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

The Pain Chand Ignores

Written by: on April 13, 2018

Samuel Chand’s book, Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth, has a distinctively prosperity-gospel flavour to it, which made it difficult for me to connect with his take on the relationship between leadership and pain. He rightly observes that within the USAmerican culture, “Christians often have more difficulty handling personal pain than unbelievers. They look at the promises of God and conclude that God should fill their lives with joy, love, support, and success.”[1] Chand explains that this perspective comes from a selective reading of scripture, but despite this observation, most of the testimonies that Chand included in his book describe “painful experiences” that are rooted in first-world problems such as building campaigns, church growth, and financial challenges.

Bigger buildings:  Bishop Thomas writes, “It was abundantly clear that it was time to move to another site.”[2] When a church is busting at the seams, why is the “abundantly clear” response to build a bigger building? Church buildings have become a type of status symbol in the Christian world. I shutter to think how much money evangelical Christians have poured into building projects. The dollar amounts mentioned in this book alone are shocking. Some might say scandalous. Many pastors suffered painful experiences as the result of a building campagin, but few seemed to have any remorse over having initiated those projects in the first place. Where is the discussion about the pain that comes from regret? Where is the pain that comes from repenting, and admitting that ego might have been driving the bus?

And when there is truly need for a larger space, why not build collaborations with schools or businesses in order to capitalize on existing structures and create shared spaces. Those typse of partnership require compromise and commitments that come with their own kind of pain–the pain of letting some dreams die. The pain of letting go of status symbols or finding our identity in preceived success.

Growing numbers: “Leaders of large organizations have proven they can handle more pain.”[3] The insinuation is that if your organization is small, you have not proven that you can handle pain.  Chand even offers a discussion on how to navigate growth and break through what he calls “growth barriers,” using an analogy of a ladder. The ladder represents the leader’s vision, and the higher the ladder, the more people are needed at the bottom to stabilize the ladder in order to “take you and your church to the next level.”[4] But in my opinion, the pain of getting higher up the ladder is nothing compared to the pain of having the ladder collapse underneath you altogether, even though you did everything just as God asked. Chand doesn’t talk about what to do when you find yourself there.

Second, Chand goes on to explain how pastors should structure their staff (firing and hiring) in order to get their church to the “next level”—for which the only measurement is the number of members. But he never questions whether or not the vision (the ladder itself) might be the problem. The assumption is that a vision for a bigger church is always right, holy, and good. I’m not so sure. Current trends in the US tell us that the day of the mega-church is drawing to a close.[5] Bigger might not be better.

Maybe it’s time to talk about multiplying small ladders and broadly distributed leadership as a pattern for growth instead of bigger individual ladders. Consider the human body. Growth is healthy up until a certain age. But eventually, if a person keeps putting on weight, they are becoming unhealthy. The only healthy way to continue to “grow” biologically is through reproduction. What if the “growth barriers” represent a moment in the church where the body should cease to grow and instead focus on reproduction? What if the leader is meant to share her authority more broadly, to let go of control and even reduce her own visibility and impact so that the Gospel might go further. Chand doesn’t talk of the pain of surrender and release.

In addition, much church growth in the United States is transfer growth rather than conversion-based growth. In other words, churches aren’t growing because more people are coming to faith, but because Christians are switching churches. “Much of transfer growth has been the result of the consumer mentality creeping into churches. Many Christians have become church hoppers and shoppers to find the right church that meets their needs and preferences.”[6].

Financial Challenges:   When Chand and his wife applied for food stamps, and the social worker ended up being a woman from his church, Chand laments, “A private urgent need made us a public spectacle.”[7] While I can sympathize with the financial strain that many ministers experience, I’m frustrated by the insinuation that his need to apply for food stamps made him a “public spectacle.” Were there not others in his church in the same boat? Why should this be a cause for shame? It’s no crime to be poor, in fact, in the Kingdom of Christ, the poor are to be honoured. Again, this reveals the perspective of a culture that equates financial stability with success, and poverty with failure. Where is the compassion for the poor? Is this not, too, a pain that leaders are called to bear?

While I agree with his thesis—that we need to “make friends with our pain” rather than stuff or ignore it, the overarching focus on buildings, numbers, and money made Chand’s book seem shallow to me. I’m not dismissing or belittling the pain that comes with these challenges, but I am concerned that Chand fails to bring the reader to the place of understanding a theology of suffering. Leadership Pain misses the mark, and would have benefitted from more examples like that of Scott Wilson. He was one of the few leaders who, after having exaggerated the numbers when asked about his church attendance, admits feeling convicted. Wilson writes, “My motive was a toxic blend of fear and pride.”[8] Wilson goes back to the people to whom he lied and confesses. He tells them the truth and asks for forgiveness. Humbling oneself like that…that HURTS. But that’s the kind of leadership pain that leads to transformation.

Which brings me to my porject. Missionaries adapting to the field go through a painful grief process. There’s the surface grief, which includes loss of language, loss of friends, and loss of comfort. And then there’s the deeper grief, which includes loss of identity and loss of control. It’s one thing to fight through and learn a new language and make new friends and set up house. It’s an entirely different thing to do what Paul suggests in Philippians 2, to empty oneself and make oneself nothing. To lay down our rights and sacrifice our agendas in order to fully submit to the work of Christ. This isn’t the type of pain that comes from one’s own sinful actions or even the sinful actions of others. This is the type of pain that comes from dying to oneself that Christ might increase in us. This is the type of pain that Chand chose to ignore.

[1] Chand, Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth (Harpercollins Christian Pub, 2015).11.

[2] Chand. 88.

[3] Chand. 32.

[4] Chand. 95.

