The writers of Bearing Fruit: Ministry With Real Results use the metaphor of a marathon runner in the eighth chapter of their book. From that metaphor they have extracted some guidelines for sustaining fruitful leadership, which is a nice way of saying, “making sure the pastor doesn’t go off the deep end.” Here on the blog I’ve been trying to explore these tips, helpfully translating their truth for those who might not regularly run marathons. Today’s tip: Be Discerning About Pain.
Runners know that pain comes with the territory. Since I am not a runner, I am counting the sore muscles from raking the yard yesterday as my touch point for this truth. Runners and pastors (and leaf rakers) know that there is some pain involved in what they are doing: it’s just part of the kind of work they’ve undertaken. Change is hard; it hurts sometimes. The authors write:
“Aren’t you still surprised when ministry is difficult? When people complain or say untrue things about you or the church? Caught off guard when key leaders don’t get along? Dumbfounded when problems don’t resolve quickly and easily? Warning: if you are going to try and move the established church to fruitfulness and to vitality and commitment, you will endure pain in the process.”
Now that we’re clear on that point, as if we weren’t already, we move on to two truths for today: don’t create unnecessary pain for yourself…and attend to the pain when it gets debilitating.
First, we know that ushering in change always has an element of pain associated with it. It’s part of human life. But a pastor can easily create unnecessary pain for herself by pushing an agenda without enough buy-in or by just imposing change for the sake of change. It’s a common rookie…and sometimes veteran…mistake. If the choir is going to rebel with the introduction of bongo drums, in other words, it may be best to skip the drums, at least for awhile. There are times, of course, in which a good leader must brave the pain. But creating extra pain just for the sake of making a point is never a good strategy. The book says, “Fruitful leaders understand where pain is worth it and where it is not.”
Second, in all of this inevitable pain (Why did we choose to become pastors again? Do accountants have pain, too?), there are times when bearing the pain just gets too hard. Too hard. There is no shame in this truth, but many a pastor has tripped and fallen, hard, because he felt that bearing up under the pain all alone was the virtuous thing to do. Church leadership can be brutal, and sometimes the pain can get to be too much. Learning to discern the normal pain of change from pain that is destructive is a key survival tip. And when the pain gets too hard, looking for help from colleagues and professionals is a must. The authors point out that healthy people ask for help. Unhealthy people try to go it alone.
In order to sustain fruitful leadership, a pastor has to be discerning about pain. “Runners [and pastors and leaf rakers] learn that a certain amount of pain accompanies the sport. But other kinds of pain, if left unattended, will bring injury that can end races and careers altogether.”