Some Thoughts on Leadership: When Leading Is Hard

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I was in college when I began following Jesus. My life was radically changed and I could think of nothing that I wanted more than to serve the Lord in ministry.  When the opportunity came almost a year later, I jumped at the chance. I couldn’t believe that I actually got to work in the ministry and get a paycheck.  It felt like a dream come true!

Then, I had my first encounter with a very angry parent. I will never forget the words that were spoken to me and about me when all I ever intended was to help students grow in their walk with the Lord.

Naively, I had believed that leadership in the church would be easier than my secular job. Everyone loves Jesus. Everyone is kind. Everyone assumes the best of others, right? I lamented to a pastor about the phone call I had endured and he gently let me in on a little secret: “This isn’t going to be the last time someone is going to be angry with you. You have to get really thick skin to be in the ministry. Jesus didn’t please everyone; don’t think you will.” Over the years, his sentiments have proven true. Ministry is rewarding, but it is simultaneously extremely difficult. Loving people and serving the bride of Christ is a joy. But that same love opens us up to deep disappointment and hurt.

The Lord had appointed Samuel as prophet and judge over Israel. When he was old, the people of Israel asked him to appoint a king to judge over them like all the nations around them (1 Samuel 8:5). Samuel was broken over their request. The Lord had been a faithful and trustworthy King over Israel. He had led them out of slavery, provided for them in the wilderness and empowered them to enter the land of promise and conquer their enemies. Samuel knew the heartache and difficulty an earthly king would bring. He also knew that Israel already had the perfect King. But, it was not enough for them. They wanted more. The Lord comforted Samuel, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you” (1 Samuel 8:7-8).

Samuel warned the people of Israel of the ways of an earthly king. They insisted, “There shall be a king over us…that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20). This is exactly what God had done for them. Perfectly. Yet, they were not satisfied. Their expectations led them to sinfully ask for a king.

No matter how well you lead others, criticism and complaints will come. Some will place unrealistic expectations upon you or your family. Inevitably, you will not measure up. This is not always a reflection of your leadership or character. Israel’s rejection of God as their king was not a reflection of God’s character or his ability to lead his people. Rather, it was a reflection of their character and their lack of faith.

When criticism, complaints or demands come your way, how do you respond? Is there a hint of anxiety that stems from fear of man? Do you feel hurt because you want to please others and you know that you have not measured up to their expectations? Is there a fear of rejection? Does your heart break when the hardened condition of another’s heart is exposed?

In spite of his disappointment and disagreement with Israel’s rejection of God and their desire for an earthly king, Samuel continued to instruct the people and he continued to pray for them. He said, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way” (1 Samuel 12:23). He did not let his disappointments and hurt keep him from the task that God called him to accomplish.

May we be leaders who continue to pray for and rightly instruct people even when they have unrealistic expectations of us. May we continue to love and shepherd them even when they have hurt or disappointed us.

 

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