Areas of Adversity in Spiritual Leadership -Part 2October 23, 2013
Fred Smith contends, “In every significant event there has been a bold leader, a shaped vision, and most often, an adversary.” This principle rings true from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible is full of men and women who triumphed in the face of insurmountable odds, daunting enemies, and impossible circumstances. As a spiritual leader, you too will find yourself in precarious situations throughout the course of your ministry; situations that are never addressed in seminary training, situations that cannot be resolved through text-book solutions. It is during those dark moments of faith that we must rely on the strength of God.
In the first post, we dealt with several areas of adversity for the spiritual leader (doubt, loneliness, depression, insecurity, and betrayal). Here are a few more areas you may very well contend with if you try to lead the people of God.
I know you will be surprised to hear this, but preachers do, from time to time, make mistakes. To be honest, we make a lot of mistakes over the course of our ministries. Sometimes those mistakes are only realized years after they are made, sometimes they are realized immediately. Those mistakes realized immediately tend to be more embarrassing, those realized over the course of time tend to be more damaging.
Mel Lawrenz says, “Just because a failure is unintentional does not mean its effects are minimal.” What we do as preachers have major repercussions, long-lasting, far-reaching repercussions. We touch lives, affect homes, shape communities, and represent Christ; therefore, when we fail, we not only deal with those immediate consequences, but we deal with the overwhelming spirit of failed responsibility.
Burdens and Weights
The pressures of the ministry are at times heavy and hard to bear. The man of God not only carries the burdens and weights of his own life, but also of the lives of many others. On any given day, the preacher may face multiple issues from multiple directions. The apostle Paul mentioned this in 2 Corinthians 11:28, “Beside those things which are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”
When others hurt, the preacher hurts. When others have sleepless nights, the preacher has sleepless nights. When others cry, the preacher cries. The man of God opens his heart to his people and engages their problems as though they were his own. Although the task seems daunting, it is required. The sheep need a shepherd not only to lead them, but to love, feed, protect, nourish, and defend them from the enemies. Though only one man, the preacher must bear the weight of many men. No one sees this pressure, but it exists, and it weighs the preacher down.
Stress and Physical Ailments
In 2008, at the age of 32 years old, I woke up one Sunday morning with painful sores on my torso. I had been feeling sick for the past few weeks, but that morning was especially rough. After preaching in the morning service, I went to the doctor and found out I was suffering from shingles, a severe case.
The doctor told me stress was the culprit, especially for someone my age. Stress was an understatement: I was finishing a post-graduate degree, writing my first book, serving as pastor of a growing church, operating a thriving construction business, and trying to be a husband and father at the same time. I didn’t realize how stressed out I had become.
For the next four weeks I was confined to my home in extreme pain. Worse than the pain was the spirit of discouragement that seemed to settle over my soul. It was the first time in my adult life that I realized the powerful connection between sickness and spiritual well-being. When we are sick, stressed, or spent, we will not only feel physical pain, we will endure emotional and spiritual travail. The preacher is subject to physical calamities just like everyone else. Like the apostle Paul, we will walk through the briar-patch from time to time.
Everything listed in these two posts: doubt, loneliness, insecurity, betrayal, failures, burdens, weights, stress, and physical ailments, all have spiritual ramifications. The apostle Paul said it like this, “There was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Corinthians 11:7).
Notice that Paul’s thorn was a physical infirmity. We have no idea what ailment plagued his body, but it was of the flesh, in bodily pain. However, this bodily pain came at the hand of a demonic force. His physical adversity was the result of a spiritual reality. God permitted this ailment, dare I say, He designed it, so that Paul would not become arrogant or conceited through the revelations.
Sometimes adversity is permitted in our lives so that God can mold us into what we ought to be; other times adversity is permitted to prevent us from becoming something we should not be. Either way, God is in control, Satan is under the Lord’s authority, and we are divinely comforted.
Ironically, all of these adversities translate into the grace and power of God. Paul adamantly stated, “For when I am weak, then am I strong.” Jeff Iorg convincingly outlines the reason for adversity in his book The Painful Side of Leadership, “Sometimes God allows us to experience pain so we can help others with similar problems. An aura of authenticity, created by the scars on our souls, connects us with the deepest hurts of others. There is no shortcut to being equipped to offer genuine comfort to hurting people. Wounded people give the best comfort.” Storms, mountains, battles, pain, wounds…they all equate to ministry, at least the kind that proves to be a shelter to others
If you are facing adversity, remember a few comforting thoughts:
- The sovereignty of God is working in every avenue of your trial
- His promises are just as true during times of persecution as they are during times of prosperity
- He is constantly shaping, molding, developing the gifts and abilities He has given you
- He is ridding your life of pride, conceit, arrogance, and spiritual apathy
- He is not only working in your life, He is working through your life to help and reach others
- He gives victory in His time and in His way
William Arthur Ward said, “Adversity causes some men to break, others to break records.” Don’t allow the storm to break you; instead embrace the storm and be a shelter to those who need refuge.