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

Pain, Growth and Beauty

Written by: on March 7, 2018







Dr. Chand has approached a topic that is seldom talked about publicly: the topic of pain in ministry. If I had to sum up his theme in one sentence, it would be, pain is a part of change, leaders are change agents and therefore, pain is a part of their life. “In fact, leadership—all leadership—is a magnet for pain…” [1] In the eleven chapters he and others tell their stories of pain in ministry and how the process has transformed them and their ministry. The book is both interesting and helpful to a certain point.

The challenge for me with the genre are threefold. The first is the oversimplification of rather unique and complex situations. Second, is the “three-step approach” to solving these complex problems. Third, is the message that it sends to those who are “less-successful,” in spite of their high threshold of pain.

Allow me to say that Dr. Chand is a well respected and in many ways a brilliant leader. His story is powerful and an example of the promise of the grace and power of God to change all of us. The other leaders who so wonderfully shared their stories of pain are without a doubt at that same level, excellent leaders and wonderful men and women of God. I would recommend that any leader make this book a part of their reading list.

That being said, though the stories of these wonderfully unique people who faced and ministered in unique and complex situations are inspiring, they seem to oversimplify otherwise very complex situation. A brief story cannot tell of the complex mechanisms and influences that lead to the pain and the growth on the other side of that pain. If a leader sees in these stories familiar circumstances and then—hoping for the same outcome— prescribe for themselves the same process, they may find discouragement rather than growth. A short story can tell a part of the journey, but can never tell the whole story. It is not that simple.

The second challenge is the three-step approach. I again refer to the complexity of every situation and the context in which the pain is played out. The “Know This,” “Do This,” Think About This,” approach is helpful in that it causes one to pause and reflect. I am not sure, though, that a statement like, “and remember, you’ll grow only to the threshold of your pain…[2] is helpful in some instances.  If that were the case then pain would never end, because continued growth is God’s plan for all of us.

Lastly, I wonder about the people who find themselves in “less successful” places in their life and ministry. What message are they hearing? What did they do wrong? Are they asking questions like, is my threshold of pain not as high as it should be? Am I, after all, a failure? Many, many fine men and women have sacrificed and unselfishly given themselves for the cause of Christ, unrecognized and unnoticed except by God, their close family, and friends. They’ve never had a problem with staff because they never had staff! And the pain of a growing church, well it is a distant dream often overcome by the pain of reality.

To those fellow journeyers I would say, don’t be discouraged. Be encouraged by the fact that God is a God of grace and mercy and that pain can absolutely lead to growth. Although not always the type of growth we think. Pain can lead to a growth and dependence on God that is outside of our complex situations and context—a growth that is outside of our skills sets and giftings or lack thereof. It is the pain that leads to full and total dependence on God. A familiar scripture comes to mind. Though he slay me, yet will l trust Him!

My greatest concern in writing this is that I come across bitter or arrogant. I sincerely pray that is not the case. I want to express the sense of freedom that comes when we understand that pain does not necessarily lead us to successful leadership as some define success. Maybe the purpose of pain it to help us better understand our humanity, and humankind’s fallen state. Maybe then the greater purpose of pain is to lead us to a successful relationship with God and a deeper compassion for those who do not have that relationship.  Maybe pain is God’s blessing to me,  helping me to walk humbly, love mercy and do justly, in that order.

To this end, I read this book with a good dose of life and ministry experience. That experience has allowed me the privilege to know pain intimately. That intimate relationship with pain has shown me a God of grace and mercy and the One who can transform pain into growth and beauty.


  1. Samuel Chand. Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2015, 6.
  2. Ibid., 241.

About the Author

Jim Sabella

13 responses to “Pain, Growth and Beauty”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    Thank you, Jim. You are not alone in your estimate of the “over-confidence” of the author’s solutions.
    Real life is way more complicated. In keeping with the other books we read, a little introspection was ok. But I felt like it was so centered on the individual and not as much on Christ as the Holy Spirit.
    I agree with you that some of the value of the book was in reading the anecdotes about pain from various leaders and learning how they coped. Knowing somebody else is going through something the same is encouraging.
    Your conclusion is good to focus on, “That intimate relationship with pain has shown me a God of grace and mercy and the One who can transform pain into growth and beauty.”

