the shape of leadership

The Grit to Make It Through

Perseverance in times of trouble

Donna Barrett on January 14, 2021

I can’t do this anymore.”

Have those words ever come out of your mouth? Maybe you’ve even said them in the last month or week.

Or how about this statement? “My training didn’t include instructions on how to lead through a pandemic, racial unrest, political tension, division within my own team, or all at the same time.”

Minister, if you have said any of those things, this article is for you — not necessarily for you to preach from to others, but for you to soak in personally.

As I’ve collected stories from seasoned and strong leaders about how they are getting through these difficult times, several principles have emerged. Don’t just skim these and return to your next task. Make an action plan for what you want to do differently to develop the grit you need to make it through.

Remember the Call

If what you’re doing were merely a vocational election, you could choose a different vocation when this one gets hard. But since it was the call of God that brought us here, we revisit that call and the One who called us.

How long has it been since you shared your story of how God called you, and why you’re a minister?

Whether it’s with colleagues, your protégés, your congregation, or your journal, revisit the call of God that is on your life, and let that realign your focus.

Maybe the assignment needs adjusting. Perhaps you’ll pick up an extra income stream for a season. But the call of God comes from above, gets you through the difficult times, and keeps you focused.

It could not have been more timely when, at the World Missions event following General Council 2019, Doug Clay invited all the missionaries present to fill out a recommitment card and bring it to the altar for a time of rededication. Who would have known where we would all be one year later?

Now is a great time to remember your call and recommit yourself for the journey.

Lean Into Prayer in the Spirit

In my personal Bible reading, I’ve been hanging out in Jeremiah and Lamentations, tuning in to those moments of biblical grieving and lamenting when circumstances — yes, related to ministry — took Jeremiah to dark places.

We have an advantage over Jeremiah, living on this side of Pentecost. What is it? Prayer in the Spirit — the privilege of being able to pray in tongues using our prayer language, which enables us to speak directly to God and to experience spiritual edification (1 Corinthians 14:2,4).

The higher the uncertainty — and the less we know what to say — the greater the need to pray in the Spirit.

There has never in my lifetime been greater uncertainty than what we’re facing now, with a worldwide pandemic, racial tension, civil and political unrest, and division in the Church. There is so much we do not know about what is going on in our world today.

You can worry, fret, wring your hands, and watch reruns of the news, or you can pray in tongues.

Two decades ago, Richard Dobbins, founder of Emerge Counseling Ministries, delivered a message at the Ohio District Ministers’ Retreat that still rings in my memory, especially now. It was titled “The Mental Health Benefits of Speaking in Other Tongues.” I wrote about this topic in my book, Leveling the Praying Field. I referred to a study documenting changes in brainwave activity when people speak in tongues.

Speaking in tongues is for more than youth camp, prayer for others at altar services, a topic of discussion about initial physical evidence, or a line or two mixed into your prayers in your known language.

Praying in tongues is a privilege for you, pastor. When no one else is around, let your spirit tap into God’s Spirit and take you daily to a healthier place spiritually, mentally and emotionally.

Schedule time for it. That’s right. Set your timer, and choose to pray in the Spirit. Be intentional and disciplined, not just spontaneous.

Ask God what He is asking of you in this season, and get synced up with His fresh assignment.

Adjust How You Measure Wins

Ask God what He is asking of you in this season, and get synced up with His fresh assignment. In the two-way communication that happens between you and God, allow space for God’s feedback to you just as he spoke in Luke 3:22: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Keep in mind Jesus’ earthy ministry had not even begun at that point. There could be applause from heaven for you that you need to hear.

Maybe the victory is that you are still standing. If you’ve had COVID, the recovery time can be long and slow and different for each person. If you’ve lost loved ones, grieving can be exhausting.

Ephesians 6:13 says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

Rather than measuring wins by noses and numbers, dollars and data, this might be a season when the wins are measured by praying through the church directory, investing in your immediate family, counting the phone calls you make, or writing a blog, book, or fresh message for itineration services. Maybe it’s a good time to update the website or the policy manual or paint some rooms.

Yes, coming from the person who stewards statistics and sends the ACMR, there is wide variation in what a win might look like, especially during a pandemic.

Talk to Someone

You encourage others to talk. You are there for those who need to talk. As a minister, you too need to talk to someone, especially now.

Whether it’s a life coach, mentor, counselor, colleague or long-time friend, plan for it. Set up an appointment to meet via Zoom or FaceTime, talk on the phone, or get together safely in-person if possible.

How can that help? Through powerful questioning and active listening, you can gain fresh perspective and glean creative, innovative ideas you may not have considered. Experiences such as preaching to a camera or a half-empty sanctuary will feel more normal as you find common ground and realize you’re not in this alone.

Our common enemy, Satan, thrives when we are isolated or believe no one has ever experienced what we’re going through. First Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” Remembering this helps normalize human experiences so we can find comaradery to reach out and make it to the other side.

If you think you’re the only missionary who’s grounded or the only pastor meeting in the parking lot, it’s paralyzing. You’re not alone. Talk to someone who can help you gain perspective on the disruption and walk with you through it.

I’ve been asking this in my visits with others: “Can you remember a time you said to yourself, I just can’t do this? What brought you through that season?”

During one such conversation, my sister Brenda, who is now a retired nurse, said this: “I went to my manager’s office and cried, ‘I just can’t do this!’ She listened, empathized, validated what I was feeling, and then said, ‘Listen, you can’t feel so bad for the patient or be so scared to make a mistake that it keeps you from providing the treatment they need. You’ve been trained for this, and you can do it. Now go save some lives.’”

Those testimonies give us grit to keep moving. Are you struggling in isolation, or are you expanding your network, touching base with colleagues, reaching up to those above you, and seeking wise counsel? Talk to somebody.

Build a Testimony

I’ve had Maverick City Music’s “The Story I’ll Tell,” featuring Naomi Raine, on replay lately. The song reminds us that God is writing a story and we have the privilege of being part of a testimony that will be told when we get beyond this season.

Yes, the present moment is difficult. As Raine sings, “The hour is dark, and it’s hard to see what you’re doing, here in the ruins, and where this will lead.”

But beyond the present moment is a God at work, and so we can confidently sing: “Oh, but I know that down through the years, I’ll look on this moment, see your hand on it, and know you were here.”

May God give you such testimony-building faith throughout 2021!

This article appears in the Winter 2021 issue of Called to Serve, the Assemblies of God Ministers Letter.

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