One day I was pondering why all the leaders I know with much influence all seem to have one thing in common: they have all suffered much in their lives. In fact, every one of them has a particular cross to bear, or they have gone through horrendous seasons of pain and suffering that were part of a divine process that made them and continues to mold them into the highly effective leaders they are today. (These challenges can be relational issues with their spouses, children, other leaders, etc. or they can be personal issues related to their spiritual, emotional or physical wellbeing.)
We see this illustrated in Acts 9 when God tells Ananias that Paul would have to suffer much for the name of Jesus (Acts 9:16). We can read Paul’s own testimony about himself regarding the reason for his suffering in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10:
I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
According to this passage Paul’s suffering was connected to his leadership ability and great calling, which had to be tempered through his suffering because of our human sin nature that has a propensity to boast about our own accomplishments. God has to allow pain in our lives to keep us dependent upon Him because all of us are born in sin with the fleshly tendencies to brag about our own accomplishments and trust in our own gifts, abilities and flesh instead of in His grace.
As I view my own life and the lives of others I know personally, I can see how the very things that make us successful are also connected to our sin nature, which has been the root of much sin in our lives. For example, in my own life the stubbornness, perseverance and tendency to move forward for the sake of Christ in spite of all obstacles is connected to how, in my childhood, I coped with rejection, isolation and pain through making a name for myself by excelling in street fighting, sports, music and in other areas of life—all to carve out a name and identity for myself so I would be praised, respected and celebrated by my peers. Although this developed in me qualities of perseverance in the midst of pain and suffering it was for my glory and not for God’s glory!
Thus, the development of qualities I use to this day as part of my leadership portfolio – my gifts and abilities – are directly connected to the habits/patterns I developed out of my sin nature and my desire to carve out a name for myself for the sake of self-worth and self-esteem. This shows me that God even used my sins for His glory!
In summary: the gifts and abilities I use today as a leader in the Body of Christ were originally inspired, molded and developed in the fiery furnace of self-survival in my childhood which all emanated out of a desire to make a name for myself and not for the Lord Jesus Christ! So my gifts and calling are inextricably connected to the very sin nature Jesus had to die for! This is why God has to continually allow great challenges, pain and suffering in my life as a way of tempering my tendency to depend upon myself, honor myself and trust in myself for results!
The greater the leader, the more stubborn they have to be to resist temptation, to stay focused, and to be successful—even though this same stubbornness may have originally developed and emanated out of their personal rebellion against God before they were saved! Thus, there is always a fine line between our great leadership qualities and our sinful tendencies to rebel against God and build our own kingdoms! (This also explains why great leaders often fall into scandal, especially if they allow their hectic schedules to crowd out their continual need for spiritual formation in God’s presence.)
Going back to the Apostle Paul: as he matured, he actually bragged more about his weaknesses than his accomplishments so the power of Christ could rest on him! What a far cry from some of today’s preachers who are constantly bragging about how much victory, power and accomplishments they have in their ministries! In reality, the more spiritually immature leaders are, the more they will brag about accomplishments; the more mature they are, the more they will brag about their weaknesses and glorify Christ’s grace that empowers them!
Finally, understanding these concepts should help us in two areas. First, instead of discouraging leaders this should be a great source of encouragement since many leaders suffer silently because they are embarrassed and think they are the only leaders continually dealing with painful issues, something Satan can use to cause a leader to quit out of sheer discouragement and a sense of failure. Leaders should take heart and know that they are not alone in their pain. To the extent a leader has influence, to that extent they will have to endure the process of pain so their gifts and abilities can be continually redeemed for the glory and honor of God.
Second, the key to discovering and dealing with the dominant sin issues in our lives is to honestly reflect on our talents, gifts and abilities and how we have trusted in them to manipulate others, control our environments for self-autonomy, and to carve out a name for ourselves. This is similar to how Lucifer attempted to do the same when his pride motivated him to attempt to exalt himself above the throne of God for self-autonomy and self-glorification (Isaiah 14:12-14).
Understanding this enables us to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the depths and riches of the love and grace of God, who loves us and even uses the very abilities that have been connected to our self-glorification, fleshly preservation and desires to carve out names for ourselves. This tendency must constantly be checked with challenges, obstacles and the issues of life. God surrounds power with problems so that, by the time we have power and influence, we have become so broken, humble and dependent upon God that we would not be so quick to share the glory with God for the great accomplishments that arise out of our feeble efforts! – Joseph Mattera
Joseph Mattera has been in full-time church ministry since 1980 and is currently the Presiding Bishop of Christ Covenant Coalition and Overseeing Bishop of Resurrection Church in New York. He is also serving as the United States Ambassador for the International Coalition of Apostles, and as one of the founding presiding bishops of the International Communion of Evangelical Churches.