Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: “Fellow Jews and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you and pay attention to my words. Acts 2:14
So there was Peter at Pentecost—standing boldly before a large crowd of Jews telling them that they had killed the Messiah. What a difference 40 days had made. Or to be correct, what a difference the Holy Spirit makes! Was this the same Peter who denied Jesus three times during His arrest and trials? Afraid of a little girl’s accusations? Yet now He stood in the very city where the crowds had shouted, “Crucify Him!” and proclaimed that very Him—Jesus—to the people. No, this wasn’t the same Peter, because this was Peter empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Let’s not sugarcoat this though. Peter preached boldly under the very real possibility that he might be arrested and condemned to die. Remember that the leaders had just done that to Jesus shortly before this, so why would we think they would spare Peter from a similar fate? And yet Peter was undeterred by the adversity he faced. Now that’s leadership!
We’ve addressed opposition and failures before this, but adversity is a little different from those ideas. Adversity can certainly include opposition and failures, but it isn’t limited to them. In ministry we will experience adversity in different forms—shrinking budgets, losing leaders, even rain during an event. So what can we do when we experience adversity in our ministries? Here are five tips for when that happens:
- Expect adversity. Especially if you are taking risks, as you should be as a leader. Adversity is going to happen, so brace yourself for it and plan for it as much as you can. For instance, you know that you will have leadership turnover—people will move, they will step down, they will leave your church. Planning for that adversity might mean always developing new leaders and a leadership pipeline to move new people into open slots on your team. Plan for adversity as much as you can and don’t allow it to frazzle you.
- Never ever give up. Peter is a fantastic encouragement to us in this regard. As much as he messed up in the Gospels, he never gave up. He persevered. He handled adversity and kept plugging away. And that’s what you need to do as well. Don’t let adversity stop you from doing that which God has called you to do.
- Get back up right away. This is connected to the last point but it is so critical it deserves its own point. Learn from this lesson we tell our kids when they are learning how to ride their bikes—when you fall, get right back up! Staying down opens a door to wallowing, self-pity, and despair. None of those are good for you, your leadership, or your ministry. You just learned your budget will be cut in half? Call your team together, grab your calculators, and figure out how you will make it work.
- Read biographies. This is a good leadership tip in general, but it is especially helpful when it comes to handling adversity. Two reasons. First, reading about other people reminds you that adversity is not unique to you. We all experience it. Second, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Seeing how others handled adversity can give you ideas for how you can do the same.
- Focus on what God has given you, not what you think He has withheld from you. I had to learn this lesson early in ministry when I found myself taking attendance by who was not there rather than who was there. I would find myself grumbling that more people weren’t at events, all the while missing the kids who were there! You plan an event and expect 100 to show but only 10 do? Don’t focus on the 90 in that moment—you can’t do anything for them right then anyway. But you can make a world of difference in the lives of the 10 who came. Focus on the gift God has given you.
Next time — Nehemiah: How do leaders think?
Brian Dembowczyk is the managing editor for The Gospel Project. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to Lifeway. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.