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

Painful Transformation: 5 Lessons

Written by: on March 8, 2018

There is much in our assigned reading of Samuel Chand’s Leadership Pain[1] this week that troubles me (not least that the assumption of “success” is “growth”, or that a book written on leadership in 2015 uses male pronouns). I was bothered by the goal of ladder climbing, “devils” of resistance being signs we can/can’t handle growth, and that “leaders of larger organizations have proven they can handle more pain,” among other frustrations[2]. To be honest, leadership books written by business-oriented, success-driven, growth-focused authors are difficult for me to take seriously for followers of Jesus who seek to be transformed by the Holy Spirit into Christ-likeness and walk together as a leader in a local manifestation of the Body of Christ.

This text does not align with our church’s belief that we are a real community, more than a religious institution, which exists as the continuing presence of Christ’s body in our community. We do not see ourselves as merchants of religious goods and services. And we are not a staff-driven church; while we recognize that leadership is natural in every aspect of life together, we believe that the creation of a “leader” class of people narrows the work of the Spirit among us and that each of us leads in some way or another in our following of Jesus, our only leader and Lord.[3]

All that being said, I want to reflect on something positive from this text. Chand rightly asserts that walking through pain can help us become better leaders; I want to hope that pain helps us become better witnesses to the presence of God With Us. In what I think is the most substantial section of his book, Chand suggests that pain can teach us “five crucial lessons (among many others).”[4]

We are weaker, more self-absorbed, and more fragile than we ever imagined[5]

I discovered this reality (over and over) when we moved to Kenya. Our missionary bridge family met us in Nairobi, drove us up to our new home in the bush, helped us unpack for a couple of days, then drove away. We were suddenly in an unknown setting, with no one from our culture, and only our language helper who spoke English. It was challenging. We survived (and thrived), but also struggled at times, such as when our baby developed an unknown rash over his entire body and we were a radio call and 3 hours of driving away from the doctor. Or when we heard bandits were headed towards our house. Over and over again, I was reminded of God’s strength and not my own, in our attempts to thrive and serve there. I know I mentioned it last week in our chat, but Rich Mullins’ song, We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are repeatedly comes to mind when I think about our fragility:

With these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are

We don’t have a clue what God is up to[6]

I resist the notion that pain is given to me as a lesson from God. Even asking the question “what is God trying to teach me in this experience?” seems somewhat presumptuous. Perhaps it is not about me at all, but about God’s mission in the world. We don’t need to attempt to read the tea leaves to determine what “my pain” is about; rather, we can look at the character of God and the mission of God and how God has shaped us in our being and our doing, to accomplish God’s mission.

We become more grateful[7]

Among other things, I am grateful for the pain of isolation in Turkana. I am grateful for the pain of gender-biased leadership in our church in Kentucky. I am grateful for micro-managing, authority driven leadership in the church I worked at in California. I’m grateful for the pain of being out of full-time ministry during the rest of our years in California. They have all shaped and encouraged me to be more grace-full, and have been part of the transforming work of the Spirit. And in the midst of the pain I may have personally felt, I am hopeful that I bore witness to the reconciliation of all things to which God works. It reminds me of what the author of Hebrews wrote:

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart….Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:3-11)

We find God to be beautiful instead of just useful[8]

Rejecting a utilitarian view of the church or myself or God, I try not to ask “what is the church good for?” or “what is God good for?” (though I confess that when it comes to me, I wrestle with the balance of be-ing and do-ing). Instead, I try to ask, “what is the essential nature of the church? What is God’s nature?” This, of course, can lead us to understand the beautiful nature of God, but also the abundantly forgiving nature, the compassionate nature, the creative nature, etc. This, I propose, prevents us from feeling like “God let us down” as we go through painful experiences.

We become more tender, more understanding, and more compassionate[9]

This seems so obvious (but not). Even God became human and suffered and can “sympathize with our weakness” (Hebrews 4:15). We don’t need to go out and chase pain; it finds us easy enough. But God chose to chase that pain; Jesus became “like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God” (Hebrews 2:17).

In the midst of a book filled with troubling presumptions, I greatly appreciate Dr Chand’s recognition that pain can help us grow in humility, gratefulness, and empathy.

 

[1] Samuel R. Chand, Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015).

[2] Ibid, 45, 34, 33.

[3] Informal conversations at Englewood would confirm all of this. Specifically with people like Jim Aldrich, Susan Adams, Mike Bowling, and others.

[4] Chand, 158.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 159.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, 160.

About the Author

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Katy Drage Lines

In God’s good Kingdom, some minister like trees, long-standing, rooted in a community. They embody words of Wendell Berry, “stay years if you would know the genius of the place.” Others, however, are called to go. Katy is one of those pilgrims. A global nomad, Katy grew up as a fifth generation Colorado native, attended college & seminary and was ordained in Tennessee, married a guy from Pennsylvania, ministered for ten years in Kenya, worked as a children’s pastor in a small church in Kentucky, and served college students in a university library in Orange County, California. She recently moved to the heart of America, Indianapolis, and has joined the Englewood Christian Church community, serving with them as Pastor of Spiritual Formation. She & her husband Kip, have two delightful boys, a college junior and high school junior.

