Leading in Difficult Times

Leading in Difficult Times

“Has the Pandemic Made Your Pastor Want to Quit? Probably,” was a recent headline at Christianity Today’s blog site. 1 No doubt you too have seen similar headlines. For the last two years, Pastors have been plunged into a multitude of decisions creating stress and burnout. Without question, we are leading in difficult times that none of us were prepared for. How can we fulfill our calling in difficult times?

Let me put on my “older brother” hat and give you some advice from my years of ministry. The weak moments of my leadership over the past 40 years of ministry have been in those moments when I was not looking to Jesus but rather focused on the difficulty. So many situations come to mind. There was the deacon and his foul mouth—the angry staff member. The self-appointed church leader who clearly didn’t understand the Gospel and yet insisted on his divisive way. Etcetera. Buildings, budgets, and way too many meetings in which no one cared to even ask what God’s Word teaches. So, yes, I have been forced to lead in difficult times. Let me share some principles that have led me through leading in difficult times.

First, when leading in difficult times, watch for signs of stress impacting your leadership. How can you tell when you’re going through a rough spell as a leader? Here are a few questions to consider.

  • Have you ever found yourself having imaginary arguments with people?
  • On Sunday nights, do you want to eat everything in the fridge?
  • Do you become easily angry?
  • Are you tempted to use some words you never use?
  • Do you feel out of place, like you don’t belong?
  • Does it seem like the people you’ve known the longest and feel closest to are the ones who are least helpful and most hurtful? Do you feel like everyone is against you?
  • Do you feel a sense of being overwhelmed without knowing what to do?

When mental arguments with others begin to happen in the middle of the night, you are in danger. All of us feel the above from time to time. The question is, are these feelings controlling you, or are you controlling them? If you can’t get control of those feelings produced by stress, you will find wise plans will be hard to make and even harder to implement.

So, choose joy over bitterness, anger, or strife. In difficult times bitterness, anger and strife are not far behind. When bitterness and anger are in our spiritual veins, clots form that block Christ’s flow of grace. Bitterness and unforgiveness are the opposite of grace. What should we do when difficulties show up? Choose joy! I recommend you set two goals.

1. Be joyfully mature through Christ.
2. Help others joyfully grow through Christ.

I used the word “joyfully” in both goals on purpose. Joy is something that can be lost during difficult struggles. But just as the gospel of Christ leads to joy with Christ, we can “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” (see James 1:2-4 ESV). Our trials can lead us to maturity and help others joyfully grow through Christ.

I also used the words “through Christ” in both goals. We can be joyful in the face of difficulty because we know that even though we are in over our heads, Jesus has all power and has promised to never leave us. God allows difficulties to move us to maturity as we trust daily in Him. Of course, choosing joy is easier said than done, so let me share principles that lead to and sustain joy even during difficult times.

Work to keep your joy by guarding against bitterness. They say it’s money, power, or sexual temptation that will most likely bring you down. These three pitfalls are indeed dangerous. But in my experience, what has taken down more of us is bitterness.

When we become bitter, we can’t think straight. Wisdom goes out the door. Bitterness puts us on shaky ground. Bitterness puts us at odds with Jesus. Bitterness makes living out the gospel impossible. Bitterness short-circuits our lives spiritually. Bitter, unforgiving, revengeful immaturity is the opposite of the gospel and grace of Jesus.

But the grace of God in Christ produces what we can’t. That’s a Gospel statement. Grace leads us to forgive mean people. Grace leads us to say, “Father, forgive them,” as Jesus said on the cross (Luke 23:34). Grace protects us from the blinding, dark clouds of bitterness. The grace of Christ empowers us to let go of bitterness. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV). A wise leader guards against bitterness.

Keep an outward focus on others. When leadership gets hard, some tend to isolate themselves, which is a big mistake. God created us for relationships. He made us in His image. He is a relationship of joy that eternally and constantly flows between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Isolation because of stress denies the refreshing strength that comes from joy. Joy comes from enjoying loving relationships, first with the Lord Jesus. Then with others. Get out of the office and interact with your flock, and you will be surprised at the joy that comes from focusing on others.

Seek and ask for wisdom. We were never taught how to deal with a pandemic, as our teachers had never dealt with a pandemic. However, we have God’s Word to direct us in times like these. James wrote, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5 ESV). This verse makes a great sermon. But we must not just preach about wisdom. We need to ask for wisdom. Let me encourage you to ask God for wisdom often. It is God’s wisdom we desperately need to guide us through life.

Keep your eye on Jesus! Embrace Jesus’ joy, Jesus’ power, Jesus’ wisdom, Jesus himself. The way to joyfully grow in Christ and lead others to joyfully grow in Christ is to depend daily on Jesus. When His joy, power, and wisdom are in charge of our thoughts and emotions, leading in difficult times is possible.

How’s it going for you? Are you going through a difficult time in your role as a leader? Have unloving, opinionated, angry, disagreeable people taken the spotlight of your time and energy, threatening to rob you of your joy in ministry? Instead of allowing bitterness and anger to control us, let’s choose joy.

1.  https://www.christianitytoday.com/better-samaritan/2021/june/has-pandemic-made-your-pastor-want-to-quit-probably.html

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