[5] Samuel Smith, CP Reporter | Dec 3, and 2015 11:57 Am, “Megachurches Seeing Drop in Weekly Attendance, Study Finds,” accessed April 13, 2018, https://www.christianpost.com/news/megachurches-growing-face-declining-weekly-attendance-protestant-church-151570/.

[6] “Eleven Observations about Church Transfer Growth,” ThomRainer.com, August 9, 2014, https://thomrainer.com/2014/08/eleven-observations-church-transfer-growth/.

[7] Chand, Ln – Leadership Pain. 37.

[8] Chand. 152.

About the Author

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Jennifer Williamson

Jenn Williamson is a wife and mother of two adult sons. Before moving to France in 2010, she was the women's pastor at Life Center Foursquare Church in Spokane, WA. As a missionary with Greater Europe Mission, she is involved in church planting and mentoring emerging leaders. Jenn benefitted from French mentors during her transition to the field, and recognizes that cross-cultural ministry success depends on being well integrated into the host culture. Academic research into missionary sustainability and cultural adaptation confirmed her own experience and gave her the vision to create Elan, an organization aimed at helping missionaries transition to the field in France through the participation of French partners.

9 responses to “The Pain Chand Ignores”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Jennifer,
    Excellent opening and good job identifying the “prosperity” bias of the author. I fully support your idea of “shared spaces” instead of the “bigger is better” theme in church growth. In my experiences with missionary and humanitarian organizations when the leadership starts trying the “help” God is always when they began running into problems.
    I like your discussion on “smaller ladders” and distributing leadership. Amen! My biggest joy as a leader is giving authority, responsibility, and some accountability away and watching new leaders develop. Of course, this assumes some mentoring, coaching, and discipleship along the way. I like it because it looks and feels much more like the Biblical discipleship multiplication model rather than Christian empire building.
    Thanks again for sharing your heart and cross-cultural missionary insights into another great post. I lived with Indian’s in Botswana who were very driven to be successful in business. So, I can see how some, when they are exposed to the Western context, could become more intense on the growth aspects of the church.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • mm Jennifer Williamson says:

      Thanks, Mike. You have a broad and valuable perspective. And I agree, sharing leadership is the biblical model. In fact, all authority was given to Christ, and he SHARED that authority with us.

  2. Jennifer,

    Thanks for offering your perceptive analysis on this book; you are spot-on. We need to vociferously critique this common fallacy that numerical growth and bigger buildings is a sign of God’s blessing and an endorsement for it. There’s often a fragile ego behind these expansive efforts. And unless we allow ego to be sacrificed – and that is painful – we will be building a house of cards.

  3. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jennifer,

    In your post you recognize both what Chand was communicating about leadership pain but more importantly in my opinion what he neglects entirely, pain that comes as a result of sacrificing one’s personal desires at the foot of the cross. Chand’s text was interesting in parts but I think missed much in the way of genuine depth and acknowledgement that most of what he discussed had to do with growing something bigger. What about the pain that comes as a result of working in ministry for extended periods of time and seeing little fruit? Is that able to produce growth in individuals too or would Chand see that as failure?

  4. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks, Jen,
    I think you used the right term, with “first world problems”. This is a book that does speak to a certain kind of pain and hardship–but mostly, it is rooted in having so much success (“so much winning”), that you need to make changes to account for it. I think you are asking bigger missiological questions around things like the “need” for a bigger building, verses other ways of organizing or even sending out and blessing… This is certainly a book that speaks to the prosperity/mega side of life.

  5. Greg says:

    Jenn,

    I was reading your blog and talking to an american pastor at the same time. Talking about the culture in america right now to provide all the “bells and whistles” to people leave to the large churches. That there is a temptation to fall into the trap of providing what people want rather than what they need. This book saw leadership from a very american stand so I appreciate you calling them out. Seeing some of the issues not described a self inflicted pain, but self inflicted because they succumb to the culture.

    I will say it again that your dissertation project is exciting and scary (for me) at the same time.

  6. Enjoyable last post of the quarter Jenn. The part that I resonated with the most was the following: “Church buildings have become a type of status symbol in the Christian world. I shutter to think how much money evangelical Christians have poured into building projects. The dollar amounts mentioned in this book alone are shocking. Some might say scandalous.” Although I have been a part of these building campaigns over the years, I have also become sickened by the amount of money churches are spending on bigger buildings or expansions. In fact, the last church I worked at just finished a 2 million dollar project to add a big fancy foyer and restrooms. I can think of a whole lot other places that money could go to make an impact for the Kingdom. I love your partnership idea as well. Our church plant is trying to partner with the Boys & Girls Club to go in on a building together that they would use during the week and us on the weekend.

  7. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Jenn,

    Thanks for your critical and thoughtful review of Chand. Your critique hit on many aspects in and out of the text that bring me pause. In particular, I sensed the prosperity gospel and shallowness of Chand although I did not dig far to prove it. In addition your thoughts on church growth and multiplication were spot on. The metaphor of the body does a nice job to show both growth and multiplication are necessary in their appropriate stages. Your thoughts on the poor were convicting to me as well. Thanks for honoring the poor. Finally, I was with you on the two levels of pain and the need for Chand to identify the deeper level which he missed. Thanks for your thoughtfulness!

  8. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Thanks Jenn for providing a thorough critique of Chand. A few of your points resonate with me – one being the fact it’s not culturally relevant except in the US (which is why I struggled to connect this to my research) and your example you highlighted of Chand’s feelings when applying for food stamps. I wonder if his experience motivated Chand to advocate for changed policies and systems? Or was it only about his own pain (I did not read this section)…?

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