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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Church Growth and Other Painful Endeavors

Written by: on March 8, 2018

It happened at the gym. I had just hopped on an exercise bike, started moving the pedals and began to read the next book from my Doctor of Ministry reading list. The book was Leadership Pain by Samuel R. Chand. Now, even though this book had a name that was attractional as “How to Make Staff Meetings Longer,” I was excited to read this book because of the author. I had read Dr. Chand’s book Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code a few years ago, a book I really enjoyed and was looking forward to reading his newest book.

As I began to read, I stopped pedaling. These words lept off of the page…

Growth = Change
Change = Loss
Loss = Pain

Thus,

Growth = Pain

Something rang true in my heart as I read this simple logic proof. I have been serving in ministry around 30 years. Over these three decades, I have had a lot of “mountain top” experiences. Similarly, I have had times that I could not think straight because of a conflict in the ministry.

Conflict has a way of sapping my energy. Over the years, there have been times that I have faced conflict with church members or staff members. During these times of conflict, I find myself off balance. I disparately want to find that magic remedy to make all things better. I reflected on some of these times in my past as I read Leadership Pain.

In serving in youth ministry, I always felt pain when kids in my ministry left to attend another church… or worse, when entire families left. Youth ministry often follows the “edutainment” principle. Youth groups that have free pizza, bounce houses, or video game tournaments every week tend to attract kids from the community…and other churches. I always grieved when I heard that one of the teens in my ministry decided to attend another church in town.

The book Leadership Pain does not talk about what to do IF you face challenges in ministry. The book is about how you grow WHEN you face challenges in ministry. Dr. Chand assumes that pain in ministry is normal. He used the analogy of a professional athlete. Those athletes who have the tenacity to play well even when injured are the champions of their sport.

The book lays out a huge challenge to church leaders. Another sentence that leaped off of the page when I read it was “You’ll grow only to the threshold of your pain” (Chand, 15). That really caused me to think. “What is the threshold of my pain?” How much pain am I willing to endure to be able to grow my ministry.

This book reminded me of a phrase I once heard. I am I respected once referred to another pastor and said “He will only grow his church to as many people that he can be involved with personally. In other words, this pastor wanted a quality, personal relationship with everyone in the church. This fact will determine the size of the church. In the same way, some pastors only lead until they hit a wall of conflict. They are then thrust into a different world. Former supporters become critics. Some church leaders seek to do whatever it takes to go back to the status quo of peace, even if it means a willing decision to avoid changes that are necessary for growth.

Leadership Pain is filled with intriguing stories by a variety of church leaders. While these are all intriguing, not was as inspiring as the story told by the author. Sam Chand came from India to story at a Christian college in Georgia. While a student at this college, Sam, and a girl began to like one another. The college responding by making serious, guilt-inducing threats to both of them. It was brutal and overtly racist. Yet, Sam and the woman who eventually became his wife did not let this opposition destroy them. I was amazed to read that ten years after graduation, Dr. Chand returned to the college as the President of the school. As I read this story, I detected a refreshing lack of bitterness. Through this painful experience of being a victim of racial prejudice, Sam developed both a toughness and a sweetness. The gospel of Christ was on display as he made peace with one of the Deans who had been so hateful.

This book is highly practical. While the first few chapters help the reader to understand the symbiotic relationship between leadership and pain, the book moves on to give the reader a lot of practical help in facing challenges. Lessons that can be learned from painful experiences are explained. The pyridoxal value of being both a bold leader and a humble leader was something that echoed what I had read in Jim Collin’s book Good to Great last year. And the value of surrounding yourself with quality friends is also highlighted.

Leadership Pain approaches life in a very different way than Dr. Norman Vincent Peale or Joel Osteen. It is a tough book with the hope of developing leaders who can walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death, not AROUND it.

 

 

Samuel Chand, Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015)

 

 

About the Author

Stu Cocanougher

8 responses to “Church Growth and Other Painful Endeavors”

  1. Jim Sabella says:

    Thanks for your post, Stu. You mention former supporters becoming critics. This is one of the most painful experiences in pastoring and as a leader. It can happen rather quickly and without warning. If you’re a pastor who loves people—as most pastors do—it can be extremely painful and something that you carry with you for the rest of our life. The biggest question for me in the book is what if a pastor faces pain and pushes through, but sees no growth in the church? This happens all the time. I think pain is important for change but I’m wondering if the change has nothing to do with the church but with the person. My wife and I have a saying, sometimes God calls you to a church because the church needs you. But, sometimes he calls you to a church because you need the experience that awaits you, not so the church will grow—honestly, some never will —but because it can help you become the person God wants you to be. Just a theory I’m still working on after 36 years! Thanks Stu.

  2. Lynda Gittens says:

    Stu,
    your statement ““What is the threshold of my pain?” How much pain am I willing to endure to be able to grow my ministry.” I don’t think we have a choice if we are focused and passionate about the mission. We may question it but at the end, like Jonah we will finish he mission.

  3. Stu,
    Thanks for the post. As a 20 year youth ministry vet, I definitely resonated with your experience of feeling the twinge of pain when you hear that a youth or a family is going somewhere else.
    There are always multiple factors to a change like that – sometimes pizza or video games, sometimes friends, sometimes theological differences – but it always FEELS like a personal critique. It always feels like, somehow, them leaving is all my fault.
    I have experienced this on a whole new level, with a slight twist, in my new role as senior minister….. there are so many people excited to have me here (which is awesome, obviously) and one of the things that I have heard a lot is something like ‘well, now that you are here so and so will start coming back’….. I don’t just have to keep them, I have to bring them back!
    Seriously – I think it is natural to experience these things as personal ‘defeats’ or affronts, but I also think perspective is important. One of the things I have learned to say to people over the years when they talk about going to a different church or about someone else choosing to go to a new church is that ‘we are all on the same team’.
    I have a long way to go on this, but if what I really care about is people coming into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, does it matter if that is happening in ‘my’ church or in the one down the road?
    easier said than done to have that perspective, but I do think it should be the goal.

    • Stu Cocanougher says:

      ‘well, now that you are here so and so will start coming back’

      When I read this, I hear “Hey, new pastor, know that we are critical and not easily pleased. We will use our tithe and our attendance as leverage to get what we want.”

  4. Mary walker says:

    Stu, things are so different in our culture today. I honestly wonder how anyone has the courage to be a pastor these days. People are so free to just move around. You seem to have all the right stuff! You know what is essential and have the resilience for the rest. God bless you brave warrior!

    • Stu Cocanougher says:

      Mary, I am blessed to be in a position that I love, in a healthy church that supports my ministry. Jana and I feel blessed.

  5. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Stu you honed in on a great point. What is the threshold of pain we as leaders are willing to endure? Pain is inevitable! The greater our palate to absorb pain the greater the growth opportunities will be for us as leaders!

  6. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    So sad and true. “Some church leaders seek to do whatever it takes to go back to the status quo of peace, even if it means a willing decision to avoid changes that are necessary for growth.” Conflict can be terrifying with how people can fight so unfairly and create more pain. If a leader hasn’t resolved their own pain, they will avoid conflict at all cost, so as to avoid their own unresolved pain.
    I resonated with your pain with people leaving the youth group, or families leaving the church. It is so hard to care for people like family than have them leave the church. I never get used to that.

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