Whether leading a small group, a ministry or a church, spiritual leadership is heart work and it’s hard work. This combination can take its toll, driving leaders to throw in the towel prematurely. It might be a conflict, a crisis, yet another ministry goal unmet, or a simple “straw that breaks the camel’s back” complaint, but as a leader you feel “I didn’t sign up for this!” and you want to run for the back door.
Leaders who last aren’t those who just so happen to avoid those difficulties, but by God’s grace find a perspective or nugget to get them through. For me, the following eight ideas (in no particular order) have helped me in times when I’ve felt like throwing in the towel.
8 Tips to Lasting in Leadership
1. Realize Ministry is a Marathon not a 100m Sprint
If there’s one characteristic that could sum up the attitude of a leader that lasts it is patience. Weeds grow overnight. Oak trees take decades. You can’t baptize a cucumber and get a pickle. If you expect people to grow and change overnight, you’re in for a frustrating leadership journey. Having this perspective is tough because as a leader, you already see the potential change in someone’s life (or the possibility of what your group/ministry could become) Since you see it, you want it now! (Or at least pretty soon!) Leaders who last learn to manage the vision of the potential with what the reality of the present, patiently plugging away each day, each week, each month, and each year. The fruit of this tree is well worth waiting for!
2. Know Jesus is Sovereign and that the Kingdom is Unshakable
If Jesus is really sovereign, then what happens in your group, what happens in your ministry, and what happens in your life is never out of His control. Romans 8:28 is a powerful promise for a leader. You can walk through the deepest valleys, knowing that God is in charge! Since Jesus is sovereign, his Kingdom is unshakable! “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,” Jesus said (Matt 16:18). Our church belongs to Jesus. Your small group belongs to Jesus. Your ministry is Jesus’ ministry. His will will be done! This doesn’t mean trouble doesn’t come. In his mysterious sovereignty he allows it (though sometimes he seems silent), and He’s never lost control or ever, ever, been unfaithful. The leader that lasts is the leader that stands on the foundation of God’s sovereignty, and looks for the will of God and the work of God in whatever the circumstance.
3. Buy What You’re Selling
The gospel works. I don’t mean just in saving people from hell – which of course it does. I mean, the gospel also works in saving us daily. When Jesus said, “My yolk is easy and my burden is light”, he meant it (Matt 11:30). The gospel saves us everyday – from putting our hope in idols to putting our hope in the living God; from beating ourselves up for our failures, to resting in his perfection and faithfulness; from trying in our own feeble strength, to trusting in his almighty strength; from letting the things that might beat us down in ministry, to being more than conquerors. This is the gospel – we sinned – but he came, died and rose again and sent his Holy Spirit into us that we might be his children and have life! So, walk this talk everyday! When we walk in ministry in the Spirit, there is a peace and an ease that comes with it. Stress reduces. Confidence and humility rises. And deeper, truer, longer work can be done.
God made us to sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re defying your Creator and your design. If you don’t find ways to rest in Him, and let him run the universe one day a week, then you’ll burn out pretty fast (yes, I know He runs the universe everyday, but sometimes we sure act like if we don’t carry on, everything will fall apart).
5. Eat Soul Food
Jesus says that his Word is food for your soul. Have you ever been a day or two or three with no food? What did your body tell you? Alarm bells are going off everywhere! Human bodies can’t survive (let alone thrive), long without food. So how can we expect our souls to thrive (or survive) without food? There are days when reading God’s word is not something I feel like doing and I don’t “get anything out of it”. But, maintaining the discipline is worth it, because priceless are the days when God opens my eyes and I see more of Him. And the funny thing is that the soul food that God gives me to eat, he multiplies so that I can give it to others. Ministry is soul work. If you’re not reading his Word, you’re starving your soul and not only will you not last in leadership, you might not survive life.
Jesus is the head of the church, the source of the church, the goal of the church, the creator of the church and the savior of the church. Spend time with him in prayer. Develop your relationship with him. You are not like an agent in Mission Impossible, where the mission is given and you’re left alone to accomplish it. But Jesus walks with you every step of the way. As you pray, you’ll see that. Sadly, often times in the American church we believe Jesus is with us, but in practice we spend little time in communion with him. No wonder we forget why we’re doing things, and have little joy in our Master. But, as we’re intentionally still before Him, we refuel, reenergize and redirect, And we find our capacity to endure rises. As you pray, you’ll have the strength to run the marathon and you will last in leadership (and life, too).
7. Know the Suffering of Christians through the Centuries
Recently, I’ve been listening to biographical talks on great heroes of the faith like Adnorium Judson and John Owen. These men suffered in ways I hope I never have to see. Owen lost all 11 of his children. Judson, six months after coming to Christ, jumped on a boat to the jungles of Burma to preach the gospel (where it had never been preached before) and in 33 years of missionary work there, he married and buried three wives, and lost 6 of 13 children. The suffering is hard to imagine! And yet these men remained faithful to God, confident in his sovereignty and fruitful in their labor. Knowing their stories and their faith helps me keep my trials in perspective, and helps me trust Christ more, not less. They pop my cultural bubble and give me an eternal perspective. It seems counter-intuitive in a way, but your sense of security in Christ actually increases when you know the suffering of faithful Christians through the centuries. Grab some of these stories and let them soak your soul so that when the tough times come, your faith is shielded in what God has done (Psalm 77:11-13)
8. Network With Others Who Do What You Do
As a small group leader or pastor, do you reach out to those who hold similar roles to you? If you don’t, you’re missing out on the opportunity to realize that the problems you face in ministry are the problems others face, too. Realizing that, together you can encourage one another, pray and share ideas. Peer relationships like this can make a huge difference between “I quit” and “I’ll continue to trust God and patiently serve.” Just yesterday, I was emailed by a small group pastor whose senior pastor isn’t supportive of groups. This small group pastor was wondering how to approach this kind of a situation. I was able to email and encourage him and he said that those words were just what he needed to continue. Many have encouraged me the same way when I’ve needed it. If I didn’t pursue these kind of relationships – I might not still be in ministry and others might not be either.
Question: Which of these resonates most with you?