Moving Forward Even When It Hurts

“Leading Christians is a tough job,” admits Jeff Iorg, author and president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. “But it just doesn’t seem that it should be so difficult. The most popular biblical image for Christian leadership is a shepherd with his sheep. Yet any experienced Christian leader will tell you this contented scene is only found in the Christmas pageant – and then, only if you’re lucky.” 

Why are leadership situations so challenging? Why is leading Christians so painful? “On the negative side, we are a sinful people leading sinful people,” says Iorg. “On the positive side, doing our job well can also produce painful circumstances: churches grow, ministries expand and people change.” 

In his thirty years in Christian leadership positions, Iorg has learned first-hand how painful leadership can be. “My soul is scarred from wounds received – some self-inflicted – while trying to lead change in churches and ministry organizations,” he admits. “My understanding of leading change as a young leader can be summarized by three strategies: teach the Bible (shaded to support the change I wanted), lecture people (on how and when I wanted the change done), and steamroll the opposition (since resistance is evidence of rebellion or failure to submit to authority). I learned the hard way why my early attempts at leading significant change weren’t very successful.” 

Iorg writes candidly of his experiences and the knowledge he has gained from his previous mistakes in a newly published book, “The Painful Side of Leadership.” Iorg explains how he wrote this book in response to many conversations he had with other leaders who were struggling with difficulties. “Over the years I began to hear a common set of problems,” he explained. “Rather than trying to resolve every situation, I think of this as a guidebook, which will encourage leaders to feel empowered in situations, to be a participant in each situation, not to be a victim.” 

Iorg confesses that “the growth process has been painful for me, made more so by having to admit character flaws and leadership deficiencies revealed by my actions.” He encourages leaders to “minimize your pain in leading change and go to school on my experiences.” 

God has used Iorg’s struggles and disappointments to comfort others. “One of our most disappointing life experiences was going through two miscarriages,” he shared. “My wife and I struggled through dark nights, discouraged, with many unanswered questions.” A few years later they met a couple who badly wanted a baby. He recalled how elated the couple was after a long wait and many setbacks, to find out she was pregnant. “Imagine their disappointment a few weeks later when the wife had a miscarriage,” Iorg said. “They turned to us for help and we were able to say ‘We’ve been there,’ and help them through their loss. God used us to help this couple, to comfort them and then support them, because we shared a common painful experience.” 

Many painful experiences are distinctive to those which leaders face, such as transitions, isolation, criticism, conflict, being in the spotlight – and Iorg explains strategies for how to respond to these issues and more. “It’s about dealing with reality,” he says matter-of-factly. “From Bible times to the twenty-first century, followers exhibit sinful behavior, leaders are tested, courage is needed and leaders must move forward, even when it hurts.” 

“While leadership is often painful, God has given you a great gift – hope,” Iorg concludes. “The first pathway to hope is changing your perspective on your struggles; the second pathway to hope is the Bible.” Iorg continues that a third pathway to hope “is the filling of the Holy Spirit and a final pathway to hope is changing your perspective on the difficult followers who are causing you so much pain.” 

His final exhortation is one of encouragement, “Lead on, full of hope, even when you find yourself on the painful side of Christian leadership.” 

To view a video summary

To purchase this book