Leadership is a shared reality and a unique calling. In its most general description, leadership is influence exerted over others. Most all of us exercise ‘leadership’ in one way or another. If we are in relationship or are part of a community or an organization, our lifestyle, words, actions, and inactions influence others. But leadership also refers to a calling. It involves having a unique responsibility to and for others within the same organization. It means exerting influence toward a specific direction, vision, and mission. Those with the responsibility and/or authority to lead in this narrower sense are vulnerable to fatigue, despair, burnout, and addictions. Statistics regarding local church leadership indicate that 1500 to 1700 people leave vocational ministry every month in this country, according to the Fuller Institute. (George Barna and Pastoral Care Inc.) Disappointments, conflict, and messiness are to be expected. But the losses and discouragements that accumulate can not only derail one’s expectations, but also prompt self-doubt, confusion, personal crisis, and depression.
The Struggles and Hopes of Christian Leaders
In my thirty plus years of trying to live out leadership roles in the local church, I have wrestled with grandiosity and self-contempt, felt grief and joy, seen real transformations, and yet also struggle at times to wait on God for more evidence of his work. Dr. Dan Allender, a psychotherapist, author, educator, graduate school president, and former pastor, has a keen insight into the struggles and hopes of leaders. In his book Leading with a Limp, he describes typical leadership challenges, including faulty default responses, as well as the effective responses that Jesus models for us and invites his followers to choose.
Sooner or later, all leaders must face crisis, complexity, betrayal, loneliness, and weariness. For many of us, our default responses are cowardice in crisis, rigidity in complex situations, narcissistic defensiveness when betrayed, hiding and closedness when lonely, and passive fatalism, resignation, and despair when weary. Allender observes that in Christ leaders can receive the strength to be courageous, explore depth, be grateful, choose to be vulnerable, and hold on to hope. How leaders live out non-defensive and non-toxic responses when confronted by challenges is related to one’s own spirituality and relationship with God, and the kind of supportive relationships one cultivates in the community of faith. But it is also related to the restriction or freedom of the heart to love. At times, my leadership choices have jeopardized my family relationships. Christian counseling, good friendships, mentors, and spiritual community have all helped to bring me and my family through different seasons of stress and distress as I sought to live out my leadership roles.
Christian Counseling as a Support for Those in Ministry
Christian counseling can be a resource for leaders who are facing these challenges, long for insight and support, and hunger for more of God and his voice. Christian counseling can help to normalize struggles, identify areas of hurt that need God’s touch, uncover roots of personal internal and relational struggles, affirm personal strengths, and increase the self-awareness that can clarify a sense of vocational calling. The scriptures assert that ‘we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ (Ephesians 2:10) All who are in Christ are destined to do good. The struggles of those like Moses, Elijah, David, Mary, John the Baptist, Peter, and Paul also confirm the reality of self-doubt in the living out of the responsibilities assigned to them by God. The Bible’s testimony is that God met them in their struggles and did not leave them without his shepherding, reassurance, healing, and strength to persevere in their ministries.
If you are someone with leadership responsibilities in a ministry organization, with a passion for people and a need for restoration, encouragement, and direction, I’d be happy to connect with you to see how Christian counseling can help. Please contact me here.
“Le temps de la confrontation (5),” by L’Echappee Volee, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0);
“Moody,” by Andy Rennie, Flickr Creative Commons, (CC BY-SA 2.0), 256026273_5bf8fbdf8e_b.jpg; “Warrior Adventure Quest,” courtesy of the U.S. Army, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)
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