When You’re a Leader in Crisis (and nobody knows)

You’re in trouble and you know it. But, you’re the only one who does.

Others suspect, but it’s not something they’re addressing because you’re the one they look to for their answers. Plus, you keep telling them you’re fine.

You’re a leader, teacher, pastor, head of the ministry team, head of the family, missionary, elder, parent, doctor, first responder, communicator, personality, or worse –

You’re their rock. Their strong shoulder. Provider. Advisor. God-knower, vision-setting, prophesying role model. The dependable one. Faithful. Confident. Sure.

And your thing is transparency. You’re no hypocrite. You cut your ministry teeth on authenticity. You share your failings. Lead by example. Walk the walk.

Sure, but now you’ve taken a hard hit. You didn’t see it coming but it came. Something wormed its way over the transom of your prayers, and you are one hurting unit. Blindsided. Down for the count.

Maybe it was a death or a disappointment. An unanswered prayer or an unrepentant prodigal. A loss or a letdown. A disaster. A scandal. A rejection. An assault. A private dream deferred, or a public plan undermined.

And you’re a hurting unit. Really hurting. Like, how will you get out of bed tomorrow wounded. Like what is there to hope for in the future tested. Like you never really understood certain terms from the Psalms and spiritual literature until now – brokenhearted, downcast, dark night of the soul.

You know the answers. You teach them enough. Speak them to others in their dark nights. You’ve expounded on the answers in essays, sermons, retreat talks, keynotes, heck, some of you wrote the books on the answers.

You haven’t lost faith, but you’ve definitely sprained it (where are those soul crutches when you need them?). You read your Bible. You pray. But life has lost some luster, there’s a missing dimension, and what was once joy now feels like sleepwalking through thigh-high swamp water.

Who do you tell? Authentic transparency makes sense until this moment. Not like you can stand before a room of people waiting to hear God’s Word, His truth, His hope and moan about your inner turmoil. Who will that serve?

And suddenly, there you are, the most public person in the place, all eyes on you, but poof, you’re invisible.

King David faced this. His son, Absalom, rebelled against his own father. He plotted to steal the throne and did, for a time, dislocate David and his people from Jerusalem, where he carried on a false reign.

That is a pain of one kind. Personal betrayal, public embarrassment, trial by tongue fire. The triple threat.

When Joab led David’s army against Absalom, they prevailed, and Absalom was killed. (2 Samuel 18). Israel is victorious, your crown is secure, but a dead son trumps all recovered crown.

The death of a son when one would have preferred repentance and restoration is another level of pain altogether.

The army returns, victorious, but their leader doesn’t celebrate them, he grieves. And the people are crushed by the king’s anguish and are suddenly ashamed of their victory.

Joab scolds David. He is a leader and the people have done what they were tasked to do – reclaim the thrown and save those oppressed by the rebellious prince. Wipe your tears, David, and show your face. Rise to your role even if your heart is torn for your child who never lost sleep over your agony. And Joab’s not wrong.

So, yes, it’s not inauthentic to continue to show up for our lives and lead with words of faith and truth, even when our hearts falter within us. This is how we lead. This is how we represent. It’s when we disappear into the public persona behind closed doors that we risk our sanity and our lives.

Some crises are transient. People give us space to deal with them. They’re understanding and supportive. They bring soup.

But chronic troubles or traumas with lasting impact or long-standing disappointments that resist arrest are maddening because people want us to move on. People don’t understand. And none of us can check out of our lives for months at a time.

So, we must find a space in which to function even when the child within tugs at our shirt tails pleading with us to stay home and hide.

The path to healing and living in truth is found by learning from the lives of those who came before us and who also suffered unbearable, enduring pain:

