Iorg reflects on leadership struggles

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)--Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, writes candidly about his experiences and the lessons he has learned as a leader in a new book.

Iorg said he wrote "The Painful Side of Leadership" in response to many conversations he had with other leaders who were struggling.

"Over the years I began to hear a common set of problems," he said. "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."

Leading Christians is a tough job, he said, and it doesn't seem as if it should be that way.

"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," Iorg said.

The task of shepherding God's flock is so challenging because everyone, including the leaders, is sinful, he said.

"On the positive side, doing our job well can also produce painful circumstances: churches grow, ministries expand and people change," Iorg noted.

In his 30 years in Christian leadership positions, Iorg has learned firsthand 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 said.

"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," Iorg said, "why my early attempts at leading significant change weren't very successful."

The growth process was made more challenging by having to admit the character flaws and leadership deficiencies his actions revealed, Iorg said. But he encourages leaders to learn from his experiences how God has used struggles and disappointments to comfort others.

"One of our most disappointing life experiences was going through two miscarriages," he said. "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."

Iorg said many painful experiences are somewhat unique to leaders, such as transitions, isolation, criticism, conflict and being in the spotlight.

"It's about dealing with reality," he reflected. "From Bible times to the 21st 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 noted. "The first pathway to hope is changing your perspective on your struggles; the second pathway to hope is the Bible."

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."

"Lead on, full of hope, even when you find yourself on the painful side of Christian leadership," Iorg said.


Phyllis Evans is director of communications at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. "The Painful Side of Leadership," was released by the B&H Publishing Group at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and is available at www.lifewaystores.com.

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