Responding with Resilient Leadership to Ministry Challenges

John Fehlen

2 Max DePree once said: “Leaders don’t inflict pain. They bear pain.”1 This of course is not a completely ironclad statement, but it is representative of an understanding that leaders by in large have their followers best interests in mind while personally carrying significant and often painful burdens due to their role. This becomes a point of personal crisis often accompanied by disappointment, conflict, and burnout. I have personally found this to be true, and it has led me to consider the subject of Responding with Resilient Leadership To Ministry Challenges. While it is true that I tend to grow both spiritually and professional through crisis, it is not a route that I would opt for willingly or cheerfully. It hurts. There is a level of pain that is accompanied with definitive leadership decisions and determinacy. Therefore, I am on a personal pursuit of discovering how to engage my leadership focus and to develop resilience in the midst of difficult times, perceived or real. It is my belief that in Christian ministry I, as a leader, must be comfortable with crisis and conflict. It is inevitable. There is a great deal of pain and disappointment while working closely with people, and ministry to people is difficult. However, there also is a great deal of joy, blessing, and reward in the “people business”. Leaders are privy to many wonderful stories of healing, grace, triumph, and success. Leaders have a bird’s eye view of the work of the Lord within the congregation. Leaders will often be the first one to hear of a particular victory and be the mouthpiece that relays that victorious testimony to the masses. Being a ministry leader is incredibly rewarding and personally fulfilling. For every day a setback or crisis is experienced, I have discovered there to be many more days of joy and peace in the land. I trust that this is true of many of my colleagues. One cannot deny the reality of challenges in ministry though. Tough things happen when we least expect it. Our once solid feet are cut out from underneath us, and we are left gasping for breath and hoping we can get up again to face tomorrow. Melodramatic? I do not believe so. It was Jesus who told his disciples “in this world you will have trouble.” This statement comes upon the heels of Jesus’ own point of crisis. He told his disciples in John 16:32-33 that “a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered…you will leave me all alone.” Jesus knows pain. Jesus knows conflict. Jesus knows crisis, and so will we as Jesus’ ambassadors to a pain-filled world. The word “lead” has an Indo-European root that means, “to go forth, die”.2 That is exactly the kind of crisis Jesus experienced. As leaders, our challenges may never end in death, yet, we do have a strong scripture to contend with in which Jesus said: “If anyone would come

3 after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). This is a brutal reminder that ministry leadership (which is actually about follower-ship) will always include an element of denial, pain, and sacrifice. How we respond to that is key. How we respond to ministry challenges is so vital to our growth and effectiveness. Following the definition of key terms, this research will then explore challenges in ministry. Observation will be given to Six Common Challenges as discovered specifically from the life of Elijah the Prophet in the Bible. The Old Testament sketch of Elijah’s life reads like a modern day novel, complete with victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, intrigue and suspense. Elijah’s story parallels that of the 21st Century leader in so many ways. This research will spotlight six of those connective equivalents. Beyond the biblical character of Elijah, there are many individuals throughout history that illustrate to us the manner in which resilient leadership through immense challenges produces amazing outcomes. Next the research will observe where God is at work. One must trust that God is at work even in the midst of pain, crisis, and conflict. He is behind the scenes bringing about formative changes to the heart of the leader. Reggie McNeal expresses it so poignantly: “The heartshaping work of God in the arena of conflict is, in the heat of it, the hardest and most painful of all the operations of God on the soul of the leader. The work is done without benefit of anesthesia. The leader has to be wide awake through these proceedings.” 3 It is this “work of God” that I will give special attention to as this research progresses, because I believe that ultimately all things, good and bad, can be used for God’s glory and for the leader’s growth. The concluding portion of the research will give light to how resilience works by asking the question, “Why do some people bounce back from life’s hardships while others despair?” Definition of Key Terms The phraseology “Responding with Resilient Leadership to Ministry Challenges” is intentional in that each key word brings with it a specific sense of understanding. Responding This word denotes the role and the capacity of leaders to “see the challenge and raise it with a response.” The way in which one responds to difficulty will determine the level of effectiveness experienced in the future when facing other, perhaps more complex challenges. Jeffrey Sonnefeld and Andrew Ward write in Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters: “Leaders should not be measured by how they bask in the gratification of their

