Spiritual Resilience: A key foundation for effective field leaders

Field leaders, like all of us in ministry, have their ups and downs in their intimacy with Christ and their sense of God’s pleasure.  Even Paul felt the result of ministry pressure in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and Athens as he began his time in Corinth in Acts 18.

The downs can come from personal/family tragedy or illness.  They can come from a feeling of personal failure, or tension/conflict among missionaries under their oversight.  They can come from chronic socio/political turmoil.  They can even come from organizational changes and perspectives.  Or they can come from the growing fatigue of doing spiritual battle.  They can also come from a sense of not using one’s God-given gifts.

One thing is certain: the field leader job is a “pressure cooker” role.  Over 70% of the team leaders in the IMPACT Study filled their roles on a part time basis, which suggests that they also had the demands of a hands-on ministry role to fulfill.  We know that 34% of the 277 field leaders struggled with balance among work, personal and family responsibilities.  Furthermore, 25% found it increasingly difficult to have the “capacity for sustained joy”.  A sense of not using their God-given gifts was felt by 22%.  (See more research details in the “Research Reports” section.)

So the question is, “How do you regain a sense of spiritual intimacy with Christ?  How do you regain a sense of being where God wants you to be?

The issue with “spiritual resilience” is the ability to bounce back from a tough day, week, month or even longer.  Spiritual low times are inevitable for every field leader.  The question is, “How do you regain your spiritual footing?”   

Request:  We want actual field leaders (past or present) to respond with some ideas or practices you have found useful.  Please be very descriptive and cut the “Christianese” from your responses.  We don’t expect nice, easy answers.  We don’t expect “victorious living, living happily after” answers.   We merely want honest ones.  We want practical answers that help you with your unique DNA.

Please write your responses in the “Comment” section below or write me at ken@gmi.org.

We know one’s spiritual health is vital to the field leader role.  Help us explore this together.  Thank you for joining the discussion of this vital area.

2 thoughts on “Spiritual Resilience: A key foundation for effective field leaders

  1. I have taken many long walks in my years as field leader. Talking to God (complaining, arguing, questioning) while walking has helped me to process the pressures and stresses of leadership, and put them in perspective. But at times, I would return home just as troubled as when I had left. Over time, I realized that many of my prayers, thoughts and complaints were not at all congruent with my professed faith, so I started rebuking or challenging my own thought processes with what Scripture says.

    Having a coach was also very helpful in dealing with the stress of leadership. Coaching was a resource that I discovered far too late in my years as a field leader. The coach provided a safe venue for me to discuss my frustrations, but he also did not let me adopt a victim mentality. He kept pressing me to see what I could do to address those frustrations rather than just endlessly mulling them over in my mind, and feeling sorry for myself.

  2. Two years ago, we found ourselves in the midst of a transition from active field leadership cross-culturally with all the attendant excitement and drawing on our gifting, use of multiple languages learned, mission-focused responsibility, etc., to a re-entry sabbatical time dominated by family responsibility for elder care while struggling with grief over the unanticipated multiple losses of our overseas role, lifestyle, home, friendships… I could go on and on! (In fact, the listing of our losses in itself proved to be a major turning point in our transition.)

    Despite the emotional turmoil we found ourselves in, the anchor for our souls during that period proved to be a profound sense deep within us that Father’s love was unwavering, and not the least bit dependent on where we were nor on what we were doing, nor especially on how we were doing! Reviewing our journals from those months, I am struck with how Father kept our hearts firmly in His loving grip, and cognizant of the reality that His grip on us was intensely loving, to the extent that we never doubted His goodness or love for us. He had so won our hearts to the reality of His love for us in Jesus, that there no longer existed within us a capacity to believe that we were somehow being punished for some lack or failure or sin, and had thus been removed from our place and position overseas. Had this transition taken place four years earlier, I do not believe we would have been at a point to where we could rest so securely in Him and in our identity in Him.

    The difference was due to a period we had passed through in which I actively sought and received emotional healing for some of the wounding and associated lies that had led to the drivenness and performance orientation that had dominated my life for most of my first 50 years. That process took place during an earlier sabbatical time in which we left the field, but did not return home to the U.S. Instead, we found a location in a “neutral third country”, where we could focus fully on rest, prayer, reading, as well as periodic reviews with a mentor/advisor couple whom we could access through a two-hour drive or train trip, along with phone calls. The inner healing I underwent during that brief (2 1/2 month) earlier sabbatical, accompanied by a refocusing of my priorities from tasks to relationships, produced a wonderful effect in my life and work that was noted and commented on by co-workers, friends and my leadership. The true fruit of it was demonstrated when we passed through the fires of our transition back, and despite the pain we were experiencing, despite the trauma and stress in which we found ourselves immersed, we were able to rest, living in Father’s love.

    I’m afraid words are inadequate to better express this experience and the spiritual reality that underlies it. I am, however, grateful for the perspective that the passage of time gives, and the clarity that reflection on these last several years has brought, such that I could at least attempt to share it here with you.

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