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Growing Pains and an asterisk: a post in two acts

Written by: on March 8, 2018

This week we read the book Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth by Samuel Chand.  I initially misread the title as Leadership PLAN which lead to a few minutes of confusion, to be sure, but really wouldn’t have been that far off.  Chand is essentially proposing that to lead is to experience pain and, in fact, your capacity to lead will in large part be determined by your capacity to endure and persevere through pain.

I once heard author and pastor Mark Batterson say that your potential to do things for the kingdom of God is only limited by your purity (not so much in the legalistic sense, but in terms of giving everything over to God and allowing the Spirit to refine you – a painful process)I heard him say this at a leadership conference, but this article hits his point .   Chand would add to Batterson’s thesis statement that your potential for leadership is limited by your threshold for ‘leadership pain’ (Chand, pg.3) as well.

The idea is not to become a masochist and seek out pain, but rather to recognize that change and leadership  – even good leadership that is leading towards good change – will bring with it an element of pain.  This is why Chand says:

It’s inevitable , inescapable . By its very nature , leadership produces change , and change — even wonderful growth and progress — always involves at least a measure of confusion , loss , and resistance . To put it the other way : leadership that doesn’t produce pain is either in a short season of unusual blessing or it isn’t really making a difference .

So , Growth = Change

Change = Loss

Loss = Pain

Thus , Growth = Pain  (Chand, pg. 5)

Since, then, growth will lead to pain and leadership will lead to pain, pain is both inescapable and necessary.  In other words, if you aren’t experiencing pain, are you growing?  If you aren’t experiencing pain, are you leading?  The short answer is no.

With this in mind, it strikes me that one of our primary concerns should be to ensure that all of the pain that we endure as leaders and our churches and organizations endure is necessary, that it is the ‘right’ kind of pain, that the pains are, in fact, growing pains and not simply self-inflicted wounds.

Chand states that he hopes those reading the book will have the courage to do three things: See pain as the greatest teacher; Let your vision lead you; and most importantly for this point, have a rigorous personal development plan.  (Chand, pg. 19).  Having a plan – and a goal – for how we will develop and grow as leaders, is a critical piece of minimizing the ‘unnecessary’ pain that we might experience as we grow and as we seek to lead.  . . . . . .(I wonder if we should consider doing something like this as part of our program?  Hmmmm? 🙂  )

A starting point for any good leadership plan, then, might simply be the acknowledgement of the pain to come and the acceptance that leadership pain should not act as a deterrent to the work that God has called us to, but might actually be an indication that we are right where we should be, doing what we should be doing.

In the title of this post I said it would be a post in two acts.  Here begins, ‘act 2’, which is really just a footnote that is a little too long, and maybe a little too important to be left to the small print.

While I really enjoyed this book and appreciated the frank and honest discussion of the sacrifices and, well – pain, that comes with the call of leadership, as I read story after story at the beginning of each chapter, there was something that didn’t quite sit right with me in reading many of them.  To be clear, I enjoyed these stories and found valuable insight in many of them.

At the same time, there were many references to leaders that ‘worked against me’ and the like.  Again, I am very aware of the reality – and regularity with which these things occur and how painful that can be.  However, as Christian leaders the goal, the vision and the work is never to be about us – or our leadership.  The focus should always be on Jesus and whatever good comes in and through us is the work of God’s Holy Spirit at work.  Because of that, much of the tone of these stories didn’t quite sit right with me.

Again, there are plenty of times where this is exactly what is happening (someone betraying or undermining a leader through no fault of the leader), but there are also many times that the talk of loyalty and ‘working against me’ is completely misplaced and has more to do with the leaders ego and not the vision or call of God.

Chand does hint at this issue, saying:

To be fair, betrayal isn’t always a one- sided affair. Certainly, Jesus was completely innocent, and his betrayal was completely unfair, but none of us is as pure. Leaders who are insecure often demand a level of loyalty that isn’t healthy for the leader or the followers. When anyone questions him (too often or too loudly), he may react with feelings of betrayal that aren’t based in reality. In times of intense criticism, factions, and betrayal, leaders need an objective, wise friend, coach, or consultant to help them navigate the turbulent and murky waters. They need to admit their part in the conflict, even if it’s a small part. Assigning appropriate responsibility is important in any disagreement, and especially as the conflict threatens to escalate. (Chand, pg. 40)

I appreciate that Chand addresses this, and I don’t think he is simply giving lip service to the issue, but at the same time, in so many of those stories I heard the echoes of insecurity and a little bit of a ‘messiah complex’.  Self-awareness and humility are two critical traits for a leader and, in my experience at least, properly applied they go a long way towards limiting the unnecessary pain for both the leader and the organization.

About the Author

mm

Chip Stapleton

Follower of Jesus Christ. Husband to Traci. Dad to Charlie, Jack, Ian and Henry. Preacher of Sermons, eater of ice cream, supporter of Arsenal. I love to talk about what God is doing in the world & in and through us & create space and opportunity for others to use their gifts to serve God and God's people.