4 accomplishments. Rather, they should be measured by how they respond when fate deflates the joys of hard-earned triumphs. How well do they pick themselves up and get back in the race? 4 Resilient This word is defined as the “ability to recover quickly from setbacks; to spring back quickly into shape after being bent, stretched or deformed.” Undoubtedly, this is a glimpse of the leadership role. Leaders are often bent out of shape and stretched beyond limits. The ability to recover is a leaders best trait. That is resilience. John Barnes, in his book about President John F. Kennedy has remarked: Many people become overwhelmed by adversity. They are thrown off their game by small obstacles; bigger problems stop them dead in their tracks. Leaders cannot afford this kind of reaction to difficult situations. On their way up, they must be able to deal with whatever is thrown in their path. Once they are in a position of leadership, they will have to deal with rapidly changing circumstances. They must learn to recognize challenges as opportunities, to turn liabilities to their advantage. In other words, leaders must learn to be resilient in the face of adversity. 5 The author goes on to describe Kennedy’s leadership resolve: “Be resilient in the face of adversity. Strong leaders don’t crumble when faced with stressful circumstances. Their ability to stand up to adversity often arouses their people to do the same. 6 Leadership Bob Biehl defines leadership as “knowing what to do next, knowing why that’s important and knowing how to bring appropriate resources to bear on the need at hand.” 7 These are facets that will separate leaders from followers, which is not to say that leaders are better than others. They are just different in that they will carry the accompanying responsibility with the leadership role. It has been said, “Somebody has got to lead.” This reality is embellished by the greater reality of the need for change, which is affirmed by Jay Conger when he said, “leaders are by vocation change agents. They see the shortcomings of any situation. 8 Ministry In no context is there a greater desire for change than in the ministry. Those serving in the ministry have an underlying passion to see lives changed and brought into right relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ. The mega-church senior pastor, Bill Hybels,

5 shared these words in his address to Harvard Business School: “You also need to realize that some of us church leaders live daily with the realization that the eternal destinies of people in our communities hang in the balance. That’s why we are so determined to get our visions right and live out our values and come up with effective strategies. We truly believe that it matters that we attain our goals. We believe this to our depths. We’d take bullets for it.” 9 This sense of urgency and effectiveness becomes a driving force in ministry – the compulsion to see lives rescued, redeemed, and restored to right relationship with Father God. The context of ministry and the leaders that serve that end are motivated to bring about change in the culture. Challenges Without question, as Bill Hybels suggested, bullets are often taken in ministry. Leaders in a ministry context will face great challenges. Challenges may materialize in the form of crisis, pain, difficulty, and/or conflict emotionally or relationally. Regardless of its composition, the essence of a ministry challenge is turbulence. Navigating turbulence requires resilience. In Scripture we read of many characters that experienced incredible challenges in leadership. McNeal highlights four such heroes of the faith: Moses, David, Paul and Jesus. This research will not draw from these exemplary figures because so much quality material is already in circulation. Lesser-documented leaders that responded resiliently through challenges are the likes of Gideon, Peter, Timothy, Deborah, and Esther. Each is a remarkable example in there own right, however, the focus of this research will find its focal point in the person of Elijah. Elijah – Six Common Challenges The scriptural text in securing the Six Common Challenges faced in ministry leadership will be 1 Kings 18 and 19. Elijah is a prototype of resilient leadership that is neither perfect nor polished. He looks much like the 21st century ministry leader that endeavors to love and live to the fullest in God, and yet is challenged in many regards. The following six challenges and the corresponding examples drawn from Elijah are not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject. They will, however, draw the reader into the culture of this Old Testament figure and show how resilient leadership was maintained. Painful People The first common challenge that leaders face is that of painful people. Often times they have specific names and faces, whereas other times they are a nameless mob. Regardless, they

6 are hurt people that in turn hurt people. Heifetz and Kinsky contend that, “people criticize you when they don’t like the message. But rather than focus on the content of your message, taking issue with its merits, they frequently find it more effective to discredit you.” 10 They can be discontent and critical in both word and deed. William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas believe that “being a minister in today’s climate is a little like being nibbled to death by ducks.” 11 The authors continue describing the ‘nibbling ducks’ and give explicit detail as to the challenges ministers face from painful people: “People assume that we are paid basically to do nothing other than to be kind. The ministry is tempted to self-hate because none of us can be misused forever without hating those who so use us, and as a result, we end up hating ourselves for being so abused. No wonder pastors often seem so lonely, self-hate creates a person who cannot make friends worth having.” 12 Elijah faced such people. One such person will forever have the stereotypical disgrace of being known as Jezebel. She is the matron saint of painful people. Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah with these words: “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them” (1 Kings 19:2). Despite this being a clear threat of death that could not be ignored, Elijah internalized these vicious comments and became fearful and despondent. Painful people can elicit these kinds of responses. Difficult Decisions Elijah’s narrative is consistent with that of many of the Old Testament prophets in that he confronted difficult decisions throughout his life. Each decision required responsiveness to the Lord, courage in the delivery, and resilience in terms of the outcome. The account in 1 Kings captures many difficult decisions made by Elijah in response to the directive of the Lord. Most notable is Elijah’s prophetic unction that “there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word” (1 Kings 17:1). This was not met with glad hearts, such as in the case of Obadiah calling Elijah the “Troubler of Israel” in chapter 18. The biblical text continues to draw the reader into accounts such as Elijah’s challenge to the prophets of Baal and Asherah and the subsequent decision to have them all killed. In a number of passages Elijah is found to be calling down fire both upon sacrifices and upon those in opposition to Jehovah. The calling of Elisha as his to-be-successor was another of a long-line of difficult decisions made by Elijah. A recent spiritual blogger commented: “great leaders, in order to