  • Stop lying. You’re not fine. Speak the truth to God. Don’t hide from Him or from yourself, in your hours of private prayer. David poured out His heart to God without reservation and without editing the anger, sorrow, disillusionment, and pain. God consecrated those prayers for our use in worship. He rejects our sin, not our humanity. Bring your wounds into His light.
  • Take nourishment. Move yourself out of the direct line of fire long enough to catch your breath. Elijah had faith to call down fire from heaven but when it was done, he despaired of life. God sent him to nap, eat, drink, and nap again. Leaders who represent God don’t become God. We have limits. Respect them. Protect them.
  • Let your inner circle into your pain. Jesus took aside Peter, James, and John in Gethsemane and asked them to keep watch with Him as He prayed. “he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.’” Matthew 26:37b-38 ESV. Don’t have an inner circle? Find one. Now.
  • Read a biography of another leader/preacher/missionary who struggled through a great trial. Many believers before us have been pushed by life, warfare, and friendly fire to battle depression and disheartenment. They lived with open wounds and survived. Be instructed by their walk through the valley of the shadow of death so you do not fear.
  • Seek professional help. Tell your doctor, a spiritual guide, a therapist the depths of your despair. Especially if you’ve had thoughts of suicide or lost all hope that the future will hold any joy. Seek out a support group and discuss your treatment options with someone who knows what they’re talking about. You are not alone.
  • Remember that your battle with woundedness doesn’t make you a hypocrite. We cannot save ourselves. Even the greatest firefighter, skilled at rescuing others, cannot save themselves when its their mangled car flipped on its roof on the side of the road. When your soul is disoriented by the spin of events in your life, you’re not a failure if you can’t think your way to healing. Continuing to speak truth to others isn’t hypocrisy, it’s your job. The truth hasn’t changed even if your soul has a sort of passing flu.
  • Watch your self-talk. The negative self-talk leads us deeper into the darkness and opens us up for the temptation to self-soothe in sinful and destructive ways (whatever you just thought of – yeah – like that.) When you beat yourself up in your mind, listen to the words you use and ask if you would stand for anyone you love being spoken to that way. Renounce these words and ask God to help you see you as He does. Writing about our struggles in the third person can give us just enough distance to offer ourselves the compassion we give to others.
  • Keep a list, just for sanity sake, of foolish things people say to you during this time. Seriously, label a page in your journal “Useless Lines People Spoke into My Situation.” When you write them, forgive the speaker, and chuckle about the words with God, but reject any power they may have had to discourage you.
  • You will not always feel like this. You are not your wounds. You are an eternal son or daughter of the Most High God who reigns eternal and one day, you will see Him face-to-face, and step completely into your true self. Reject the whispered propaganda of the enemy. This will pass, you will remain.
  • You tell me – I’ve been struggling of late with pervasive wounds that blindsided me. What strategy for coping have I not mentioned that you know – share it in the comments or email me your hard-earned wisdom.

The battle has intensified. No one is immune to fatigue, wounds, confusion, or the trickery of Satan’s subterfuge. We’re all on the frontlines. We all stumble, sometimes we fall, but we don’t have to stay down and we don’t have to let the stumble undermine the work. We can keep showing up for others but we have show up for ourselves, too.

Are you at risk of becoming invisible while you’re standing right up front? Speak up. We’ll follow the sound of your voice and help will be on the way.

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    The Conversation

  1. Anonymous says:

    I quit teaching my SS class because I feared being a hypocrite and was running a.business in the funeral industry and my time off was long enough for church.i was exhausted , taking prednisone to keep walking and moving. My marriage was a sham, struggling with depressiion, prodigals and betrayals. My class got angry at me and eventually disbanded. Did I do any good thing for the Lord? Was is pride and stubbornness that keep me dressing up and showing up for years and not faithfulness. Lord have mercy on me, I do not know. I sold the family business of 76 years and relieved some exhaustion but have not returned to any ministry. I am a new level of broken that I never knew was survivable . I am so humbled and slower to spout a scriptural quip but clinging on to Jesus as never before. I have acknowledged all to An inner circle – small but godly. I’m reconnecting with family I never had time for working 80+ hours a week. I am very quietly and slowly sharing the gospel with them. I go through days of hopelessness and then will get rejuvenated for a bit and try to carry on. I Am taking time try to love each person I meet. My walk is so different . I’m 62 and this world does dim as heaven glows. I pray and beg the Lord to have mercy that I can no longer “do”. I am only being. I listen to sermons and try to saturate my mind with God’s truth. I trust that a smoldering wick he will not crush. I am not ashamed of the gospel but ashamed of my brokenness and my prodigal family that seems to bring reproach on all I ever taught. I keep saying I trust you Lord, I trust you. And I do but that’s all I can do. I Am able to minister to friends and family-mainly just service-meals, cleaning , hospital sitting. I am meeting more lost people than ever before. I am quieter than ever before. A very different season. Thank you for your books and blogs .

