Leading through Disappointment
One of the things that will undoubtedly happen to you as a leader will be disappointment. You can't escape it. An initiative or program you feel strongly about might land flat, you might be betrayed by someone you trust, you might learn the couple you invested months in to try to save their marriage filed for divorce, or any number of things. Leadership is always messy because you're not perfect, and it's messy in the church because you're leading people who like you aren't perfect. Yesterday I pleaded and shared with a man who visited off the street, and gave him a Bible because he had no assurance of his relationship with Christ. Before leaving, I found that Bible left behind, discarded. I won't lie, it stung.
When you find yourself in those moments of disappointment, I think it's important to do three things:
1) Remember Your Calling - When you entered ministry leadership, it wasn't your idea first. It was God's. He called you. He prepared you. He sharpened you. He shaped you. He led you through intense training. And He's the One who continues to be with you. In those moments of disappointment, it can be tempting to wonder if you should've gone into sales or retail instead. But if God is the one who called you to ministry, you can rest assured that He's going to sustain you through it. You've not been called to be successful, you've been called to be faithful. There's a huge difference. Our responsibility is to be faithful to what we've been called to and who God has called us to be.
2) Don't Take It Personal - Most of the time, the disappointment we face isn't because of us. Sometimes it is though, and when we blew it we need to own it and learn from it. But more often than not, we'll find ourselves as collateral damage in the wake of the disappointment. That's when we start playing the "what if?" game. Can I ask something? If God's in control of everything, and nothing happens apart from His wisdom and leadership, do you think He knew what He was doing when He put you there? Everything that we go through is part of God's process of sanctifying us, of making us more like Christ, of chipping off our pride.
3) Pick Up and Go On - My wife and I love medical and law shows on TV. And sometimes in those shows they lose a case or a patient dies in surgery. It's awful. It's gut-wrenching. They have to break terrible news to a grieving family. But the next patient is already prepped. The next case is on the docket. They can't dwell on the past. They have to pick up and go. So do you. The responsibilities of ministry will be there after you've been let down. And for the faithfulness of your calling and your responsibility to lead God's people well, you need to carry on. Yes it will be hard. But that's when your prayer is Paul's words from God in 2 Corinthians 12:9 "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
How have you as a ministry leader worked through disappointments?
You've spent time in prayer, you've refined your resume, you've networked well, and you've answered more email questionnaires than you could ever count. Then one day you're invited to a conference call or an in-person interview with a search team. Whether you're on your first or twentieth interview, preparing yourself is always important. It's a chance for a search team to get to know who you are, and for you to see if you'd be a good fit for the church.
Most interviews are limited in nature; you're dealing with volunteers who are giving their time to sit and talk with you. So you want to honor them and their commitment as much as they are trying to honor your time.
I think there's four things crucial to bring to your interview:
1) A Philosophy Of Ministry - God has called you to ministry, that's obvious in your own heart and in the search team's willingness to talk to you. But He hasn't called you to be like your childhood pastor, or the youth minister who discipled you. He's called you to be who He wants you to be. A philosophy of ministry is a way of explaining who He's called you to be and what He's called you to do. It's your heartbeat for ministry. It's what makes you unique. It helps a search team know who they're getting, and it helps you identify your gifts/passions/talents.
2) References - You may have put them on your resume, and even if you did have some names of people who know your ministry chops, who've served with you, who know you well, and most importantly who will speak truthfully about you. Yes you need people to say good things about you (I heard a story from a church who looked at a candidate until his references said not to hire him!), but you need people who will share your strengths and your weaknesses, your gifts and your areas for improvement. A church is potentially willing to make a huge investment in you, honest references help determine if you're a fit.
3) Success Stories - I know this can be tough if you don't have a lot of experience, or if you're looking to transition into a new area of ministry (I was in youth ministry for nearly 10 years before becoming a senior pastor). But if you have any stories of experience, whether it was a win or a lesson, that have helped shape you and prepare you for your potential ministry, share them with the search team. Don't reach for them, be honest about the context and scope.
4) A List of Questions - This is perhaps one of the areas many ministry candidates don't take advantage of during the interview. Most interviews will transition with the question "Do you have anything for us?" In that moment you have free reign to ask them what you need to. They have opened the door for you to explore and probe them, the church, the ministry position, the history, and more. (Note: This is not the time to discuss salary) Don't waste the opportunity by saying "No, thank you." unless you're certain God is not calling you there. Here's the questions I asked my current church when I interviewed with them. Feel free to use them, or this list produced by Thom Rainer.
What if OJ visits your church?
On your Sunday morning routine greeting people in church, you come across a man sitting by himself in the back. You immediately recognize the voice, the charisma, the presence, the awkward looks from people sitting around him, the whispers and pointing. It’s OJ Simpson.
Yesterday during a Nevada parole hearing, OJ Simpson was granted release from his prison sentence stemming from an armed robbery in a Las Vegas hotel. In October, he’ll be a free man, able to reenter the work force, collect his NFL pension, and face the never-ending litany of cameras, reports, and questions. The former Heisman Trophy winner, NFL star, celebrity, actor has now become a shamed and outcast by the very public that launched him to fame.
So what do you do if you see OJ in your church on a Sunday?
It’s doubtful that you’ll have OJ in your church. But you will have visitors and guests. And if you’re doing it right, you’ll have visitors and guests with checkered pasts. Have wise policy and procedure in place so that with kindness, grace, and a sense of devotion to your calling to lead and shepherd your people well, you can embrace those around you and invite them to be a part of the Kingdom where the only measure of their accomplishments died on a cross for them.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.