7 achieve great outcomes, must make difficult decisions where relationships (sometimes significant relationships) are the casualties. This is obvious in the corporate world. CEO’s are hired for their ability to make strong and swift assessments and are rewarded for their resolve and determination to be decisive.” 13 Such was the premise of a study by Suzanne C. Kobasa entitled, Stressful Life Events, Personality, and Health: An Inquiry into Hardiness. Two groups of middle and upper level executives, both with high degrees of stress, were compared and their illnesses were measured. In essence what was discovered was that high stress/low illness executives show, by comparison with high stress/high illness executives, more hardiness and a stronger commitment to self and meaningful living. 14 The challenges found in difficult decisions lead directly into the next point of potential pain, crisis, and conflict: high risk. High Risk John Barnes in his writings on John F. Kennedy remarks: “Treat each challenge as an opportunity. To be a leader is to take on difficult problems, to learn from them, and to turn them to your advantage. That’s leadership 101. If a business hits hard times, employees look to their boss to come up with a plan for turning things around, not to close up shop at the first sign of difficulty. Often, out of such adversity, creative business leaders take their companies in new directions, explore new markets, and expand their business horizons in ways not thought of before.” 15 In the business sector and within the ecclesial framework, leaders must take risks to turn organizations around, moving them in new directions and into new markets. The process of expansion, both in the marketplace and in Kingdom ventures is risky. Sometimes the fallout is significant, and the casualties are unfortunate, and yet for every challenge there are potential opportunities. Elijah understood this in the organization of a showdown with the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel. He was outnumbered, and the momentum seemed to lean towards the other side, yet Elijah was willing to risk it all and was full of resolve. These characteristics are highlighted at the sacrificial altar in which Elijah demands that the attendants “fill four jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” They are told to do it again, and surprisingly a third time until the point that the water drenched the offering and filled the surrounding trench. Then through a simple, and yet incredibly risk-filled prayer, the fire of the Lord consumed the offering. Elijah embodies the kind of risk that Sonnenfeld and Ward espouse:

8 “It is the single-minded, passionate pursuit of a heroic mission to the exclusion of everything else that sets great leaders apart from the general population and is what attracts and motivates followers to join them in their heroic quest.” 16 Leadership Loneliness Often times, however, the leader has no one join them in their heroic quest or at the least they have the perception of being alone. Real or perceived, loneliness is a significant challenge in ministry. Elijah expresses in 1 Kings 19 what many “mouthpieces for the Lord” sense at various times: “I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too.” Gary Yukl, in Leadership in Organizations concludes, “the leader’s strong conviction to untraditional ideologies alienates people who remain committed to the traditional ways of doing things. Even some of the initial supporters may become disillusioned if the leader fails to acknowledge their significant contributions to major achievements by the group or organization. Bass (1985) noted that the response of people to a charismatic leader is likely to be polarized; the same leader arouses extreme admiration by some people and extreme hatred by others.” 17 That extreme hatred is one of the antecedent factors in leadership loneliness. The average ministry leader desires to be liked, followed, and respected. When that does not happen, it breeds an awareness of loneliness, hurt, distrust, and often cynicism. A corresponding probability is that the leader will seek out less than ideal friendships to fill that emotional void as in the case with Sara, an individual in a case study in Heifetz’s and Linsky’s work regarding leadership dangers. “Sara made a common mistake. When battling loneliness, insecurity, stress, or other pressures, the need to open up to someone can be almost overwhelming. In this frame of mind, it’s very easy to mistake allies for confidants. When you try to turn allies into confidants, you never know when circumstances may force them to choose between their commitment to their own priorities and people, and their commitment to you.” 18 This growing competition reveals a significant challenge in ministry in which leaders experience what Henri Nouwen defines as “alienation, separation, isolation and loneliness…names of our wounded condition.” 19 The following comments by Nouwen is perhaps one of the clearest treatments of ministerial loneliness: We live in a society in which loneliness has become one of the most painful human wounds. The growing competition and rivalry, which pervade our lives from birth, have created in us an acute awareness of our isolation. This awareness has in turn left many