  2. Anonymous says:

    I expressed that exact feeling last weekend. “Do I look invisible?” God has kept me from being crushed and I’m grateful. Now He’s leading me into healing, a type of resurrection. Thanks especially for permission not to have to spill your guts publicly to be OK. 👍🏽🥰

  3. Anonymous says:

    This speaks to me right where I am. I’ve been carrying a load in our church for over a year that I’m not gifted to carry. Stress has caught up with me. Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Bethany says:

    Don’t Let What Happens to You Define You. I’m sure that was in there somewhere, worded differently but it’s such an important point. What others may think or say does not define you. God defines you. He defined you before the foundation of the world, the same time that He loved you.

    Separating Yourself Apart. It’s another thing that I think really helps. Stepping back and saving yourself for the One who sees, knows, understands. I could write a book on being invisible. If not for Him because He sees.

    God bless you Lori. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Anonymous says:

    If someone were wounded or hurting on the outside or with some type of physical ailment, people would run to help and they would offer support and time to heal. We need to extend that same type of grace when someone is hurting inside. Leaders are not God, they are human. We need to accept that and to be there to uphold and pray for them when they need us just as they would do for us. This is the body of Christ. On the other hand, as leaders, we need to know when to step back and accept help and healing when we need it. I do believe most people will be understanding of that. It’s okay. It lets them see we are human too. It may be the exact testimony they need to see, especially if we are turning to God for our healing.

  6. Anonymous says:

    “When Wounds Blindside”

    Wounds come in many a shape and size.
    You are over all we realize.

    What do we do when You seem so far?
    We cry. We despair. We are not up to par.

    The Lord is seated on His throne.
    He’s never left us. We’re not alone.

    He is working, even when we don’t see.
    He is Lord. He’s reality.

    In Your time, Lord, all things are for good.
    Help us walk by faith like we know we should.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Christians are the only soldiers who shoot their own wounded.

  8. Janice Anderson says:

    Struggling to recover from the shock of blindsided moments, I’ve found singing to be the way to help me breathe. I find songs of lament, songs of reminding me the truth of who God is and songs of praise focus my hamster wheel mind, while freely expressing the pain and hurt. And then also keeping a gratitude journal grounds me from script writing imagined conversations, to see what is in my hand and that there is always something to be grateful for.

  9. Bruce says:

    Nothing to add Lori, except that there’s no proper technique for walking on water.

  10. Barb Welch says:

    When lamenting to a neighbor what a struggle I was having, her words, “Been there. Done that” were like a healing balm. Just knowing I was not alone made it easier to accept and continue to deal with it the best I could. I have also stepped out and done what God inspired me to do, sharing my ideas and getting help to accomplish them. After the fact, I was attacked and rejected for a whole day of program. The whole day’s events were criticized and I was told they never really approved of it. Thereafter, all my leadership responsibilities were taken from me. The wounds were deep and there was never any balm applied to those wounds. I finally left the church and attended one closer to home. All those wounds were God giving me direction to go to my original home church, where God wanted me to be in His time. God continually plants ideas on where He wants to use me to build up His kingdom on earth. I want to bloom where I am planted. The only thing I need to do is wait and listen to find out how, where and when He will use me. When I run into rough roads, I’m always listening to see where God wants me to be so I can be used. David was a man after God’s own heart. David also was a prayer warrior and was in constant communication with God. If we are in constant communication with God, we will run into “closed doors”, “open doors” and “open windows.” The key to riding out the storms is to be in His Word and constant prayer. Even if you are being obedient to God and honoring Him, not everyone will be cheering you on. We are pilgrims in a foreign land as we walk with God. Many Christians do not march to the same drum. So we can count on unjust persecution. In reference to unjust persecution, we have a president who is not marching to the same drum as most “politicians”. He needs our prayers of support if that is all we have to offer. Having a president who is not a politician is refreshing, especially since he is a conservative. The deep wounds he has received are without measure. Thank God he has thick skin and can fight back like King David. Thanks for your blogs. They stir the heart to keep pressing on toward the goal of the high calling of Christ Jesus. Praise the Lord! He has our backs!