10 responses to “Painful Transformation: 5 Lessons”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    Thank you, Katy. The book was a mixed bag for me too.
    It seemed so “self-centered”. I like the way you pointed out that it might not be about us at all.
    I was in a lot of pain when I discovered that I would be childless, but God showed me that it wasn’t about me – It was about the 4 kids who needed homes and He just chose me. I know He loves me. Maybe I did learn ” humility, gratefulness, and empathy” too.
    These modern leadership books do seem to forget community as you pointed out and focus on the individual. Let’s have a balance.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Wow, Katy! Powerful and well written. I wish I could write that way.

    “Perhaps it is not about me at all, but about God’s mission in the world.”

    I can hear the heart of a missionary. I struggle with the pain/success correlation too. My experience is different—which leads to the question, is there something wrong with me; or as you said, did God let me down? Pain is too costly for it not to have a higher purpose, meaning a purpose in the sphere of God’s grace, mercy, love, and compassion, for us as individuals and for the world. Thanks, Katy.

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      Thanks Jim. I think my response to your blog post would suffice here, too. Pain IS costly; John the Baptist suffered (ultimately martyred) bearing witness to the one coming after him. Again, I think of him in Chand’s model as being very unsuccessful. And it’s not about me, or you, or the Baptizer, but the restoration of all things into the way of God. Pain’s purpose seems much higher and sufficient when pointing in that direction.

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    Your statement “But God chose to chase that pain” is a powerful memory. We do have to realize that most of us don’t go chasing pain. It happens. The question is “Are we willing to chase the pain for the mission?”

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      Thanks Lynda. As I mentioned in response to Kristin’s post, we don’t need to seek to suffer, but if we’re seeking (faithfulness) we will suffer.

  4. Katy,
    thanks for your post. I think the ‘5 lessons’ are invaluable and your commentary on them is great. As always, you also gave substance and depth to my ill-ease with some of what was going on in the book, so thanks for that 🙂

    At the same time, I do want to push back a little bit on a few things:
    1 – Aren’t we all called to grow? I COMPLETELY agree that measuring growth strictly numerically is problematic, but I do think that if you aren’t growing in some (likely measurable) way, then there is probably an issue that needs to be addressed as a leader and/or as a community
    2 – While staff driven churches can sometimes become cults of personality, I would argue that the role of a leader in a community lead/focused church is even more crucial….. In part because you still have to do all the hard work (and accept so much of the leadership pain) but you also can’t just say ‘everyone follow me’ – [the pied piper model isn’t healthy or sustainable in the long term, but it can be effective!]
    3 – Pride derived from the size of your congregation is troublesome. This is true if your congregation is 10,000 or 10. All churches have issues and problems. Churches of different sizes tend to have different types of problems to watch out for, but there is nothing wrong with a big church or a small church – as long as it is faithful.
    Small isn’t necessarily better.
    Thanks for always pushing us to think – and notice (I may not have picked up on the pronoun usage :0)

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      No disagreements from me on your “push backs”; one hard reality of a 1000 word post is the need to limit our reflections. 🙂
      1. Growth is essential for a living being; once it stops growing (reproducing cells), it stops living. So yes, growth of the body of Christ in some sense is essential, although I don’t think it is always measurable (for instance, we measure children’s height or our weight; we don’t necessarily measure the length of our hair, though we recognize that it grows longer– for some of us at least).
      2. Absolutely. Although I would add that leadership is a function of the work to be done, and ideally many in the congregation lead in various ways based on the need and their abilities.
      3. I grew up in a mega church, and I don’t deny that God is present and can work through them. I’ve also seen small churches that are ingrown and really need to be put to rest. As you point out, faithfulness– not pride– is key. My pushback with Chand isn’t the size of a congregation, per se, but his suggestion that leaders of larger organizations/churches are able to handle more pain than leaders of smaller organizations/churches. Faithfulness and perseverance don’t depend on the size of one’s….church.

  5. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Katy great post! I was wondering who was going to bring up the fact that leadership books continue to cater to male leaders in their tone and delivery. I can always count on you 🙂 I like the takeaways you chose to reflect on. Honing in on the humility and grace that comes from pain and the evidence of God’s presence with us as we lead.

  6. Kristin Hamilton says:

    Katy, your post reminds me that we can’t even begin to understand what God is doing or saying or trying to grow in us until we find and rest in God’s character and core values. When we rest in God as relational and fully loving, ladders seem less important and community health and wholeness seems more so.
    I struggled with many of the “success” metaphors and especially the idea that people who cause us pain are “devils.” They are not. They are also the Beloved.

  7. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Katy, great lessons on pain. I really appreciated your summary. I had to read the God is beautiful and not just useful several times. There is a beauty that gets revealed about God in our darkest moments if we invite Him into our pain to shine his light. Thank you for the reminder.

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