10 responses to “Growing Pains and an asterisk: a post in two acts”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    Thank you, Chip. A lot of the stories did not sit right with me either. I found it hard to work up sympathy for some.
    I guess it is a good piece of our program – like you say – something to contemplate in our leadership classes. I thought it fit well with the last two books also.
    Yes, I think you hit it – let’s make sure it’s the right kind of pain.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Chip, what a great post. I can tell that you are well grounded the realities of pastoring and are well grounded in the realities of life too.

    “One of our primary concerns should be to ensure that all of the pain that we endure as leaders and our churches and organizations endure is necessary, that it is the ‘right’ kind of pain, that the pains are, in fact, growing pains and not simply self-inflicted wounds.”

    I continue to struggle with the notion that if a pastor can endure pain and push through than the church will grow. It may be because that has not been my experience and I’m not alone. Then I wonder—did I do something wrong? Do I need more pain? What about the pastor in Bulgaria who has 12 people in his church? I think there is a higher purpose to pain, namely issues of grace, mercy, justice, love, compassion and our relationship to God as a person and as a leader. Thanks, Chip!

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      Can I just tell you, Jim, that success is not related to numbers, but faithfulness. Did you do something wrong? Perhaps Chand would suggest that, but I think Jesus with his 12 followers would disagree.

    • Thanks, Jim.
      I want to second what Katy said about church growth – but also say that we (and I really mean all of us), need to expand what we mean when we talk about growth.
      I am not one of those people that thinks it’s wrong to measure numerical growth or to have that as a goal, but it is wrong, I believe, to think that is the only kind of growth we might be called to.
      As the Rob Bell story I told last week highlights, each of us has been called to a particular place – and not all of those places are mega churches…..
      The church I served in MA for 8 years statistically grew only very modestly when measured strictly numerically during my time there. However, when I think about the church as it was when I arrived and where they were as I was leaving, I am truly amazed at the work that God has done and the growth that has taken place. If we are faithful to God’s call:
      We can grow in our witness.
      We can grow in our outreach.
      We can grow in our service.
      We can grow in our love.
      All of these things have powerful outcomes for the kingdom of God, but we are likely to miss the ‘growth’ if our only measurement is the number of people in our pews each week.
      And, I might argue, if that is our primary and preferred measurement maybe we are more interested in our own success than in furthering the kingdom of God.
      All of this to say, Jim, you are an amazing, beloved child of God, I am humbled by your faithfulness. Keep up the great work

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    Chip
    your statement “Self-awareness and humility are two critical traits for a leader” This is a good point. The challenge for most busy people in ministry is pausing to refelct and recognize we need to do a personal checkup.

  4. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    “One of our primary concerns should be to ensure that all of the pain that we endure as leaders and our churches and organizations endure is necessary, that it is the ‘right’ kind of pain, that the pains are, in fact, growing pains and not simply self-inflicted wounds.”

    Yes. Yes. I think this actually hints on your Act 2, that perhaps some of what the leaders you refer to are responding to may be self-inflicted wounds. Reading their stories, I was curious how the “disloyal” staff/church members would tell the story. Like a divorce, there’s usually two (or more) sides to a story.

  5. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “Self-awareness and humility are two critical traits for a leader and, in my experience at least, properly applied they go a long way towards limiting the unnecessary pain for both the leader and the organization.”

    This reminded me of what Collins wrote in “Good to Great.” The reality is the good leaders of any sort are found in this paradoxical place where they exhibit both humility and a bold sense of daring.

  6. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Chip very thoughtful post as it relates to this book. I smirked when I read this “The idea is not to become a masochist and seek out pain, but rather to recognize that change and leadership – even good leadership that is leading towards good change – will bring with it an element of pain.” It is true that by it can come off strange that someone would go eyes wide open into something knowing that it will be painful. As leaders that is what we do. It is apart of leadership development and the process by which change and growth occur. There is a difference between self inflicted pain and the pain that comes with the process. As leaders we must use wisdom in how we lead so that we do not inflict the former onto ourselves or others 🙂

  7. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Thanks Chip for your post. You made me think and reflect on this statement: “In other words, if you aren’t experiencing pain, are you growing? If you aren’t experiencing pain, are you leading? The short answer is no.” I have another perspective. Although pain is a powerful motivator for growth, I see growth happening in a variety of ways that do not involve pain. Postive affirmation/rewards, new experiences, learning from other people’s failures, developing relationships, obtaining new knowledge, and constructive criticism are several methods that produce intrapersonal and interpersonal growth that does not require pain. I would agree that leadership does not exclude pain. Strangely, this knowledge provided some comfort for me knowing that leadership and pain is a package deal. Thanks for making me think.

  8. Kristin Hamilton says:

    So two of your points made me say, “Yes” out loud. First, your note that we should not seek out pain is so spot on. I feel like there are leaders who seek pain sort of the way they go to the gym. They put themselves in places of stress and pain and then make much about how this pain is leading them to growth. They may be growing but I wonder if their energy would be better used in other directions.
    Second, (and this ties to the first one in my eyes) the “messiah complex” and seeming victim mentality of some of the stories made me wonder at what point humility turns into false martyrdom, especially without that critical self-awareness piece.

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