I was 24 and had just started my first full-time ministry position. From my vantage point things were pretty difficult.
“I must be going through spiritual warfare.” I reasoned. I approached my pastor after a service to pray for me.
“Pastor, I need you to prayer for me. I think I’m under spiritual attack” I said.
“Oh really. Tell me about it. What’s going on?” He was genuinely interested and willing to help.
As I tried to explain the nature of the “attack”, I realized I couldn’t pinpoint anything specific. I touched on a few challenges, but nothing materialized as an obvious problem. He looked at me with understanding eyes. I fumbled and mumbled and finally summarized, “I’m not really sure, things are just harder than I expected. I’m not doing so well.” My Pastor smiled and affirmed me. He assured me that I was doing fine and if what I had explained to him were my biggest problems, I was in good shape! He prayed for me, encouraged me and sent me on my way.
I wasn’t really under spiritual attack. I had had my first taste of the challenges of leadership. I thought that once I became a “full-time” minister the heavens would open and my shadow would be healing the sick. Not so much. Instead I came to find out that nothing really changed when I got the title. I was still me, I still needed God, people still had real needs and leadership is tough, tougher than I expected.
That was about 20 years ago. Since then I’ve had to traverse many difficulties and “spiritual attacks” as a leader. And guess what? Leadership is still tough. I’ve had to settle it. When God called me to lead part of that package includes times of difficulty. I believe central to any calling to leadership is a calling to lean into grace through challenges. Leaders need not be surprised by the challenges. It’s actually a gift to us requiring us to lean upon Him. Here’s a couple of reasons that leadership is difficult and a few thoughts on how God helps us through the difficulties:
1) The one in front is an obvious target – When people decide to take a shot at an organization, they are going to shoot at the leader. Settle it, as a leader you will take a few hits. It’s in those times you have to allow the Lord to minister His affirmation to your heart. It’s helpful if you don’t respond defensively when you get hit. Instead allow the Lord to mine out any truths in the criticism. If you can find the nugget of gold amidst the handful of stones, you’ll grow in meekness and Godly character. If Jesus and Paul were subject to criticism you will be too. Know that the Lord uses criticism as a means to purify a leader’s heart.
2) People don’t always follow – No matter how good of a leader you are, not everyone will follow. If the crowds didn’t follow Jesus 100%, they aren’t going to follow you 100%. It’s OK. Don’t take it personally. You aren’t leading to gain more followers, you are leading to be obedient to God and serve His people. Follow hard after the Lord and call others to do the same. Some will follow and some will not. The results are not your responsibility, faithfulness is. Be faithful and leave the results up to God.
3) Decisions are not always clear – There have been many times over the past 20 years I had to make a decision but the path wasn’t clear. Even after gaining input from my team and counsel from others I couldn’t discern the right direction. In these cases the best thing to do is wait. It will feel like you must make a decision immediately, but I’ve found that when the path isn’t clear if I wait on the Lord an answer usually becomes evident. It may take a few weeks, but that test of patience is an essential proving ground for a leader.
There are times when you wait and the answer is still not clear, what do you do? You prayerfully make the call, holding your decision loosely, being willing to shift directions in the future if necessary. No one always makes the right decisions and no one always hears perfectly from the Lord. We have to lean on God in our decision making, trusting Him to direct our paths however He wants.
One little admonition to those who are not in leadership: be gentle in your judgment of your leaders. They’re people just like you. They won’t always make the right call. Pray for them that the Lord will grant them grace to hear His voice and follow His lead.
If you’re a leader be encouraged. Of course it’s tough at times, don’t sweat it. Allow the difficulties to compel you into intimacy with the Lord. Leadership is actually His gift to you, one that requires you to live closely to His heart if you let it.
What are some challenges you’ve experienced as a leader?