I’m blown away by Paul’s honesty in 2 Corinthians.
People in Corinth expected leaders to look successful. They didn’t have a category for someone like Paul. Weakness wasn’t in their leadership vocabulary.
Paul refused to play that game. Just as Jesus taught his disciples about a Messiah who suffers, Paul teaches the Corinthians (and us) about Christian leaders who struggle. He lists his sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). He boasts not in his strengths but his weaknesses (2 Corinthians 11:30). He sees his sufferings as both a messenger from Satan and a means of experiencing God’s power (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Which Christian leader has ever been as honest as Paul? “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” Paul sees God’s hand in all of this: “But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
Rethinking Leadership Models
I’m convinced our most common leadership model within the North American church resembles that of the Corinthians. We long for the so-called super-apostles. We want the gifted, the successful, the articulate, the men and women who get things done. Our leaders are allowed to suffer, but only in the past tense. We want winners, people who’ve beat the odds.
I do too.
Seven years ago our family entered a period of intense suffering. Like Paul, I could say that “we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” I have no doubt that this suffering was a messenger of Satan. Yet I have no doubt that God used this suffering in our lives for our good at the same time. It’s not only shaped my life, but I believe it’s made me a better leader.
You can tell a leader who’s suffered. Some of the best leaders I know are ones who walk with a limp. They’ve entered the crucible. Some still live there. It’s not an impediment to what God wants to do; sometimes it’s the means by which God does his best work.
Camp in 2 Corinthians
I beg you: camp in 2 Corinthians. If you’re a pastor, teach it to your people. Preach a message not of pain avoidance and prosperity but suffering, difficulty, and human inadequacy.
More importantly, model it. Aim to learn what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10: “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.” See suffering and weakness as the normal Christian life.
And then beg God to give your life a tincture that only comes to those who’ve learned to suffer well. You will become more patient, more gracious, humble, patient, and kind. People will sense that there’s something different about you even if they can’t put their finger on what it is.
It’s time to rewrite our leadership playbook. It’s time for leaders who’ve learned the power of weakness.