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…”  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… 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.
- Samuel Chand. Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2015, 6.
- Ibid., 241.