IVP - Online Pulpit - Survive and Thrive

March 19, 2013

Survive and Thrive

by Bob Burns

In our book Resilient Ministry, Donald Guthrie, Tasha Chapman and I refer a number of times to Russ Moxley, an ordained Methodist pastor and former Senior Fellow at the Center for Creative Leadership. One of his chapters in Handbook of Leadership Development is titled “Hardships.” There he states that difficult experiences—coupled with support and reflection—are the most important method of leadership development.

In our six-year study of what it takes for pastors to survive and thrive in ministry, a consistent theme is the way God uses hardships to shape the lives of our participants. The pastors we worked with faced personal rejection, physical trauma, accusations against their leadership and even church splits. Most (not all!) allowed their experiences to mature them in their calling.

How will we respond to hardships? Here are two suggestions. First, we can view our hardships through the lens of Scripture. In Romans 15:4 Paul says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (ESV). God designs our hardships to shape our character. This is seen in Paul’s experience of his thorn in the flesh. Similar examples are found throughout the pages of the Old and New Testament.

Second, we can do an audit of past and current experiences. Pondering these lessons can teach us how God is forming our character. One way to do this is by journaling, recording thoughts and reflections on difficult experiences, remembering how God was faithful while we went through them.

This kind of reflective introspection can be difficult. We need support. Talking with friends, sharing with a mentor or even meeting with a counselor. The support of others aids us in understanding our experiences and grappling with the implications.

Born a slave, Josiah Henson became a lay preacher and abolitionist leader. In 1851 he traveled to London, where he continued his fight against slavery. After one lecture the Archbishop of Canterbury asked Henson where he had attended university. The former slave simply replied, “Sir, I attended the university of adversity.”

God doesn’t waste pain. He uses difficulties as graduate study in our development. Hardships are part of our continuing education for pastoral ministry.

burnsOP.jpgBob Burns (Ph.D., University of Georgia) is the dean of lifelong learning and associate professor of education ministries at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He is also ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as associate pastor at Crossroads Presbyterian Fellowship.

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