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The Necessity of Challenge

Many of us don’t like challenges — to be challenged or to challenge others. Yet they are an essential part of leaders working toward being liberators.

By David Howe, Pastor, Elkhart and Fort Wayne, Indiana

When I was young, I developed a fear of putting my face in water. I couldn’t put it under the shower and definitely not submerge it without a mask on. I hated this fear and decided it was time to put the fear to rest. I signed up to get SCUBA certified. I knew that one of the tests at the end of the training would be to be under the water, have your air turned off and have your mask taken off. I spent every day trying to reprogram my brain to not panic. It was hard, but in the end I was able to pass the test without panicking. I was overjoyed, and it opened a new world to me of diving with a friend of mine. We saw parts of God’s creation that most people only see in pictures. It was tough to challenge myself to make that change. My normal tendency is to shy away from challenges, look for an easier path, choose the route of least resistance. I know I am not alone. Many don’t like challenges — to be challenged, or to challenge others.

In a recent meeting with other pastors, my regional director raised a few challenges to me and others. One of those challenges was to be willing to bring challenge to others. He said if we want to liberate leaders, we must be willing to bring challenge to others. If we aren’t willing to bring challenge to others, we can be limiting their potential growth as leaders. This led to an animated discussion with many of us sharing our reluctance to bring challenge and facing the truth of how important it is. Many of us in that meeting had to admit we preferred the easier path, the route of least resistance.

Further, our church tradition seemed to support that mindset. The pastor would work hard and was expected to do the bulk of the work necessary to run a congregation. “Isn’t that what we are paying them for?” The members were expected to provide support, but the bulk of responsibility for a healthy church was on the pastor. Paul told us differently, of course, telling us that pastors were to equip the saints for works of service, but that would require us to challenge others to step up. Due to our involvement with GiANT Worldwide, we’ve learned that God’s calling for us to equip others is called being liberators. We are called to help people step into the freedom that Jesus gave us. We are called to help others become healthy leaders and liberators. Being a liberator is a large step away from the role many of us live in—the role of a protector. Protectors give high support to the people around them, but they often fail to bring challenge. Liberators on the other hand offer high support and high challenge for the people in their lives.

In God’s plan, we are called to participate with him. He doesn’t do the easy way—he does the right way, which usually takes much longer than we anticipate and doesn’t look like how we would have done it. Interestingly, God also believes in high support and high challenge. Dying to yourself every day is a pretty high challenge.

Think of a time in your life where you worked hard and achieved something important to you. Maybe it was winning in athletics or preparing for months or even years for a musical performance. Maybe it was getting promoted at work and rebuilding a relationship. Do you remember that feeling when you achieved your goal? You felt excited and exhilarated at the accomplishment. You faced your challenges and grew. And the best part is that God was there with you. He is the one who gave you whatever gifts you needed to achieve your goal.

I think it’s easy to think of God as our protector and our provider, our healer and our rock. Can we also think of him as our greatest challenger? He is guiding and leading us on a journey with himself to become the people he created us to be. He wants us to live life abundantly. That means putting off the easy ways; it means opening our eyes to see things we’ve missed in the past. Our greatest challenge is to see ourselves the way God sees us. That means allowing the Holy Spirit to work in our lives, to change our heart and mind and to help us to come into a closer relationship with our loving Father.

Recently I was taught that the way we grow in our love of God is to understand him better. The more we learn about God and his heart for us, the more we can love him. His desires become our desires and we become serving leaders. But this is a great challenge. It means surrendering our will to his, putting his desires before our own. We need to be challenged in order to grow.

Challenge can be small or large—both are important. I’ve challenged my parishioners to sit in a different location from time to time. That seems like a small challenge, but it’s amazing how many came back and share how they experienced the service differently from a new location. Small challenges can prepare us for bigger challenges.

We are fortunate that our loving Father never allows us to go through more than we can handle. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have big challenges for us in store. While the challenges get bigger and more intense, if my mind is in harmony with God’s, the challenges don’t seem any harder than the previous ones.

What does this mean to you as an individual or you as a pastor? Look for the challenges God is offering you and accept them when they come along. Step out in faith that God has you in his hands and you are safe. As a pastor I now realize how important it is for me to give my brothers and sisters in Jesus a challenge to help them grow and develop. My job is to equip them, which usually comes with high challenge attached. To equip them, there are times I need to ask, “May I bring you a challenge?” When I ask and they agree, they have buy-in for the challenge I need to raise.

Challenges are an essential part of our growing to be liberating leaders. All of our jobs are to accept the high challenges God brings our way and find a life that is sweeter than we could have imagined.

One thought on “The Necessity of Challenge”

  1. “May I bring you a challenge?’ What a simple yet brilliant question. It does not “dump” a challenge on anyone, but rather it firstly asks for permission to even present a challenge to a specific someone. (One would only offer that challenge to someone whom you think could meet the challenge). After hearing the challenge, then the two people are in it together, painting the picture, mapping the journey, clarifying the needs, defining the measurable outcomes, and giving feedback over time. But hey, in this process, these two are also building their relationship and “dwelling together in unity” Psalm 133:1. That’s pleasant, that’s sweet.

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