9 with a heightened anxiety and an intense search for the experience of unity and community. It has also led people to ask anew how love, friendship, brotherhood, and sisterhood can free them from isolation and offer them a sense of intimacy and belonging. The wounds of loneliness in the life of a minister hurt all the more, since he not only shares in the human condition of isolation, but also finds that his professional impact on others is diminishing. 20 Acute Depression Akin to leadership loneliness is the issue of acute depression in the lives of ministry leaders. These two matters are closely associated in the Old Testament prophet named Elijah. After Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal and welcomed the fury of Jezebel, he fled to the desert and to the shade of a broom tree, where he sat down and prayed that he might die. He said, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life” (1 Kings 19:4). Elijah experienced a full range of negative emotions following the spiritually ecstatic time on Mount Carmel including despondency, anger, fear, fatigue and depression. On the topic of disappointment in ministry, Scott Carmer’s research found that 40% of the interviewed group of pastors “indicated that they experienced harmful emotional impacts or consequences as a result of stress, which was described as depression, the need to seek professional counseling, anger, and cynicism.” 21 Similarly, Viktor Frankl, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, as well as a Holocaust survivor “speaks of existential distress as a major cause of depression, illness, neurosis, and a whole host of other physical/psychological/religious maladies.” 22 Elijah’s sense of being alone led to overwhelming emotional depression. Elijah would have concurred with Nouwen’s estimation: “A man can keep his sanity and stay alive as long as there is at least one person who is waiting for him. Thousands of people commit suicide because there is nobody waiting for them tomorrow. There is no reason to live if there is nobody to live for.” 23 This could be thought of as a radical extrapolation of the topic of depression, and yet “according to a 1996 joint study by the Alban Institute and the Church Insurance Corporation of the Episcopal Church, parish ministry is the number one burnout profession in the United States. Some estimates are that as many as 100,000 clergy-persons in the United States are in the midst of severe burnout.” 24

10 Spiritual Fatigue Carmer claims, “the problem of disappointment and burnout among parish clergy consists of more than just a few isolated incidents. Stories of burnout cross all denominational and theological boundaries. It involves mainline as well as more evangelical denominations. Liberal, conservative, and moderate pastors alike are all potential victims. If the Church is to remain strong and healthy as an institution and as a way of life, its leaders must become skilled in recognizing and overcoming the experience of frustration, burnout, and spiritual disappointment.” 25 For the purpose of the reader, the terms fatigue and burnout will function interchangeably. Each is indicative of a high level of disappointment, frustration, and cynicism experienced regardless of success or elevated stature. Dr. Steven Berglas reasons, “A paradox of success lost on successful people in crisis is how constraining, tedious, and demanding their ostensibly favorable status is.” 26 In other words, success will not inoculate the leader from fatigue and burnout. Elijah experienced fatigue both spiritually and physically. In 1 Kings 19, Elijah ran from Jezebel a day’s journey into the desert. The practical implications of such a travel itinerary would be hunger and sleep deprivation. After reaching the broom tree, he lay down and slept. The angel of the Lord then provided him food and drink. Elijah ate, drank, and then slept again. The angel came back a second time, touched him and told him to “get up and eat for the journey is too much for you.” Elijah ate and drank again. He then began an extended journey to Horeb, the mountain of God, which lasted 40 days and nights. The Lord met a number of practical needs for Elijah at a season in his life when it was extremely necessary. At the arrival to the mountain of God (Horeb), we find the biblical character once again fatigued but this time of a dissimilar sort – spiritually. Undoubtedly, his fatigue may have also been of the physical nature, and yet the text indicates that God’s ministry to Elijah this time did not come in the form of bread and water but in the fashion of His Presence. Elijah, like many ministry leaders, had been “very zealous for the Lord God Almighty” (1 Kings 19:10, 14), and it had left him both physically, and more specifically, spiritually fatigued. When expectations have been dashed and energies are depleted, the average ministry leader continues on until the journey becomes too much to handle, and then the resulting devastation is that of fatigue and burnout. Michael Yaconelli emphatically asserts: “It’s not sinning too much that is killing our souls, it’s our schedule that’s annihilating us. Most of us don’t come home at

