In the face of adversity, alternatives to resilience do exist. One may surrender to adversity, seek to avoid it, or attempt to crush it. Let’s consider each of these alternatives in turn.
Surrendering to adversity is a sadly common response. It represents a naïve belief that, since suffering is an intrinsic element of faithful ministry in Jesus’ name (which is true, by the way), this means that all Christ’s servants will, in this life at least, be crushed, in some way ‘crucified’ as he was (which, I contend, is not true). Christ does not call us into his service with the intention that we should be ground into the dust. As Paul says in 2 Cor 4:8-9 we may expect to be “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” For those who surrender to adversity, resilience is seen as an unrealistic goal.
Seeking to avoid adversity is an understandable response from some who have observed other Christian leaders being demoralised and damaged by their ministry. They say, “That is not going to happen to me.” This mindset places inordinate emphasis on having rigid boundaries to protect one’s self and family. Such leaders will invest time and effort into ministry, but only up to the point where things become painful or distressing. This leads to a timid approach to leadership, a self-protective ‘safe mode’ which, at its worst, finds the leader saying ‘no’ to the Lord, refusing to pay the price of leadership in the moments of greatest demand and winding up with a crisis of integrity. For those who seek to avoid adversity, resilience is not necessary because they believe depletion can be dodged.
Attempting to crush adversity is the aggressive approach, using either raw power or wily manipulation – or both – to batter down any force that comes against the leader. There are both typical male and typical female versions of this posture. I have mentored leaders in difficult circumstances who have been told by others that they simply need to toughen up and push back at what is assailing them. However, by hiding all weakness, turning every kind of adversity into a contest and attempting to win every battle through ferocious domination, a leader can come to represent a kind of leadership that is far from the model Jesus adopted. For those who seek to crush adversity, resilience is for losers and they plan to win.
Becoming resilient is a far better option in the face of adversity than becoming crushed, timid or aggressive. It is a way that accepts adversity as part of the story, but not the whole and not the part that characterises one’s life. It is a way that is hopeful and courageous and can afford to take risks and pay the cost of leadership because of confidence in the Lord’s power to restore us. It is a way that is ‘gentle and humble in heart’ as Jesus was, and approaches leadership as an exercise in grace and truth rather than one of power and domination.