Just keep swimming

I am in awe of people who have persisted in leadership over a long period of time.

Recently, I spent some time with some guys who have been in pastoral leadership for over 25 years. They gave great advice and wise insights, but the thing
I appreciated most was that their lessons came from their experience and perseverance. They had seen the highs and lows of leadership, times of incredible
doubt and seasons of exhilarating joy. The outcome of those conversations has been for me to ask “What helps us stay the course as leaders?”

The Bible speaks to this question in many ways:

  • If we are called by God to the role, we have no choice but to stay the course even when it’s tough. Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the
    gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me.” (1 Corinthians 9:16-17) Paul
    says this while reflecting on a season of ministry that included discouragement, opposition, and persecution. He understood that, if God has called us
    to something, we must simply be obedient and persevere, trusting God to supply at that we need (Philippians 4:19).
  • One of the fruit of the Spirit is forbearance (Galatians 5:22). There are times when we feel like giving up but that is one of the seasons in which we
    must rely on the ministry of the Holy Spirit to empower us, comfort us and steel us for action. So often we look for the Holy Spirit to minister to
    others but we need to acknowledge our need for the Holy Spirit’s ministry first, before we can minister to others.
  • Jesus constantly gives us an eternal perspective. Jesus is building His Church, not us – “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will
    build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18) Additionally, Jesus is the one who will present the Church as a bride to
    Himself (Revelation 21). So, we can relax that it is not all on us. The Kingdom of God will not collapse because of out shortcomings or failures. This
    helps us persevere for the long term because it relieves stress. There is a great release that comes when we realise we can rest in God’s provision and
    purpose. When those trials come which threaten to derail us, we can see them as reminders that we are constantly reliant on God. When the successes
    come, we can rejoice that God is faithful to His word to build the Church.
  • You’re not on your own! God rarely puts people in situations where they are completely on their own. Most people do ministry as part of a team. This is
    necessarily true of leaders – if there aren’t other people with you, you’re probably not leading anyone. Realising that we are part of a team means
    that we do this journey together. One of the key words repeated throughout the book of Acts is the word, “we.” The early disciples followed the model
    set by Jesus and did ministry and leadership as a team. No one in human history has been more capable of doing ministry as an individual more than
    Jesus and yet He chose to work in a team. If that was what Jesus chose to do, then we shouldn’t think we know better by working as “lone rangers.” The
    whole concept of “team” is powerful because we can help one another, support one another, challenge one another, encourage one another and teach one
    another. King Solomon put it this way, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one
    can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one
    keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) On
    that basis, pursue a true sense of team.
  • Pray regularly and listen to God. I firmly believe it is in the context of prayer that God most fully encourages us and speaks to us. At a time when I
    was at a low-point in leadership and feeling discouraged, it was through prayer and music that God spoke to me. As I prayed, God brought to mind the
    song, “Good, Good Father.” Through the lyrics of that song, God poured His affirmation into my life and helped me to persevere. When we are
    discouraged, we can often allow our personal devotional time to suffer but it’s in those seasons that we will become even more reliant on those
    personal times with God. Also, on a personal note, I would suggest you find what particularly works for you – what is the medium/forum through which
    God particularly speaks to you. For some, it is during exercise or going for a walk. For others, it is through the ministry of other people. For me, it
    seems that God speaks to me most powerfully and personally through Christian music. Find what particularly works for you.
  • Wisely set your own expectations, priorities and calendar. One of the most significant reasons for burnout is because we don’t manage ourselves well.
    We over-work or have excessive expectations. No one can manage us other than us. The further we go on in leadership, the better we will have to become
    in managing ourselves. Manage wisely for the long game – more will be achieved by 30 years of faithful ministry than 3 years of excessive ministry.

One of my kids’ favourite movies when they were young was “Finding Nemo,” in which Dory famously gives the advice “just keep swimming.” If you’re
struggling, don’t put the expectation on yourself to be “powering forward” and don’t give up! You may just need to “keep swimming.” God will bring you
through this season and honour your faithfulness. God doesn’t lie and He promises to honour those who honour Him (1 Samuel 2:30). Don’t fall for the
temptation to stop and give in.

If you’re in a good season, then enjoy it and praise God for it! Write a journal of the blessings you’re seeing now so that, when the tough season comes,
you have a record of those blessings to encourage you.

Paul writes, “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope
does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Keep going! Perseverance is a virtue that Jesus is building into you now!

My prayer is that we have see a generation of leaders being raised up who will lead for God for a long time of fruitful, multiplying ministry for Jesus.

“Everyone really does win when a leader gets better.” (Bill Hybels)

God said to the Israelites, “Then I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jeremiah 3:15)

Lord, help us to persevere for you. In the powerful Name of Jesus. Amen