11 night staggering drunk. Instead, we come home staggering tired, worn out, exhausted, and drained because we live too fast.” 27 Yaconneli proceeds with these stinging words: “Burnout is slang for an inner tiredness, a fatigue of our souls. Jesus came to forgive us all of our sins, including the sin of busyness.” 28 These are strong words for an equally strong challenge that 21st century ministry leaders face - the same challenge Elijah faced during his time. Looking for God at Work In the previous sections Elijah has provided a template for understanding the common causes of ministry challenge. In each situation there is a potentially destructive point of crisis for the leader that must be considered and reckoned with in order to truly be resilient. The foundational premise in the research up to this point is that in Christian ministry the leader must be comfortable with crisis and conflict. It is inevitable. The next premise that will shape the subsequent material is that God is at work even in the midst of pain, crisis and conflict. He is behind the scenes bringing about formative changes to the heart of the leader. With this in mind, McNeal’s assertion provides context: “Leaders who grow through the conflict arena make a conscious decision to give God access to their hearts. The decision may come early in their experience, perhaps even before they encounter serious conflict. Or the decision may be made at some critical juncture or at the eleventh hour of some potentially catastrophic leadership challenge. No matter when it is made, the decision itself is the same: the leader chooses to look for God at work in every situation.” 29 The leader makes a choice to look for where God is at work even in the turbulent and trying times. These are the times when God is perhaps wanting to do a very deep work in the life of the ministry leader – a work that may not be able to be done in another context than that of crisis and pain. So often a ministry leader may experience one or more of the Six Common Challenges and instinctively bemoan people or the corresponding pain when in reality it has served as the primary mechanism that God grows a leader. Therefore, the decision must be made to look for where God is at work. What is he trying to accomplish through difficult situations? How is he accomplishing his purposes in spite (and as a result) of ministry challenges? The following are five byproducts of ministry challenges discovered in the pursuit of wanting to see where God is at work.

12 Restore Focus C.S. Lewis has wisely said, “God whispers to us in our pleasure, but shouts to us in our pain.” 30 It is interesting to note how the Lord gets the attention of his children primarily through challenging situations. These seem to be the times when hearts, minds, ears and eyes are the most open and receptive to the leading of the Lord. Whether the pain comes in the form of painful person, fatigue, loneliness or a risky decision, the “leader who accepts pain as the work of God…grows from it rather than being diminished by it.” 31 The painful “shout” serves to restore the focus and resolve of the ministry leader. It becomes a wake-up call of sorts when nothing else seems to garner the attention of the leader. Speaking from the perspective of a business leader, Sonnenfeld and Ward point out that “the first decision that a person faces in responding to a significant career setback is the question of whether to fight or take flight.” 32 The authors contend that it is best for the leader to face up to the issue and refuse to run. This becomes a point of focus. Rather than running away when ministry becomes difficult, the challenge ought to serve to focus the thoughts of the leader onto the purposes of God – what is He trying to accomplish? Become Strong The second work of God through ministry challenge is that the leader becomes stronger than he or she was prior to the pain. The old adage applies here: “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” James Lee Witt, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has written about nine lessons for turning crisis into triumph in his book entitled Stronger in the Broken Places. This title embodies the notion that crisis can actually serve to strengthen the leader. During his eight years at FEMA, Witt and his team handled 373 major disasters, including fifty-four tornadoes, forty-three floods, thirty-eight hurricanes, four earthquakes, and one terrorist bombing. 33 In ministry circles a leader may never experience the depth of destruction that FEMA has, and yet, the relational casualties can often be significant. Walking through the challenges with resilience serves to strengthen the mettle of the ministry leader and serve as preparation for the future. Reflect Inwardly When criticism or conflict breaks out, the leader is afforded the opportunity (often forcibly) to evaluate inwardly. This involves discerning the motives both of the critic and of the leader. Questions such as these must be asked: “What did I do to cause this crisis?” “What part

