Rejection as a Fact of Leadership
On my TimeHop feed this morning, I got to relive a very interesting season 10 years ago. I'd posted that I was on my way for a long meeting with a church to potentially be their youth/associate pastor. It would've been my first ministry position, and I was excited because it would have solved the "How am I gonna live in the same area as Carrie" dilemma (that's another story!).
It went great. In fact I spent a whole weekend with them later where I was presented to the church, met with leaders, shared my vision, and went through a (grueling) Q&A process. In the end to go back to Louisville and get a call from the pastor "I'm calling to let you know we're not calling you." The good news is I knew it wasn't a fit. That was obvious during the discussions, so I was relieved that everyone saw things the same way.
But it taught me an important lesson about leadership: you'll face rejection. Some of that rejection will happen when you get the anonymous form letter saying "We feel led in a different direction," or it will come from within when your ideas and goals are met with indifference or opposition.
Getting rejected is not (always) a reflection of your calling or ability - It's really easy to take rejection personally, or to feel like you're not good enough. I stopped counting the number of "it's not us it's you" letters I got during the season we knew God was moving us. And I'd be dishonest if I didn't take some of them personally, that it must've been because I wasn't ___ enough for the position. But rejection many times is a question of fit. A leader needs to be the right person for the right situation at the right time. If any of those are off, it's a bad fit. But getting rejected for a position or having an idea shot down isn't always about you or your leadership. God's the one who called you, who equipped you, and who will see you through.
*Sometimes it can be a reflection of you, and that's when you have to self-assess if it's a problem of fit or you did something dumb.
Rejection forces you to depend on Christ more - In those periods of rejection, we need to remember that our source isn't our resume, our qualifications, or even our competency. It's Christ. And when difficulty comes, it's to drive us back to that source. If your faith and trust in God's work isn't increased during times of rejection, you're missing the point. But if it drives you to deeper prayer and fasting, meaningful time in the Word, and impassioned worship, then you're probably going through a season where God will work greatly on the other side.
Rejection doesn't always mean "they" have a problem - Rejection in leadership doesn't just cause us to look in the mirror, it can also cause us to look at the people who dished out the rejection and think there's something wrong with them. Sometimes, yes. I've seen great ideas rejected because of selfishness or sin issues. But more often that not those rejections were just part of the territory. It's toxic for a leader to assume the worst in the people they're charged to shepherd and care over, because it's a recipe for resentment and calloused leadership.
So as a leader, if you're going through the season of rejection, trust that when Paul wrote "all things work together for good for those who love Him..." that he actually meant "all things." And that includes rejection.
How have you seen periods of rejection in your ministry sharpen you or show you God's hand in other ways?
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Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.