The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1: 3-7, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”
Often God's way of teaching us the things we really need to learn as leaders comes to us in the opposite order in which we are used to learning at school. There we get the teaching in the classroom followed by the test in the exam hall to see what we have learned. In life we are often tested first and are only then able to learn and apply the lesson that God was trying to teach us through that experience.
Our experiences shape our leadership more than we think. The good influence of others rubs off on us. Painful lessons leave their mark and, if we are wise, we learn 'not to do that again', or to become more alert to warning signs that can help us avert future crisis.
School of hard knocks
The Apostle Paul was a leader who had spent plenty of time in the school of hard knocks. In his second letter to the Corinthian church he recalls the value of what often bitter personal experience had taught him. He acknowledges the comfort of God he had experienced in times of trouble. He talks about sharing abundantly in the sufferings of Christ. He knows there are times when following Jesus brings distress.
Today, we often want to experience the privilege of leadership without having to face its responsibilities. Leaders go first, so inevitably that means they are often the first to encounter failure. Leaders step up, so they are usually an easy target for criticism. Leaders are human, so they feel the stress that comes with having to take unpopular decisions.
These places are on the leadership map. If we never find ourselves standing in these circumstances we probably aren't leading as Jesus would want us to, or taking others to the places that He wants them to go. Leading for Jesus invariably means sharing in His sufferings.
Shaping leaders and followers
However much we would prefer to avoid the lessons of painful leadership experience, they can often be our best teachers. They help us grow as leaders in ways that reading, being taught or trained never can. And more than that, they equip and enable us to lead others. God's comfort upholds us in our troubled times as leaders. In turn, that builds our ability to comfort and encourage those we lead as they pass through the experiences that God is also using to shape them as His followers.
Both suffering, and the comfort that goes with it, are the wounds and the wonder that God uses to build the reliance on Him and the resilience to endure, that mark the lives of those who lead in His name and with the touch of His power.
David Thompson is secretary for the Council for Congregational Life and Witness and is coordinating the Council’s Growing in Fruitfulness initiative.
Formed in the Crucible: How God moulds leaders
Formed in the Crucible takes place at West Church, Ballymena on Thursday 11th May 2017 from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm and is for anyone who has a leadership role in the Church.
The day will be led by Dominic Smart of FutureLeader and will examine the painful, but deeply formative times in life when God puts us in the crucible. It will also address how our own personal experiences in the crucible can make a real difference for those we lead.
Formed in the Crucible costs £20, which includes a light lunch. To register go to www.theleadershipswamp.co.uk