Growth = Change
Change = Loss
Loss = Pain
Growth = Pain
I don’t think anyone would debate that pain is a part of the human condition. There are many debates of why pain exists or where pain comes from, but the fact remains that humans experience pain. When we are young we realize the inevitability of pain and begin the processes of learning from and through it. Pain will change us. The only control we have is in the HOW.
Leaders bear a particularly difficult kind of pain. For most leaders, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t…someone is always going to be unhappy with your decisions, your vision, and your leadership. According to Samuel Chand, your level of growth will be determined by the amount of pain you are able to bear and push through.
Chand is not necessarily delivering a secret message for leaders. We all know there is pain involved in what we do. Most leadership books tell us that pain is the catalyst for needed change. Chand, however, focuses in on the particular types of pain church leaders must endure, often with a smile that hides a slow death of burnout cause by “too much unrelieved stress.” Chand incorporates the stories of well-known Christian leaders who have navigated painful situations, to help highlight the principles he shares. Some are obvious and could probably be put on an inspirational poster (“To live, something has to die”), while others (“You have to forgive the process”) provide something new to chew on.
Chand’s biggest contribution to the exploration of leadership pain is his thesis that we only grow as leaders as far as our threshold for pain allows. Are we willing to pay the price for the kind of growth God desires of us? At what point are we allowing pain and fear to cause us to turn our backs in denial or to quit? The biggest worth of this book (for me) is the section on Paying the Price (pages 92-93). One of my greatest frustrations has been when people I work with or for seem blind to major issues within a church or Christian institution. These are people who I know to love God and people and who seem to rest deeply in the Spirit in other areas of their lives, but for some reason they can’t see what is falling apart in their organizations? Chand calls on James MacDonald to address this. He states that he believes these leaders see the problems but are “unwilling to pay the price to address” the problems. As I thought back on my own leadership it didn’t take me long to remember times when I thought, “It’s just not worth fighting about.” I didn’t want to endure the pain of being questioned, losing my job, straining relationships, etc. I gave up.
“Leading a growing, changing, dynamic organization requires tremendous courage, wisdom, and tenacity.”
I have two notes stuck side-by-side on my bulletin board. The first one is a quote from Max DePree’s Leadership is an Art: “Leaders don’t inflict pain, they bear pain.” The other quote is from The Message paraphrase of the Bible by Eugene Peterson: “Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon.” (Psalm 31:24) Putting them up together was an accident, but in the past couple of years I have realized that they belong together. While it’s not always true that we can avoid inflicting pain when we are doing what is best for our organizations and for the Kingdom, it is definitely true that we must aim to bear as much of the pain as possible and that we cannot do it without waiting on God.
Waiting on God doesn’t always look like stoically crawling into our prayer closet alone (although that is important). As Chand points out, resiliency and tenacity require support. “I’ve never known any leaders who thrived – in their roles, in their families, or in their lives – without at least a few trusted friends.” One of the biggest temptations is to think it’s just “God and me” battling against the forces of evil, or at least against the financial frustrations, interpersonal conflicts, staffing issues, and sacred cows. The truth is, though, that no one can do this alone. We may survive the battle, but we will never see the victory because we will be too burnt out to make it to the end. Waiting on God – watching for God to appear – usually looks like turning to the people we can trust to provide wise counsel, comfort and consolation, or just a swift kick in the pants to get us back on track. I wish I had developed the friendships and cohort relationships I have now when I was hanging on to a thread in ministry work and in teaching. I didn’t have any safe places to turn except for my spouse (who was in the same boat) and my parents, who may have saved our lives.
Chand’s book would be a great gift for someone entering ministry, graduating from theology school or seminary, or even considering what life in ministry looks like. It’s a somber reminder, but it is also filled with hope and ideas for building ways to protect and extend one’s ministry life. I will say that, with the exception of Lisa Bevere’s “Inclusion Clause” story on 172, this book would NOT be a good tool to share with a woman who is facing opposition to her calling. There is simply way too much implicitly male language tied to the pastorate throughout the book as well as quotes about “man” and “men” rather than humanity. It was very frustrating to read about men as pastors and pastor’s wives as the normative language. We can do better.