Leadership and Suffering are Synonymous

Leadership and suffering are synonymous. That’s not exactly true, but it’s mostly true.

I’m convinced after nearly 14 years of ministry, planting Renovation Church, and leading in various other capacities, that in order to be a great leader you must endure trial and suffering. 

Consider Paul, arguably one of the greatest leaders in human history. Before he became a disciple of Jesus, he was a leader among the religious elite. After he encountered Christ and experienced his first suffering—instant blindness—he went on to make history by planting numerous churches, raising up leaders, and writing some 2/3 of our New Testament, he was a phenomenal leader. But what shaped him? In 2 Corinthians 11 he tells us:

“23 Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. 24 Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. 28 And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.

  • Flogged/Rods/Lashes
  • Imprisoned
  • Left for Dead
  • Stoned
  • Shipwrecked
  • Adrift at Sea
  • Danger of Every Kind
  • Sleepless, Hungry, Thirsty, Cold, Naked
  • AND Stressed from the Church

These were the things Paul suffered, at least those he actually listed. Why? Because Jesus said this much: “I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name [Acts 9:16].” Why? Because these things made him the compassionate, strong, resolute, kind, vigilant, humble leader that we’ve come to know. All great leadership is forged in the cauldron of suffering. 

This idea is disconcerting, I know. But history has confirmed its truth. Your suffering and mine may not be to the degree that Paul endured, but if we are to lead, we will suffer. Suffering cultivates the heart and hews the character necessary to handle success and steward influence. And how we respond to it will determine the type of leader we become.

Augustine once wrote, “Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial. We actually progress by means of trial. We do not know ourselves except through trial, or receive a crown except after victory.” If you are going to lead, you are going to suffer. How will you respond?

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