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

No Pain, No Gain?

Written by: on April 12, 2018

Sam Chand speaks truth in his highly acclaimed leadership book, Leadership Pain.  The premise of his book is simply this – No pain, No gain. Chand challenges the reader to embrace the idea that when leadership “pain” subsides, you are not leading effectively. Chand makes the argument that leaders grow by pursuing their vision through pain. “If you’re not hurting, you’re not leading. Your vision for the future has to be big enough to propel you to face the heartaches and struggles you’ll find along the way.”[1]

Chand not only works with ministry leaders, he also teaches CEOs, community leaders, and non-profit leaders.  “High-performing leaders gather to create success, grow their network, and expand their capacity for more.”[2]  Two of Chand’s premises in Leadership Pain directly correlate to my profession…leaning into pain and procuring a pain partner. (Thank you Dr. Chand for endorsing my clinical business).  Not only does Dr. Chand cross cultures, he also crosses between the faith and secular realm.  Impressive…especially when finding criticism of his text was nearly impossible.

It is inspiring that one of Chand’s most impactful points in his book directly relates to who I am both professionally and personally –a “pain partner.” Chand insists that if a leader does not have a pain partner, he/she will “crash and burn.”  “Be certain of this: when you suffer the pains of leadership, God is trusting you to weather the storm and represent him to a watching world. Your church’s executive team looks to you to lead them; they trust you. The people in your business or nonprofit organization are looking to you; they trust you. Your family sees you when you aren’t your best; they trust you. No matter what the source of difficulties you endure, God has put you in a position to display his kindness, wisdom, and power in the midst of your heartache.”[3]  In Joseph Lalonde’s interview/podcast with Chand, he offers the following recommendations for leaning into pain:[4]

  • Recognize and acknowledge pain
  • Seek out the lesson(s) in the pain (i.e. financial, time, relationships, family)
  • Choose to be with people who are honest and will speak truth to you – vs living in denial
  • Be self-aware – it is crucial in growing your pain threshold
  • Live life! (if you live life you recognize you need to grow and what your pain threshold is)

When pressed on how to choose a pain partner, Chand reiterates that it doesn’t have to be a spouse, sibling, or parent.  It may be a helping professional, consultant, mentor, teacher, or friend. Chand does acknowledge that the “higher the position the more important it is to seek someone at a professional level.”  Pain partners are “people you are in relationship with who can help through the journey because they’ve been through what you’ve been through.”[5]  How do you find this person?  Do you find them or do they find you?  The answer is simple – there are pain partners everywhere.  Seek out people who might be able to help – not have the answers, but share the load.  And who are trustworthy.

As leaders, it is also our responsibility to not only seek a pain partner and lean into the pain…we must become vulnerable.  Brené Brown is renowned in her vulnerability research.  I’ve referenced her work in a prior post (Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima’s text Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership) but Chand’s Leadership Pain is also a scenario where Brene’s work on leadership and vulnerability is directly related to Chand’s work and suggestion of a pain partner. Brené Brown’s research on vulnerability gives evidence that speaking often and authentically about experiences, pain, and life circumstances is helpful to your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical self.  I also make the connection that Chand’s philosophy on leadership pain directly relates to our readings on morality by Haidt.  Let’s be honest though, it’s not always safe to be vulnerable… “Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.”[6]

One of the occupational hazards of being the pain partner is that it can be challenging to find your own pain partner.  If you appear to have it all together as a professional, people aren’t as open to hearing your challenges. One thing I’ve learned about myself physically, spiritually, and mentally is that I have a high tolerance for pain.  One important concept that Chand did not expound enough on was the idea of chronic pain.  He tells a story of being President of a University and leaving due to “chronic pain”.  He talks about chronic pain as being “different than leadership pain.”[7]  From a therapist perspective, Chand left us hanging when trying to dissect harmful pain.  How much is too much?

Perry Noble models vulnerability as he offers a window of transparency into his own leadership pain.  In Carey Nieuwhof’s podcast with Perry, Perry discusses being pushed to the point of suicidal ideation (all while growing his mega-church which now has 36,000 attendees).  He was judged for, and subsequently hid, his depression and anxiety.  Perry is now coming forward to be a voice for leadership pain.  “The snap is never just one thing, it’s the culmination of many things.”  Perry believes that ministry leaders are the best at culminating painful things, not dealing with them, and hiding them.  “We are the quickest people on the planet to develop unhealthy patterns and then we call it leadership.  Overworking is a rewarded addiction.”[8] Be careful if you are a leader addicted to the praise of people (in the clinical world, we call this codependence).  Even in Biblical times, characters of the Bible were overwhelmed and on the verge of suicide.  When Jonah asked the sailors to throw him overboard, he was requesting suicide.  He didn’t know the end of the story – that he would be miraculously swallowed by a whale and saved.  The first step for all of us to stop trying to pretend that we have it all together when we don’t!

“When we’re in pain, it may not seem like much of a privilege to represent God at that moment and at that place, but God himself has appointed us, empowered us, and placed us “for such a time as this.” He trusts us to endure with grace. The moment of pain, then, is a point of high honor earned by faithfulness, effectiveness, reputation, and proven character. It’s an honor and a challenge to be God’s representative in a time of heartache. People are watching us. It’s an incredible opportunity. We dare not miss it.”[9]  So please, dear friends, find a pain partner and know your limitations.



[3] Chand, Samuel. Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015






[9] Chand, Samuel. Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015

About the Author


Jean Ollis

16 responses to “No Pain, No Gain?”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jean,

    Thanks for being a pain partner. You are very good at what you do. I have struggled for 15 years about taking on too much of other people’s pain. I want to be empathetic (and your 5 suggestions are helpful, thank you). Are there any more helpful suggestions from you about this, other that getting my own pain partner?

