A note from Kelly King: None of us are immune from suffering. And I would take a good guess that we don’t want to endure suffering. Yet, Scripture tells us that we can expect it. So, if we can expect suffering, how do we respond? How can we lead through suffering? LifeWay trainer Lesley Hildreth answers that question in today’s article. Hear Lesley speak at the upcoming West Coast Women’s Leadership Forum February 20-21, 2020. For more information, click here.
In June of 2019, I almost lost my husband of twenty-seven years to a stroke. After returning home from the Southern Baptist Convention on June 13, he woke up around 11 p.m. with the worst headache he had ever experienced. He had never had a migraine, so he assumed that is what was happening, and he treated it as such for two days. On the afternoon of the second day, he had some problems with his vision, and we decided to seek professional treatment. After a series of tests, the doctors told us he was suffering from a hemorrhagic stroke and would need to be admitted to the ICU to monitor the bleed in his brain, his blood pressure, pain, and any other symptoms that might occur. We later learned that most who experience this medical crisis die or suffer serious debilitation.
By God’s grace Scott has made a full recovery and suffers no residual effects from this experience. However, during this time I was reminded of the difficulty and importance of learning to lead out of a place of suffering. With God’s help, I was able to endure during this season and still uphold the hope of Christ and to count suffering a blessing.
As a ministry leader, you may not be currently experiencing suffering, but you can be sure there are women in your sphere of influence and ministry who are. It is my hope and prayer that the lessons I learned can be helpful to you as you lead, either during times of personal suffering or as you minister alongside those who suffer.
Ways to Embrace (Not Just Survive) While Leading Through Suffering
Cling to the reality that you are a child of God.
There is no greater love than that of a father, and God is also our Creator. No one loves you more than God, and we can trust Him with our lives because He knows and wants not only what is good, but what is best for us. Reflect on the words of John in his first letter: “See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children — and we are!” (1 John 3:1).
Confess your need to God and to others.
Suffering brings us to our knees and to the realization that we are truly desperate without God. He is our only hope, and we need to confess this openly to Him and others.
God can also use others to meet our needs. He designed us to live in community with other believers, not to live in isolation. We need to humble ourselves and let others help us during our time of suffering. I know that as a leader this can be especially difficult, but it is not only beneficial to you but to those who are serving and meeting your needs. This is the purpose of the body of Christ. See 1 Corinthians 12.
Learn from God.
In seasons of suffering, we must fight to lean into God and His Word. Learn to love God for who He is and not just for what He can do for you. Make sure that you are spending time in God’s Word and in prayer each day. Allow the Word of God to instruct you on how to think about suffering and how to suffer well. God’s Word strengthens our faith, gives us hope, helps us to know how to pray, and is the source of lasting joy. Paul told Timothy that the Scriptures complete and equip us “for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17).
Move toward, not away from suffering.
It can be very tempting to hide, bury, or simply not deal with our suffering. As you move toward your suffering, lean into God. He is working and is using your suffering in ways you cannot see but will one day understand, even if it’s not this side of heaven. Reflect on the promises of Psalm 23: “When I go through the darkest valley … you are with me.”
God will redeem and use your suffering. Suffering is a means that God uses to make us more holy. The leaders God has chosen are often more broken than strong. Your current weakness is an advantage. God wants to use people who are weak in order to show that He is strong. When others commented on the strength that I possessed, I either gave glory to God or they themselves knew firsthand that He was the source of my strength. Remember, God’s purpose in suffering is always for His glory and our good. See Romans 8:28.
This is not the “suck it up and pull up your bootstraps” kind of keep going. This is just a simple reminder that suffering doesn’t disqualify you from your leadership position. Your leadership may look different in a time of suffering, but it is ok to allow those you lead to see the work that God is doing in and through you during this season. Be vulnerable with those you lead and be willing to delegate some tasks or slow down with the approval of your supervisor.
Fight for joy.
Even when our circumstances are painful and unclear, we can choose to worship God. Praise Him even in the midst of your suffering. Remember that all of our trials and suffering on earth are outweighed by the greater joy and eternal glory (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
David Powlison says, “When you’ve passed through your own fiery trials, and found God to be true to what He says, you have real help to offer. You have firsthand experience of both His sustaining grace and His purposeful design.” As ministry leaders, God has given us the privilege of encouraging and walking alongside others who are suffering. My prayer is that you will choose to be an instrument of Jesus’s love and grace as you encourage others to press on and hold fast to the hope that we have in Christ Jesus.
Lesley Hildreth is the Women’s Discipleship Director for The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina. She is responsible for the discipleship of over 6,000 women spread over ten campuses and spends the majority of her time developing and equipping leaders who share the task of making disciples. Before this role, Lesley was the Assistant Director of Women’s Life at Southeastern Seminary where she received her MA in Christian Studies. She also served eight years with her family with the International Mission Board in Western Europe and Central Asia. She has a passion to see all women participating in God’s mission, using their gifts to serve the church, further His kingdom, and bring God glory. She is married and has two adult children and one grandson.