Leading Through Challenging Times


When I was sixteen years old, I walked into my room one day to find a little pamphlet on my bed. It was called “The Lonely Whine of the Top Dog” by Charles Swindoll. My mom had left it for me with a note inside. She could see the pressures I was facing as a leader in my youth group, the president of my class at school, and the manager of the basketball team. She wanted me to know that I wasn’t alone, that she loved me, and that God had called me to leadership—and it wouldn’t always be rosy.

The timing was right. That year one of my favorite teachers was killed in a car accident. Her death left a gaping hole in leadership at our church, and I was asked to step in and fill it. I didn’t want to lead; I wanted to curl up in a ball in the corner and cry.

There is a common misconception that leadership is glamorous. Leaders get to be in the spotlight; they are on a pedestal in people’s eyes; they make decisions for hundreds or thousands of people.

But anyone who has led for very long knows that is a crock. The sparkle fades quickly, and the shimmer is just a mirage. Leadership is difficult. And it is lonely.

Just a few years ago, a short season in leadership for me included:

  • cutting the budget six times as income and attendance dropped more than 20 percent;

  • laying off eight people who had families depending on their incomes;

  • saying goodbye to a dear friend who could no longer lead, and watching him storm out of my office (I haven’t seen him since);

  • getting out of sync relationally with my boss;

  • discovering a close associate was making unethical choices and having to dismiss him from staff;

  • designing a building that we ultimately couldn’t afford.

  • finding out someone trusted was being careless with the church’s money; and

  • firing architects and designers who were good friends but couldn’t control the budget.

Reading that list, it sounds like my job sucked, right? But it didn’t. I loved what I was privileged to lead, but with any leadership role there are challenges.

And it is leading in tough times that creates the greatest leaders.

Case in point. Tell me what you know about Chester Arthur. Probably very few of you would even recall that he was the president of the United States from 1881 to 1885. He presided over the country in a fairly stable time in our history. Not much happened during those years. And so he is not memorable.

Many of history’s leaders whom you do know are famous because they led through some of the most difficult times imaginable: Abraham Lincoln led our country through the Civil War; Winston Churchill led Europe out of World War II; Ronald Reagan brought an end to the Cold War; and George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani stand out for their leadership after 9/11.

John Maxwell said that during tough times, “Leaders stretch to the challenge, while followers shrink from the challenge.”

If you are leading, you don’t have a choice: you will face tough times. The question is whether you will be equipped to lead with strength. My goal, through this blog and other writings, is to help provide you with practical tools to face today's reality and the trouble ahead.

Tim Stevens3 Comments