite songs from Gable Price and Friends, called “I Love To Struggle.” Here is the chorus:

    “Cars with no gasoline
    Tires on the side of the street
    I’m in love with the struggle
    and struggle’s in love with me

    Bills feel like robbery
    The AC’s on but it’s blowing heat
    I’m in love with the struggle
    and struggle’s in love with me”

    To me that expresses both the challenge AND the blessing found in struggle and resistance. We need both. At a recent leadership meeting I referred to my life, stress, workload, etc like the idling on my Vespa scooter.

    A cycle mechanic showed me how I could use a screwdriver to adjust the idling up or down, and how important it is that it be set just right.

    Too high and the engine overheats and dies.
    Too low and it sputters and dies.

    Just right and I’m rolling down the road looking all fly!

  4. Travis Vaughn says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Tim, to fight hard. And I resonate with your take on how resistance and this semester have interacted. I found myself both fighting hard and plugging away, even getting way ahead of due dates in a much better way than the previous semester, yet I’ve also wrestled with my NPO more than ever. And, I’ve edited it more than I envisioned a year ago. In fact, I changed it multiple times even this week and ran two different versions past my project faculty coach. I am thankful to be done (mostly!) as of this blog response, but the past month was a slog, no doubt.

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      I’m in the same boat… wrestled with my NPO more than I thought I had.

      My personal question is how much of of my wrestling is resistance and how much of it is vital to the process. I lean towards the second but not naive enough to believe there isn’t at least some of the first going on.

  5. mm Russell Chun says:

    Hi Tim,
    You wrote, “But some core definition includes that art is an expression of the artist. It makes an impact. It inspires emotion. It can catalyze action. It sheds new light on, or even changes, something about the world, or about somebody’s worldview.”

    Glanzer (Wave), Satell (Cascade)…I think we are on to something here. How do we manifest change? How do the ripples we generate grow into waves of change?

    Yes, I too think it is exciting.


    • mm Tim Clark says:

      Russell, thanks for the encouragement. Isn’t it fun and exciting to be diving into the waters that people like Glanzer and Satell have already been swimming in? While I know our doctorate is in leadership I think the subtext to it all is that we are becoming change agents (which is in the end what leaders do, we change realities not just manage realities).

      Appreciate you… Merry Christmas.

  6. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    Tim, as a PK and grandkid of a pastor, a spouse and preacher myself, I hear you! Sundays were soooo hard. I observed that in no other career, do you have your busiest day, highlight of all the blood, sweat and tears of the weeks worth “what does a pastor do anyways?” and then show up to game day and have your entire family also present? Man talk about balancing so many balls! No wonder you leave exhausted! I see you brother, and I pray that you continue to have sustaining power and joy through all of it! May resistance only show you what is needed to get to the other side…we are almost to the other side of this semester!

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      What a gift you are, Jana. I’m grateful that you see me and hear me. I’m in the personal fight of my life right now and I know that God will see me through it, but what a gift to have others who will attend to me as I fight the good fight. WE’RE 1/2 WAY THROUGH. Let’s keep encouraging one another to the end!!!

  7. Hey Tim!

    Your comparison of finishing a semester to finishing a Sunday sermon is a powerful and relatable metaphor. When I worked at a church we would often say “Sunday’s always coming!”

    The idea that both involve a battle, a sense of deep satisfaction, and the feeling of leaving everything on the field resonates with anyone who has experienced the demands of academic and spiritual work. Steven Pressfield’s concept of resistance is particularly apt in this context, as it highlights the challenges and obstacles that one must overcome in both creative and academic pursuits.

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