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Jay! When you have a tender heart, it’s challenging to separate from others pain. Learning to be empathic, rather than sympathetic, is essential. Also recognizing that taking on pain is not helpful to others – most people are seeking a stable presence to journey with them. Most important is self care. Know when to say no – and focus on your own well-being. Your compassion is evident, Jay.

  2. mm M Webb says:

    I can see you being a very good “pain partner” that Chand describes in his book Leadership Pain. I have studied other leadership authors in the past that do not call them pain partners, but who support having trusted agents who can cover a leader’s blind spots, help with accountably, and who are approved to provide constructive feedback. Chand has a nice term for them, “pain partners” but it is not a new concept, just packaged differently.
    Thanks for this comment, “Be careful if you are a leader addicted to the praise of people (in the clinical world, we call this codependence).” Not only is leadership painful, but it is dangerous physically, mentally, and spiritually. I focus on the spiritual, because I know and see how the evil one uses pride, praise, position, and promotion to undermine the leader subtly and secretly, until they come tumbling down from their elevated position. Often in dramatic ways, leaving the followers with an empty feeling about leaders, especially mega-church Christian type leaders.
    There a plenty of leaders in the Bible who needed pain partners. One after one they rose in position and power blessed by the Lord, and then stumbled and fell after the subtle schemes of Satan were ignored or unrealized. In my research, I see it happening everywhere in our readings, our research, and our leadership in global perspectives journey. Resisting Satan, I would have to say, ranks in the top 10 biggest problems any human being experiences. I wonder how much of the leadership pain that Chand narrates is directly associated to spiritual warfare?
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Mike! You make excellent points – our humanness always connects back to spiritual warfare. Do you believe pain partners can do justice in journeying with people? Should leaders be leaning further into their faith rather than people?

  3. Jean,

    I heartily support your encouragement for all leaders to find and develop a ‘pain partner’. For some, it will be a therapist, for others, a spiritual director. Some will be naturally drawn into existing relationships such as husband or wife, or best friend. But I would encourage ministry leaders to find a neutral third party that would be outside our existing relationships in order to provide needed perspective. Would you agree?

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Mark! You are correct that objective/neutral people can be so helpful in seeing perspective from all sides. When we exist in a “vacuum” it’s challenging to have all perspectives (especially secular vs. Christian).

  4. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    My mother is a counselor and I sent this book to her, would it be ok to send your post to her as well. I think you have terrific insights into walking through pain, the idea of a pain partner is not a new one but it is a great one. I found a fellow pastor (his church is much bigger than any I have served at) who has been a God send, he has helped me through a great many things and continues to be that person for me.


    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Jason! I didn’t know that about your mom. You may absolutely send on my post. Was your mom counseling when you grew up? If so, how did her parenting influence you and your own self awareness and self care?

  5. Greg says:

    “Its not always safe to be vulnerable”-This struck as so true. On my team so often I am the resource person, “cultural expert” when questions arise or the stable one when people are having struggles. There are time I have felt this way myself. Times in ministry that I would where and how I can come be vulnerable. Like you know we have to find the right time and person to share our hearts with. I haven’t heard the term “pain partner” before and honestly really am resistant to that name. Sometimes through the years my wife will say, “you need friend”. I know what she means as certain times in my life I have not wanted to be vulnerable with someone or living abroad didn’t leave me easily accessible to a person that I trust. I do think I have made that journey and see a couple of people that I talk with regularly to talk about what is happening in our lives. I appreciate you heart and passion Jean for the health and heart of those that not only you love but those God loves as well.

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Greg, you are in such a unique situation in trying to seek a trusted person. It does not surprise me at all that others seek your counsel and you become their pain partner – you are compassionate and wise. It’s a rewarding role, but can be overwhelming to your own self care. Just remember to balance and prioritize self. We teach social workers that you can’t encourage others to seek help or make changes if you aren’t willing to do it yourself. I’m glad you have found some of your own “people”.

  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    What a gracious post that drew out some of the best of Chand’s contributions to leadership. I appreciated the bullet points of leaning into pain! As a 7, I need those for my back pocket. Also thank you for going even deeper by talking about vulnerability and Brene Brown again. This is a great quote: “Shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.”

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Chris, thank you for your thoughts! I think we have the same heart for the vulnerable and oppressed – and there is a lot of pain that can come with being their pain partners. You do wonderful work!

  7. Great post fellow “pain partner”! Your thoughts very much resonated with me and what we walk through with people every day. And I couldn’t agree more that the pain partners I have had over the years have been valuable to keep me healthy to continue to be a pain partner for others. I wish more pastors practiced this since they are forced to be pain partners for others all the time, but end up burning out or falling due to the lack of personal support. God bless you in your pain partnering!

    • mm Jean Ollis says:

      Hi Jake! Back at you pain partner! You are clearly compassionate and wise in your practice both personally and professionally. I agree with you that ministry leaders aren’t given the intentional training we receive in self awareness and self care. I wonder why that is?

  8. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Thanks for your emphasis on a pain partner. I have found this helpful in my own life and in those around me as well. Did you find ways that Chand’s work related to your own research? Also, I wonder if any of his work could have had more depth in relation to seeking help while in pain?

  9. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Trish,
    I actually struggled in connecting Chand’s writing to my research. There is absolutely a need for pain partners in journeying refugees through resettlement, but like Jenn and Greg mentioned, his writing didn’t connect to different cultures.

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