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Leading Under Pressure (Part 4)

This is the last in a series of posts entitled “Leading Under Pressure;” read part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here. To recap the previous posts:

  1. Pressure is an inescapable reality of pastoral ministry.  (Part 1)
  2. There are only two ways of resolving ministry pressure: Decrease responsibility or increase resilience. (Part 1)
  3. Learn to differentiate between pressure and stress. (Part 2)
  4. Learn to separate pressure from stress in your leadership. (Part 2)
  5. Grow in resilience by overcoming self inflicted stress. (Part 3)

The last three posts, while valuable, really serve to introduce the most important part of this material: what I refer to as ‘anchors.’

Anchors are deeply-held beliefs that a leader can hold onto as pressure rises. When leaders are anchored, they can be at peace in the midst of great pressure.  The strength of your belief is what gives the anchor its weight, what holds you in place when pressure causes everything to swirl.  When leaders lack large enough anchors, they begin to swirl with the pressure; their minds race from one thing to the next, they struggle to make decisions, they feel helpless, fear creeps in. They swirl internally (STRESS) when pressure causes things to swirl externally.

Here is an example illustrating the importance of anchors:

Most people believe God is good. But when something tragic happens, we see who is truly anchored to that belief. Those who are anchored process the tragedy THROUGH God’s goodness; His goodness becomes a source of comfort amidst the crisis. For them, the tragedy doesn’t change God’s goodness or call it into question.

Those who are not truly anchored to God’s goodness handle the tragedy very differently. They reprocess their anchor, beginning to wonder if maybe God is not so good. Instead of God’s character becoming a source of comfort, it becomes a source of further confusion and pain.

Here is the a huge difference between underdeveloped leaders and resilient leaders: during a season of high pressure, resilient leaders process the pressure through their anchors, which gives them perspective, stability and peace. The anchors hold them. Underdeveloped leaders, on the other hand have to reprocess their anchors during seasons of high pressure, which causes all kinds of confusion and stress. As a pastor, your anchors need to be strong enough to hold during seasons of failure, success, conflict, monotony, pain (both endured and inflicted) and sin (both other people’s and your own). All of these things can cause pressure to rise and begin swirling. But be encouraged! I believe God gives every leader unique anchors. Let’s look at the Apostle Paul as an example, and examine what he held onto during the pressure of his ministry. You can see it most clearly in 2 Corinthians 1-7 (which I’ve been referencing throughout this series).

The Anchor of Calling

2 Corinthians 1:1 — Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God

Paul deeply believed he was on assignment from God. He wasn’t merely doing what he thought was right; he was called.  When pressure mounted, he could fall back on his calling — he was right where he was supposed to be, doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing. How weighty is this “anchor of calling” in your soul? When you experience a season of failure or frustration or some other kind of intense pressure, are you able to extract  peace from your calling? Or when you experience failure, do you have to reprocess your calling? 

The Anchor of Hope

2 Corinthians 1:8–11 — We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

Paul was under great pressure, but he never let go of hope. He remembered that God had delivered him from great pressure in the past, and he held onto those experiences as an anchor of hope.  What about you? How has God already delivered you from tight situations? If nothing else, God has delivered you in the most important way: saving you from death caused by sin! Do you hold onto this truth and allow it to anchor you in your current pressure? I find it curious how quickly we forget God’s past deliverance in our present pressure.

The Anchor of Service

2 Corinthians 4:5 — For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.

Paul existed to serve people for the sake of Jesus, which I truly believe anchored him in seasons of failure and success. If our goal is to serve people in Jesus’ name, then we always have a clear path forward. When we lose sight of this goal, we begin comparing our ministry to others’, evaluating ourselves based on the wrong criteria, and making self-serving ministry/career decisions. I believe Paul did not have an internal need to be recognized, elevated, promoted, appreciated, respected or celebrated. What about you?

The Anchor of Gospel

2 Corinthians 5:16–17 — So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Paul understood the gospel as the life-changing power of God, and he believed it to be effective, universal and personal. He knew he could trust the gospel to work. He relied on it. The gospel was his ministry philosophy, strategy and goal. Paul knew he was just a conduit, not the source, of life change. He didn’t have to invent anything or even be especially creative. Too often pastors feel pressure to say just the right words, have the next amazing creative idea, make the right leadership move to see people’s lives changed. While these are all important aspects of ministry,  Paul didn’t lean on them to produce life change. Paul leaned on the gospel. He delivered the gospel and let the gospel do its work. How about you?

As we close out the four part series on Leading under Pressure, I want to help you think through your application with some reflection questions. I encourage you to walk through them slowly, and allow God to deepen you as you consider them.

  1. When are you most tempted to run from pressure instead of conquer it? How has this impacted your life? How does differentiating stress from pressure help you conquer the pressure of ministry?
  2. In the third post we discussed self inflicted stress and listed distinct ways we create our own stress. Which of the distinct ways do you need to work to limit? What might you do to decrease that self inflicted stress?
  3. Consider the list of anchors Paul held onto on the above post. Which of the four anchors do you find are true for you as well? Which of the four do you need to grow in? What might you do to strengthen this anchor?
  4. What other anchors has God formed into you life?

Miles has served the local church as a pastor and leader for 20 years, and has been at 12Stone Church (Lawrenceville, GA) since 2001. He previously grew a college ministry to a 500-student gathering, and started the Residency Program at 12Stone. As Pastor of Leadership Expansion, Miles develops leadership not only in his immediate church context, but also coaches pastors and church leaders across the country.
To read more writing by Miles Welch, visit his website here: http://mileswelch.com/