21 Jul Thread #121 : The Secret Suffering Most Leaders Endure
I think you’re going to find this episode of Thread to be particularly meaningful especially if you are a leader of a family, church or organization. Today’s Thread is about the secret sufferings most leaders endure in the course of their lifetime of ministry.
I know what I’m talking about here. Actually, as I tried to get started in writing the notes for this thread my mind kept taking off down dark paths of memory where I have been insulted and attacked because of the ministry. I’ve had people target our leadership circle to try and draw them apart. I’ve had lies spread about me to try to discredit my leadership.
Now, I heard others say this when I was younger and I thought that they must just be rough on people so nobody likes them, but now I’ve lived 30 years as a leader and I can tell you that no matter how careful you are as a leader you are going to have some secret sufferings growing out of conflict. I say secret suffering because I’m assuming you are a noble leader who doesn’t escalate interpersonal conflict and draw others into it making it an open battle. I’ve seen way too much of that also. I think the great leaders keep much of their pain hidden just so that it doesn’t get to grab the attention and spotlight away from the mission you are trying to accomplish. You do what you can to minimize it, navigate around it and keep it from blazing up, but you often have little attacks happening from the side and the back as you keep your team moving forward. Don’t be surprised when this happens to you.
See, It would be very easy to look at Paul’s success at Ephesus and think he had had smooth sailing for two years because his numbers for growth were so impressive, But Paul’s letters reveal a hidden inside in story about his time as leader of the church at Ephesus.
1 Corinthians 15:32 Paul says “I fought wild beasts at Ephesus.”
2 Corinthians 1:8 says that he and his team lived “under great pressure and far beyond our ability to endure so that we despaired of life itself.”
In Romans 16:3 Paul says that Priscilla and Aquilla, who were from Ephesus, had risk their lives for him.
Here in Acts 20:19 Paul reminds the Ephesian elders that, “I served the Lord among you with many tears and trials by the plotting of the Jews.”
Whenever we are working with God we should expect to be resisted. Ministry is a wartime, not a peacetime occupation. We are invading the devil’s prison to release his captives and he will not this to happen so he will make trouble in our own mind, within our own team, and from people outside of our ministry. We have to persevere in order to achieve great victories.
Today’s story in Acts 19 is an illustration of what we’re talking about.
“A Great Commotion”
This story illustrates how much pressure Paul was under every day during his extremely successful two years in Ephesus. Looking back at chapter 19 verse 19 we see the tremendous impact the Gospel had been having on these Asian people. It says that “they brought their magic books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled 50,000 pieces of silver. So the word of God grew mightily and prevailed.”
50,000 pieces of silver is 50,000 day’s wages and if we assume that in the modern world a modest daily wage, at least in the west, would be $50 we’re talking about $25 million of occult scrolls being burned.
Paul is a change agent and he has been carefully building an army of disciples who have leadership ability and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. He has lit a fire in the hearts of the people of Asia and the blaze is beginning to spread from family to family.
Sherry and I planted a church among upper-class people who had traditionally been almost impossible to reach. But then God brought special circumstances to the Philippines in the late 80s and 90s and in the early 90s many people among the upper classes became truly open to the Gospel along with millions of other Filipinos from all classes. I had a file in my cabinet called “love notes.” This was a joke because this file held hate mail that I received from families in which someone had become born-again.
Eventually hate mail turn to a lawsuit against the brother hosting our group in a house he owned. Then I started having trouble from the other ministers nearby because our church was growing fast than they were afraid it would affect their group. One of these ministers attempted to interfere with our group directly and then tried to make trouble for me with my overseer. Some of our troubles were with people who were political. This can get scary sometimes, especially in a developing country.
In Ephesus, Paul had a set of determined enemies within the local labor union of Idol makers. They rightly saw that the Christian gospel and those who believed it would not be buying any items from them. Not only that, the evangelistic zeal of the Christians meant that they would do everything within their power to turn their family members away from slavery to superstition and the power of witchcraft. Jesus came to set the captives free and it was happening all around them. They knew that their business would be impacted if the Christian message spread further through the region.
So Demetrius the silversmith called for a meeting of the labor union in the stadium which could seat 25,000 people. Listen to his logic, verse 25: “men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. (We make a lot of money) moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods who are made with hands. So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great Goddess Diana.”
And with those words the perfect storm came together. When you mix these three things:
1. Tradition-based religion
2. Labor union mentality: “We got to stick together. It’s us against them!”
3. Throw in Mobs of ignorant people
You have no idea what might happen. All over the world Christians have faced mobs who are blind and deaf to all reason. they are not thinking or listening to exactly what the message is. In v.32 it says that most of the people in the shouting crowd didn’t even know why they were there.
Today we’re dealing with Isis in the Middle East. Christian’s face machete-wielding mobs in much of Africa. Hindu extremists in India and Buddhist extremists in Sri Lanka. God’s people are burned to death, chopped to pieces and beheaded by unthinking mobs. It’s as though someone opened a hatch into hell and 1 million demons flew out and took possession. orchestrating the activities of the crowd.
Paul sees a Wave of violence rising from this thuggish Labor union whose members have been shouting “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” for hours. He feels responsible that two of his team members, Gaius and Aristarchus, have been arrested and are standing before this mob. He wants to go in and make a speech to explain things before they kill his friends but messengers come from officials who are his friends telling him to get away from the area so he doesn’t make things worse.
Then another element pushes into the situation. Since Paul and most of his ministry team were Jewish, the local Jewish community senses danger that they may also be included in this potential outbreak of mob bloodshed because they are not idol worshippers either. They put a spokesman up named Alexander to explain that although Paul is a Jew they are not connected to him. but the crowd will not let the man speak. Finally, the mayor of the city takes control of the mob.
He sides with Paul and orders the labor union to pursue their complaints in a legal manner through the court system for which Rome was so famous. The crowd disperses and Paul realizes that he has to get out of there. He doesn’t panic. This isn’t his first conflict. he has come to understand that the gospel creates conflict if we preach it clearly and if people understand completely what it demands of them in order to join with Christ.
Seasoned leaders understand that conflict is a pregnant moment when people are given the opportunity to gain a new perspective. Truth pushes to get inside a closed mind that initially resists it. but truth is powerful and persistent–if God’s messengers will not become silent. Everyone is not listening, but some people are earnestly seeking for truth and so it enters and finds its way into their hearts and sets them free.
Paul understood that conflict based on the gospel was an essential part of his ministry as a messenger of God. For two years conflict has done a positive work. Now he has hit the limit of this city’s willingness to change and if he keeps pushing he’s just going to see an overflow of mob violence. No one is listening, at least among the group who follows the traditional religion. He needs to move on and let tensions dissipate. The disciples will continue to evangelize their friends and family members. His work is accomplished and he’s now free to move on.
So my friend do not lose heart if you are resisted when you are doing the work of the Lord. It’s all part of spiritual leadership. God will make you tough and will give you the grace to minimize conflict through humility and to quietly bear your afflictions even as you continue to show up for work do your ministry every week. Be encouraged my dear friend.