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks, Mary! Real life is always more complicated than in the books. Concerning the individual stories, I like your point about focusing on Christ and the Holy Spirit instead of the individual.

  2. Lynda Gittens says:

    Jim, good post.
    Yep, that scripture ” Though he slay me, yet will l trust Him!” Is a large pill to swallow.
    We a control freak, although I have toned down, I find that on the simplest things I do not want to bother God. I forget that God wants to be in all areas of my life.

  3. Katy Drage Lines says:

    Jim, you’ve read my post, so you know that I agree with your concern with, “the message that it sends to those who are ‘less-successful,’ in spite of their high threshold of pain”, and don’t see your critique of the book as invalid (quite the contrary). While I resonate with all three of your concerns, let me hone in on this last one to add that I think Chand’s point on this is disturbing. I think about John the Baptist who recognized he needed to decrease in order for Christ to increase (John 3:30); his disciples left him to follow Jesus, his crowds decreased. In Chand’s model, the Baptizer was unsuccessful.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Katy, what an excellent point about the Baptizer. When the size of the crowd is often associated with the blessing of God—not to mention your living wage—numbers can quickly become the litmus test of success, especially in our culture of growth by numbers. Excellent point! Thank you.

  4. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Jim you bring up very valid points! I ,too, am leary of how it oversimplifies complex leadership dilemmas. I would hope that someone would not see themselves as weak or a poor leader because they were enduring so much pain with no comparable outcomes to the ones shared in this book. I do agree with you that the way it is written does give you a chance to reflect on your own leadership situations and how you are approaching them. Great critically reflective post Jim!

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks, Christal. I often struggle with over simplifaction of the problems and the pain we face and how some leaders oversimplify the challenges faced by those they lead. I’ve had to learn—and it’s not easy—to spend more time listening than talking, more time analyzing than giving advice. Life is extremely complicated with many complex layers and influences. Only God can bring even a modicum of order to the complexity of life. There an old saying, “there’s only two things I know for sure, there is a God and I am not Him!”

  5. Kristin Hamilton says:

    Such a good post, Jim! Your summarizing sentence –
    “pain is a part of change, leaders are change agents and therefore, pain is a part of their life,” – could easily be on the cover of the book to help give an idea what it’s all about.
    I am with you on the oversimplification. I did appreciate the stories, but I felt that there was something a bit too easy about the outcomes. (I mean, what if the answer to many of those isn’t to endure pain in building but to stop building bigger buildings?) The classroom of pain is complex and overwhelming and I don’t believe the lessons are really wrapped up as tidily as presented here.
    As to your critique regarding “success,” you are spot on! Success doesn’t usually look like success (as we know it) in the upside-down Kingdom of God. Sometimes it is the pain of living with what looks like failure that helps us grow as leaders so that we can be faithful no matter what.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks for your comments Kristin. Excellent point…success don’t usually look like success. Since success is so intricately intertwined into who we are as a person and how people view us as a leader the attainment of success has become one of the great dilemmas of leadership in the church.

  6. Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Thanks Jim for you hopeful and inspiring post. I really liked your closing statement: “That intimate relationship with pain has shown me a God of grace and mercy and the One who can transform pain into growth and beauty.” I just kept thinking “beauty from ashes” as I read your post. It sounds trivial, but in reality, we have nothing to fear with pain, as He uses everything to bring us closer to Him and to complete the work He started in us. With that said, my prayer has always been, “Allow me to learn as easy as possible. I am listening.” I prefer to learn with as minimal pain as possible. So when I have painful experiences, and deep heart-aches, I know that my good Father is growing me and something beautiful is replacing the pain if I can just press into it. I also picture myself sprinting through the dark valley as quickly as possible with my good Shepherd running by my side as we run towards the banquet table on the other side of the valley of death. Lingering can bring depression and despair, but I am committed to working through pain to acceptance, or forgiveness.

Leave a Reply