This is part 4 of 6 in our Spiritual Formation for Pastors series.

God develops his people through hardships, as we respond rightly to the afflictions he allows in our lives. Pastors are not exempt from the purifying work God does in this way.

Both Life and Ministry Involve Hardships

The Bible is clear that God grows his people through hardships. He uses suffering to develop character qualities in our lives, including endurance and humility. Through trials, God teaches us to depend on him alone.

Romans 5:3-5 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God love us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with love.

Even hardships need not call into question God’s love for us, but demonstrate his concern for our growth.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 To keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Hardships allow us to experience God’s power, which is so much greater than ours.

There are hardships that everyone faces in life. Anyone might be subject to illness, financial setbacks, family conflict, and many other tribulations. But there are also some hardships that are unique to ministry. Pastors will receive criticism and face emotional burdens that other believers will rarely, if ever, endure.

Hardships Help Us Take a Closer Look at Ourselves

If we respond rightly, trials will help us focus on who we are becoming versus what we have accomplished. God uses trials to show us what is going on in our soul. We are forced to ask why we responded to a situation the way we did, and what our response reveals about our spiritual formation.

Hardships Help Us Take a Closer Look at God

If we respond rightly – with a teachable, humble attitude – affliction takes us to a deeper understanding of God’s grace. We find, as Paul did, that God’s grace is sufficient. We discover his empowerment in new ways. But we need to slow down to reflect on our experiences. We need to take time to pray about and ponder what we’re going through.

Develop Confidantes to Grow Through Hardship

Hardships are only useful if we have a support system of others who can sustain us and help us think through what God is doing in our lives. We need people with whom we can be vulnerable. We need confidantes, not just allies.

  • Allies share many values and aims with us, but they cannot always be loyal. They may have competing values at times, such as when a friend is also a board member who will evaluate your job performance.
  • Confidantes have few, if any, conflicting loyalties. They are most likely not part of the same institution as you. Pastors are always evaluating: is this person an ally or a confidante? Should this ally also be a confidante?

When you face hardships, don’t give up. Remember that God is using them to get your attention and do an important work in your life to develop traits that may not happen when times are easy. Make sure you consider who your confidantes will be during such times.

Adapted from Resilient Ministry by Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman and Donald C. Guthrie. ©2013 by Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman and Donald C. Guthrie. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
  2. What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
  3. What are some hardships that are simply part of life for everyone? What are some hardships that are unique to ministry?
  4. How has God used hardships to develop you spiritually?
  5. What are you continuing to learn about yourself and/or God from hardships?
  6. Consider a recent experience of failure. What did you do to cope with it? How did it deepen your walk with Christ?
  7. Who provides you with emotional support and a mature perspective when facing hardships? Explain.
  8. Name some people who might be allies but not confidantes. Identify some people who could be confidantes if you approached them.
  9. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

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