How You Can Grow Through Pain in Leadership

Pain is more than an unwelcome intruder. You can use it to grow.

No one experiences the success of leadership without also knowing pain.

It’s up to each individual leader if they will press through the pain and grow or quit leading.

The principle is that strong.

Too many of my friends and colleagues have quit leading. They may still have a position in the church, but after enough pain for too many years, they pull back to a safe zone and maintain.

The trouble with retreat is that it brings its own pain.

“You’ll grow only to the threshold of your pain,” is the central theme of Samuel R. Chand’s book, Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth.

Chand has served as a pastor, is the former president of Beulah Heights Bible College, the author of 15 books, a change strategist and a leadership consultant.

Chand is a good friend, and my article today gives you an overview of just a little of his wisdom and insights on this little talked about but so important topic of leadership pain.

There are many different examples and kinds of pain leaders experience. Jesus can help you walk through the pain, but growing from it is key.


1. The Pain of Being Misunderstood

You can do everything right and be completely misunderstood.

You can pray fervently to make the right decision, or work hard to communicate the plan in just the right way, and still be misunderstood.

2. The Pain of People Leaving Your Church

The people you help the most are often the first to complain and leave.

It’s difficult not to take this personally. We know the kingdom of God is bigger than any one of our churches, but when you’re honest, this can still bring pain.

And different than in most businesses, those who attend your church are not customers. They are part of the church family, so it’s different when someone leaves.

3. The Pain of Deep Disappointment

Your ministry isn’t turning out like you thought or hoped.

This may be the most common leadership pain of all. Disappointment is a chief enemy to spiritual leaders.

Big dreams and bold vision are a healthy part of any leader’s life.

No one ever heard a conference speaker, blog writer or author say, “Dream small and keep your vision manageable.”

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The truth is, however, that God never promised everything would work just as you dreamed and planned. But he has called you to be obedient and faithful anyway.

Growing and leading though that pain is not easy, but essential. Don’t let the Enemy win.

4. The Pain of a Staff Member Leaving and Taking Others With Them

You chose them, hired them, paid them, encouraged them, loved them, trained them, and they leave without honor.

This point here is not meant to include the many normal and healthy staff transitions. That’s part of life. This pain comes from staff transitions that become difficult and sometimes even hurtful.

5. The Pain of Carrying Others’ Pain

You can only carry so much yourself; you need someone who can walk the leadership journey with you.

As a spiritual leader, you climb deep into the hurts, pain and suffering of many.

Just last night at 12Stone Church, we experienced a powerful evening of worship and prayer. As people formed long lines to be prayed over, I was privileged to be one who prayed for many that night.

Person after person, with hurts and pains, some so heartbreaking you could feel the weight they carry.

It’s a blessing to pray for others, but if you do that alone for long the weight can be overwhelming.

“Can you handle it when you’ve been there for everyone else, and there is no one there for you?” – Sam Chand

Pain isn’t a popular topic, but we are wise to embrace its reality. It’s part of life and leadership.

“If we see pain as only an unwelcome intruder, we’ll fail to ask the right questions, and our heartache will be wasted. Comfort is overrated. It doesn’t lead to happiness. It makes us lazy—and forgetful. It often leads to self-absorption, boredom and discontent. Discomfort can be a catalyst for growth. It makes us yearn for something more. It forces us to change, stretch and adapt.” – Sam Chand


1. See Pain As Your Greatest Teacher.

“Don’t avoid pain. Don’t minimize it. And don’t numb yourself to it. Pain never just goes away. When it’s not resolved, it sinks deep into our minds, creates anxiety in our hearts, causes resentment and creates tension in our relationships.” – Sam Chand

Instead, ask God what He has in mind and how you can learn and grow through it. It’s not that we should actually seek pain, and I’m certainly not suggesting that any leader should be happy about it, but it can be used for good.

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When you connect that with the fact that you simply cannot outrun pain, it serves you well to learn from it.

2. Let Your Vision Drive You.

“Keep the vision fresh and strong. Don’t let your mind be consumed by your immediate pain and obvious limitations. When you interpret your pain as bigger—more important, more threatening, more comprehensive—than your vision, you’ll redefine your vision down to the threshold of your pain.” – Sam Chand

Wow. That is so good.

When I think about all the obstacles, setbacks and limitations we all face as leaders, it would be easy to dumb down the vision just under the level of pain.

The best athletes press through. The best scientists keep testing. The best academics press on and keep going. As leaders, we need to do the same.

3. Have a Rigorous Personal Development Plan.

If you have a plan to grow, you’ll incorporate the difficulties, challenges and trials life brings your way to a stronger, more capable and more resilient leadership self.

What is your growth plan?

Do you have a mentor or coach? If that is not possible for you right now, take advantage of books and podcasts.

A good book, for example, is like sitting down with the author who invested hundreds of hours over a couple of years or more with laser focus into the subject material of the book.

Anyone can take advantage of that opportunity.

Great interview style podcasts are literally like sitting with those who have experienced a slice of life and leadership that you haven’t. Listen and learn.

Speaking of sitting down with a great mentor …

I highly recommend Dr. Chand’s book Leadership Pain: The Classroom For Growth to you. And remember, “You’ll grow only to the threshold of your pain.”

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This article originally appeared on and is reposted here by permission.