13 do I play in this ongoing challenge?” “Do my critics have validity?” What needs to change about me in response to these ministry challenges?” When a leader takes the adequate time to reflect, they are much more likely to find the growth point in the midst of pain rather than “demonizing the opposition.” McNeal references this propensity and warns the leader that ‘sometimes criticism or unexpected differences arise from those whose motives do not include challenging the leader’s leadership. These people do not need to suddenly find themselves dubbed and treated as the opposition.” 34 This can be avoided primarily through the pursuit of personal reflection and in the asking of questions such as those mentioned above. Not only will there be a shift away from the demonization of the opposition but there will also be an acceptance of how leadership failures/shortcomings may have contributed to the resultant situations. Gordon MacDonald contends that a “resilient person lays out his or her life and contemplates it from a long-range view.” 35 It is so important to give room for reflection in order to discover where God might be at work in the heart of a ministry leader. Feel Compassion Another byproduct of ministry challenges is that the leader tends to feel deeper compassion for others. Rather than being distant and untouchable, the leader is reduced in his or her awareness of there own pain and need. This is point of encouragement to followers that are in need of compassion and grace. In his masterful work, The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen comments that “a deep understanding of his [the leaders] own pain makes it possible for him to convert his weakness into strength and to offer his own experience as a source of healing to those who are often lost in the darkness of their own misunderstood sufferings.” 36 One would contend that God develops compassion in leaders, in an optimum fashion, in and through painful and trying situations. The scriptural understanding is freeing in its application: “freely you’ve been given, now freely give.” 37 When compassion has been applied to the heart of the leader, then that leader is behooved to extend it to others. Develop Resilience The dictionary defines crisis as “a crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point.” Crises are turning points in which the leader has the opportunity to have beneficial traits developed. The primary trait and the topic of this research is that of resilience. With the proper

14 perspective, each and every challenge and point of leadership pain has the potential to develop resilience in the life of the leader. Remember: God is at work. How Resilience Works How does resilience work? Diane Coutu asked this question in an article for the Harvard Business Review. She wondered “Why do some people bounce back from life’s hardships while others despair?” 38 Her fundamental characteristics were straightforward and seemed to set resilient people and companies apart from others. Her research of what causes people and organizations to be resilient over time found an overlap in three specific ways. Coutu emphasizes that all three of the following qualities must be present for their to be resilience. Ability to accept and face down reality The first trait of leaders is the “staunch acceptance of reality.” 39 Not to be reduced down to an impractical form of optimism, the ability to face down reality is the unblinkingly positive attitude in the midst of turbulence. 1 John 4:4 reiterates this truth: “the one who is in you is greater than the one that is in the world.” This by no means ignores the certainty of that which is in the world, but rather points to the existence of that which is greater. The tragedy of September 11, 2001 gives multiple learning points for leaders. One of which comes from the president of Morgan Stanley, the financial service. His company was prepared for the toughest reality by having not just one, but three, recovery sites where employees would gather if there were to be a disruption of the work environment. He observes, “Multiple backup sites seemed like an incredible extravagance on September 10. But on September 12, they seemed like genius.” Coutu observes, “Maybe it was genius; it was undoubtedly resilience at work. The fact is, when we truly stare down reality, we prepare ourselves to act in ways that allow us to endure and survive extraordinary hardship. We train ourselves how to survive before the fact.” 40 The finest example of an acceptance of reality is found in Jesus. Hebrews 12:2-3 exhorts us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him [here is brutal reality…] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (emphasis mine). When leaders, like Jesus, accept and face down reality, then they are on their way towards responding with resilient leadership through the challenges of ministry.

15 Ability to find meaning in all aspects of life Coutu reports, “resilient people devise constructs about their suffering to create some sort of meaning for themselves and others.” 41 This is most certainly “easier said than done” and yet when faced with a seemingly hopeless situation, those that established purpose in the pain were the resilient ones. A wonderful example of this trait is found in Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl describes one particular day in the Auschwitz camp in which he worried about a number of concerns. Suddenly, he was disgusted by how trivial he had become and knew that in order to survive he would have to find a deeper, more abiding purpose. He began to imagine himself giving a lecture after the war on the psychology of the concentration camp, to help outsiders understanding what he had been through. He writes in his book: “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.” 42 It is this resolve that separates resilient people from others. The gap exists because many will experience defeat and fail to assimilate the proper lessons into their grid of growth. It is a daily adventure of discovery – finding meaning in all aspects of life, good or bad. McNeal addresses the concept of meaning when he says, “Leaders work on their life stories every day. Sometimes the day turns out to be momentous. Big decisions have to be made. Destinies hang in the balance. Directions must be determined and courage summoned. Every leader has these days. They can be exhilarating or frightening or anywhere in between.” 43 Ministry leaders have these kinds of days – days that beckon the leader to discover meaning and purpose in the pain. Ability to improvise Simply put, Coutu relates this characteristic as the “ability to make do with whatever is at hand.” 44 With part gifting and part improvisation, resilient leaders have a way of rebounding and restoring purpose and passion in life. Particularly important for businesses in today’s fast-paced climate is the value of improvisation – that characteristic in which a leader and organization remains proactive and nimble. Unlike “luck”, improvisation is about a leader taking direct steps and making key decisions to practice ingenuity. So often the ministry challenges, such as those that have been considered in this research, provide the leader with a crossroads of sorts: respond with resilience or give up? The function of improvisation is one of response: response to situations that bewilder, response to crisis when

