By Alan Ahlgrim
Every person can relate to being at the end of his or her rope—especially leaders! But realizing that secrets like these are common to many can lead to solutions and calm.
Secrets—everyone has them. I’ve been close to a group of business entrepreneurs for years. We used to gather every week for lunch, now we connect every few months and it’s always a grand reunion. Recently, as we finished our sandwiches in a business conference room, I interrupted the chatter by reading a passage from Matthew 5. When I asked what stood out the most in this teaching of Jesus, several immediately referenced this paragraph from The Message paraphrase I was using.
“Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said: ‘You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule’” (Matthew 5:1-3).
Every person can relate to being at the end of his or her rope—especially leaders! I know . . . I’ve been there! These days my life is lived largely behind the leadership lines. I’m grateful to leverage the agony and ecstasy of 40-plus years in ministry to encourage so many serving so well. I don’t just hear interesting and amazing stories that usually can’t be shared in public. I often hear the private and painful struggles of those tasked with leading others.
Some of these leaders are serving in business and government, but most are serving in the church. Here are some of the “secrets” I’ve recently heard.
1. “I’m not sure how much longer I want to do this.”
Leading anything is hard; leading a local church is exhausting. As Dr. John Walker from Blessing Ranch Ministries likes to remind pastors, “Nothing requires more of you than ministry.” Being on and available and prepared at all times is impossible. That’s one reason the vast majority of those who begin in ministry don’t actually finish in ministry. While not everyone flames out in some flagrant fashion, many just lose their capacity or desire to go on.
2. “I’m shocked by how sin still stalks me!”
Whether the struggle is with lust, pornography, alcohol, or anger, everyone faces the unrelenting reminder of his or her humanity. While we all can easily admit to faults in a general sense, or with a carefully crafted illustration from a time long ago and in a place far away, the reality is our struggles are not all minor ones nor all rooted in ancient history. All too often our struggles and sins are current events—we just can’t admit them in real time for fear others will lose confidence in us. We’re not sure whom we can trust with our stuff.
3. “I’m waking every morning with thoughts of failure.”
There’s never been a time when the stakes were so high and the expectations so unrealistic. This is especially true in the local church. No pastor could hope to fulfill even 80 percent of the hopes and dreams of those in any given congregation.
Not a week goes by that a leader isn’t reminded by someone that he just doesn’t measure up in some way. Some of this may be legitimate; however, many criticisms are petty, pointless, and even ridiculous. Here’s the ugly truth: the greatest critic of most every leader is the one he sees in the mirror every morning.
4. “I’m increasingly feeling out of touch and irrelevant.”
The times are changing, for sure! While not long ago leaders in their 50s and even 60s were considered to be in their leadership prime, now they’re the “old guys.” As churches consider candidates to be their next “senior leader,” he is unlikely to be very “senior,” or even much over the age of 40.
One large congregation is seeking a gifted preacher between 28 and 33 to lead them in a high-growth area. While many strong leaders and communicators can be found in this age bracket, few would honestly describe themselves as mature, experienced, or seasoned leaders. Yet those are the leaders most in demand right now.
5. “I’m feeling unappreciated.”
One pastor told me he hates Pastor Appreciation Month—the celebration promoted each October on Christian radio. This pastor hates it, not because he hates appreciation but because he needs it and yet rarely receives it. That hurts. What can hurt even more is when the pastor’s wife is rarely recognized for the contribution and sacrifices she makes for the good of the church. It’s painful to be repeatedly taken for granted simply because you’re called to be a servant leader.
6. “I’m feeling misunderstood.”
Every leader at times lives with pressure and private pain. That’s especially true for those in high-stress roles. Who better understands what it’s like to be a surgeon with someone’s life literally in your hands than another surgeon? Who better understands what it’s like to be a cop called to defuse a domestic violence situation than another cop? And who better understands what it’s like to be a pastor using the Bible to address controversial issues in public, such as sexual abstinence or gay marriage, than another pastor?
In addition to preaching weekly on a wide variety of topics, the typical pastor gets dizzy changing hats for the wide variety of other roles he is expected to fill. To be a leader is to be stretched and misunderstood.
Expressed and Addressed
The not so secret “secret” is church leaders live with stress that eats away at their confidence and joy. However, once these stresses are expressed and addressed, they become less formidable and more manageable.
No leader is ever truly alone in what he faces or how he feels. Isolation is just the devil’s tool to discourage and dishearten those in vital roles, and the isolated leader is the most vulnerable leader. The reality is everyone can relate to stress; however, properly understood it can remind us of the ultimate solution.
Jesus is the ultimate leader. Jesus knew stress. He knew temptation, disappointment, criticism, abandonment, and betrayal. If anyone can understand what a leader must endure, Jesus can. That’s why Jesus has the credibility to counsel us.
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace” (Matthew 6:6-8, The Message).
Alan Ahlgrim served as founding pastor with Rocky Mountain Christian Church, Niwot, Colorado, for 29 years and now serves as pastor-at-large. In addition, he serves as director of pastor care and leadership development with Blessing Ranch Ministries, New Port Richey, Florida. This piece is adapted from a post that appeared first at his blog: https://blessingsahead.wordpress.com/author/blessingsahead/.