Leading is Hard
Can I try to encourage you today? I’ve been a pastor for 41 years. Yea, I’m old! Or to spin it positively, I’ve got lots of experience! And what I know for sure, is that you and I as leaders always face challenges. Peter Drucker, the management guru, once said that being a pastor is one of the hardest jobs, period. He’s right. Leading a church has challenges at every proverbial corner. Leading a non-profit or business has many challenges as well. What has worked before doesn’t work today. Our culture is going through reconstruction. Life is becoming more complex! All people, including you and I, are broken in some way. Hurting people hurt people. Members or clients are never satisfied. If I go on any longer, I won’t have any hope of encouraging you!
So how do we respond to the challenge of pastoring and leading? If you’re reading this, you are likely not ready to throw up your hands…yet! I think the Bible has a clear answer. The answer shows up in a slew of words, but my summary word for all of them is resilience.
Before I define or describe resilience, let’s look at all the Bible synonyms or parallels for resilience:
- Bear with, Forebear
- Be strong
- Don’t grow weary or lose heart
Now, let’s be honest. If we were to try to come up with a list of the 5 character qualities that make for a great pastor or leader, it is unlikely that many of these words would make the list. We’d rather prefer to say a great pastor or leader is competent, skilled, bold, courageous, confident, creative, or trustworthy. Or we might choose words like integrity, humility, empowering, or great communicator. All these are great attributes. But it would be rare for the word resilient or any of its synonyms to show up on the list. But may I suggest, that the most effective leaders, in the long run, are resilient leaders.
I get that idea from an amazing passage found in Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV). I’m going to quote it here and underline those key resilient words: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
The passage starts by reminding us that there is a cloud of witnesses watching us. Who are these people? They were listed and described in the previous chapter, Hebrews chapter 11. This chapter is sometimes called the Hall of Faith chapter. If you read chapter 11 carefully you’ll notice these famous men and women of faith who did amazing things didn’t get to see the full promises that God offered them while they were alive. But even though they didn’t see all the results they wanted, they stayed faithful. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you won’t get to see all the results of your hard work and sacrifice. But if you’ll remain faithful and resilient, God will use you to make a real difference, often in ways we can’t see.
The passage challenges us to run our race with perseverance. That means we just keep running and finish the race. It is NOT about being first, but finishing. It’s great to be first when every condition is perfect and we are in top shape. But that is not always going to be the case. Finishing is about faithfulness. We are called to be faithful and let God work through our faithfulness.
How do we keep running and finish well? We fix our eyes on Jesus. We don’t fixate on what good or success has happened. We don’t focus on the failures either. We don’t get caught up in what’s happening in our culture. We don’t compare ourselves to other pastors or leaders or churches or businesses. We don’t even look too long at ourselves. We focus on Jesus! He’s the model in every aspect of life. He’s the one we want to be like. We finish the race following him across the finish line.
And how did Jesus live? He lived with the joy set before him. Here’s what’s surprising: The joy that Jesus experienced happened as he endured the cross. How could enduring a horrible painful execution bring joy? Because Jesus knew that was his purpose. He knew that was what God wanted of him. His obedience unto death was his great joy because of what his sacrifice accomplished. His joy was in his faithfulness!
So the point of those three verses? Do not grow weary or lose heart. What is needed in our difficult job of pastoring and leading? To be strong or to be resilient?
Strong, Impressive or Resilient?
Let me finish with an illustration I read in a book produced by the Barna organization called The State of Pastors. The book makes a case for how important the quality of resilience is for pastors. The book reminds us that the Pyramids at Giza are as strong as we can imagine. They have survived for some 4000 years. They are big, robust, immovable, and basically unchangeable. But if a MOAB (Mother of All Bombs) was dropped on them (may it not be so), the bomb could easily destroy them today. You see, it is strong and impressive, but not really resilient!
Now let’s consider a forest. The west has experienced years of drought and forests are susceptible to fire. If a wildfire burns a forest, it looks devastated at first. But if you go back in a decade or two, you see how resilient the forest is. It starts to grow back. And, as it grows back, it actually becomes a better and healthier forest! That’s resilience.
You and I are not called to be strong or impressive, but resilient. So let me leave you with one more scripture that is one of my favorites. May it encourage you… Galatians 6:9, 10 (NIV) – Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.