When Leadership Hurts

By Laura Wallar

At LIFT Church we are big on the idea that at the core of leadership is a heart of service. It’s an idea we got from Jesus and it is rooted in our desire to live and serve as he did. Often, when I think of Jesus’ ministry I remember the dramatic miracles, authoritative teaching and righteous anointing that ultimately revealed him as the Messiah. Sometimes though, I forget that Jesus’ ministry was also characterized by being misunderstood by his culture, rejected by his people and betrayed by the core group of disciples that he poured three years of service into. Often, I forget his solitary moments of agonizing prayer, his frustration of being misunderstood by those closest to him and his experience of unbridled hatred from the culture he called his own.

As a result, I have often been shocked when I have experienced hurt in my journey of leadership and church. If I’m honest, the moments when I have felt misunderstood, left out or lonely in my church journey have forced me to fight the urge to throw my hands in the air and say enough is enough with this whole church thing. But then I am reminded of Jesus’ ministry and the truth that shone through all of his pain: when we feel rejected or hurt by others, we must trust that God’s calling and purpose for us AND the church remains true and unchanged.  I carry this very closely with me when I feel left out, lonely or angry in the context of church because it forces me to admit three things that automatically break their power to potentially side-line my commitment and calling to serve the church:

1. I must trust and rely on God’s promises that I am created with a purpose and calling that is not limited by human expectation or attitude.

2. I must release hurt and anger towards others in my church because I know God partners with broken people, myself included.

3. I must be humble so I will choose mercy over judgement and continue to serve alongside those who have hurt me (and may do so again).

It is not as simple as a+b=c, but it has helped me stay rooted in my identity in Christ, regain my humility when I feel threatened and therefore prideful, and it has given me the perseverance to run the marathon race that is building the Kingdom of God. When we choose to live and serve in church we are volunteering ourselves to work amidst the brokenness of our world.

What is hard to remember is that as the church, we are not immune to this brokenness; pride, gossip and self-service remain present forces in the midst of our kingdom-building work. They are facts of our fallen human existence and as leaders in the church, we must choose to live with their consequences and love anyway.  Living in service to others requires us to be consistently humble, submissive, gracious and at the end of it all, merciful to those whom we serve and serve with.  That may sound like a confused view of leadership in a culture that glorifies its power, influence and benefits, but it is one that mirrors the servant-leadership of Jesus and his teaching.

It is my prayer that we would all have the confidence to believe that the calling of the church and our role in it remains valid when we feel hurt, rejected or cast aside. It is my prayer that this truth would give us the strength to continue on the kingdom building journey together even though there may be seasons of loneliness along the way. And finally, it is my prayer that it would give us the courage to be humble enough to continue to serve in the midst of our own and others’ brokenness.

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

    for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

    for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

    for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

    for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

    for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

    for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

-Matthew 5:1-12