16 others are running, and response in the face of pain and pressure. Each response reveals the measure and the make of the leaders resilience. Conclusions and Considerations The primary approach to this research has been from the perspective of ministry challenges that happen TO the leader rather than the pain originating FROM the leader. One could contend that a degree of disappointment in leadership is of the leaders own making. Moreover, the scope of research was mainly limited to the scriptural and practical implications of ministry challenges. Little concern was given to psychological and chemical anomalies in leaders. This would be an excellent next step in the research. Undoubtedly, much has been produced regarding the byproducts of psychological and chemical imbalances, and the way it affects decision-making, leading, care-giving, and processing of pain and disappointment. Burnout in leadership circles has most likely been exacerbated by psychological and chemical realities – the study of which would be helpful in understanding the complex nature of resilience in ministry challenges. Another important consideration would be to understand the long-view of how pain and crisis in ministry leadership has and will affect different generations. The popular notion within ministry circles has been to grin and bear it. How that compares and contrasts within multiple generations’ remains to be discovered. Equally valuable, and yet not within the confines of this research, is the reality of inadequate leadership. The guiding assumption of this line of investigation has been that leaders by in large are caring, honest, well-meaning, and growing in both character and competence. What is omitted is the inclusion of poor, cruel, imbalanced, and domineering leadership. The presupposition is that this kind of leadership carries with it a degree of self-initiated pain and crisis. In others words, it is the leaders fault that he or she is experiencing such a difficult time. Finally, an area that is only alluded to at the onset of this research has to do with the wonderful joy of ministry. In rare cases will a leader experience 100% pain and crisis in ministry. More often that percentage is much lower. The majority of ministry, for most leaders, is joy-filled and rewarding. This, however, was not the scope of this research, and yet, needs to be continually reiterated and celebrated.

17 I personally have much to celebrate. I love my place in God’s family and enjoy my role as one of his leaders. The congregation in which I serve is incredible, and there is much reason to rejoice. I do, however, experience times of disappointment. I have and will continue to process crisis, pain, and loneliness. I was drawn to this particular aspect of research because of seasons in my life in which the challenges of ministry had become quite heavy. I was interested in researching how others navigated the challenges and found hope in the midst of trying times. I have indeed discovered new insights, particularly from the life of Elijah. As a result, my leadership confidence has grown – focusing my understanding of the purposes of God in and through my ministry challenges. I am grateful for what has unfolded for me in this particular course, in that, I discovered for the first time, the theoretical basis for leadership, and how influential theorists have shaped this important study. What was of even greater value for me was the theological footing on which each theory seemed to balance upon. There indeed is a spiritual gift of leadership, and the Lord graciously has called workers to step into those roles. He will, by his grace, empower and encourage, especially considering the inevitable challenges that lie ahead for the ministry leader.


1 2

Max DePree, Leadership is an Art, (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2004)

Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading (Boston: Mass, 2002), 208.
3 4

Reggie McNeal, A Work of Heart, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000), 174.

Jeffrey Sonnefeld and Andrew Ward, Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007), 3. John A. Barnes, John F. Kennedy on Leadership: The Lessons and Legacy of a President (New York: Amacom, 2005), 39.
6 7 8 5

Ibid. 48. Bob Biehl, Increasing Your Leadership Confidence (Sisters, OR: Questar, 1989), 13.

Jay A. Conger, The Charismatic Leader: Behind the Mystique of Exceptional Leadership (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1989), 4.

Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), 70. Heifetz and Linsky, Leadership on the Line, 41.

10 11

Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, “The Limits of Care: Burnout as an Ecclesial Issue,” Word & World, Luther Seminary, (1990): 252.
12 13 14


Suzanne C. Kobasa, “Stressful Life Events, Personality, and Health: An Inquiry into Hardiness.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37 (1979): 1-11
15 16 17

Barnes, John F. Kennedy on Leadership, 48. Sonnefeld and Ward, Firing Back, 252.

Gary Yukl, Leading In Organizations (New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc, 1989. Sixth Edition), 260.

