There is much in our assigned reading of Samuel Chand’s Leadership Pain 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. 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.
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).”
We are weaker, more self-absorbed, and more fragile than we ever imagined
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
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
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
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
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.
 Samuel R. Chand, Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015).
 Ibid, 45, 34, 33.
 Informal conversations at Englewood would confirm all of this. Specifically with people like Jim Aldrich, Susan Adams, Mike Bowling, and others.
 Chand, 158.
 Ibid., 159.
 Ibid, 160.