Heifetz and Linsky, Leadership on the Line, 203.


19 20 21

Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer (New York: Doubleday, 1972). 83. Ibid. 85.

Scott D. Carmer, “An Exploration of Disappointment in Ministry” (MDiv. diss., Ashland Theological Seminary, 2003), 96.
22 23 24 25 26

Ibid. 138. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer, 67 Carmer, “An Exploration of Disappointment in Ministry”, 10. Ibid. 12.

Steven Berglas, Reclaiming the Fire: How Successful People Overcome Burnout (New York: Random House, 2001), 5. Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People (Grand Rapids: Michigan, 2002). 96.
28 29 30 31 32 33 27

Ibid. 97. McNeal, A Work of Heart, 173. Ibid. 179. Ibid. Sonnefeld and Ward, Firing Back, 163.

James Lee Witt, Stronger in the Broken Places: Nine Lessons for Turning Crisis into Triumph (New York: Times Books, 2002). 2.
34 35 36 37 38 39

McNeal, A Work of Heart, 161-162. Gordon MacDonald, The Resilient Life (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2004). 58. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer, 87. Matthew 10:8 (New International Version) Diane L. Coutu, “How Resilience Works,” Harvard Business Review (2003): 79-96. Ibid. 84.


40 41 42

Ibid. 87. Ibid. 88.

Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Washington Square Press, 1946), quoted in Diane L. Coutu, “How Resilience Works,” Harvard Business Review (2003): 88.
43 44

McNeal, A Work of Heart, 177. Coutu, “How Resilience Works”. 92.


Bibliography Barnes, John A. John F. Kennedy on Leadership: The Lessons and Legacy of a President. New York: Amacom, 2005. Berglas, Steven. Reclaiming the Fire: How Successful People Overcome Burnout. New York: Random House. 2001. Birnbaum, R. How Academic Leadership Works: Understanding Success and Failure in the College Presidency. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992. Biehl, Bob. Increasing Your Leadership Confidence. Sisters, OR: Questar, 1989. Carmer, Scott D. “An Exploration of Disappointment in Ministry”. Ashland Theological Seminary. 2003. Cohen, M., and March, J. G. Leadership and Ambiguity. New York: McGraw-Hill. 1974. Conger, Jay A. The Charismatic Leader: Behind the Mystique of Exceptional Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1989. Coutu, Diane L. “How Resilience Works.” Harvard Business Review. 2003. DePree, Max. Leadership is an Art. New York, NY: Doubleday, 2004. Dohrenwend, Bruce, ed., Adversity, Stress, and Psychopathology. New York: Oxford University Press.1998. Finkelstein, Sydney. Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn From Their Mistakes. New York: Portfolio. 2003. Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning. Washington Square Press. 1946. Hauerwas, Stanley and Willimon, William. “The Limits of Care: Burnout as an Ecclesial Issue,” Word & World, Luther Seminary. 1990. Heifetz, Ronald A. and Linsky, Marty. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. Boston: Mass, 2002. Hulme, William E. Managing Stress in Ministry. San Francisco: Harper and Row. 1985. Hybels, Bill. Courageous Leadership. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002. Kobasa, Suzanne C. “Stressful Life Events, Personality, and Health: An Inquiry into Hardiness.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37. 1979.


Lutz, Robert and Bruce T. Taylor, eds. Surviving in Ministry: Navigating the Pitfalls, Experiencing the Rewards. Studies in Pastoral Psychology, Theology and Spirituality, Robert J Wicks, General Editor. New York: Paulist Press. 1990. MacDonald, Gordon. The Resilient Life. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2004. McNeal, Reggie. A Work of Heart. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000. Nouwen, Henri. The Wounded Healer. New York: Doubleday, 1972. Oswald, Roy. M. Clergy Self-Care: Finding a Balance for Effective Ministry. Washington D.C.: The Alban Institute. 1991. Pappas, Anthony G. Pastoral Stress: Sources of Tension, Resources for Transformation. Washington D.C.: The Alban Institute. 1995. Sonnefeld, Jeffrey and Ward, Andrew. Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. 2007. Whitaker, William Howard, II. “The Elijah Project: A Study of Clergy in Crisis.” United Theological Seminary. 2000. Witt, James Lee. Stronger in the Broken Places: Nine Lessons for Turning Crisis into Triumph. New York: Times Books, 2002. Yaconelli, Michael. Messy Spirituality: God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People. Grand Rapids: Michigan. 2002. Yukl, Gary. Leading In Organizations. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc. 1989. Sixth Edition.

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