Crucibles of leadership

I’ve been exploring some of the things that happen along the way to shape and direct Christian leaders. It’s meant interviewing 14 Christian leaders and having them talk to me about their leadership journey. I’ve already written about contours of a leadership journey – you can read it here.

What about crucibles – experiences that test or transform a leader? The leaders in my interviews have experienced a range of what I think we could call crucible experiences. These have included setbacks and failure, health issues, new territory, a sense of stripping brought about through illness or even retirement and even their own conversion and call to Christian ministry.

Here are four ways that crucibles work in a Christian leader’s life:

1 – Crucibles help to refine a leader’s character. Sometimes they reveal character issues that might otherwise never be acknowledged or addressed; sometimes they may be used by God to help deal with the character issues that have been revealed. Some leaders lead from a strength of personality (they live life out loud); but at times the strengths which give their leadership such vigour may have a shadow side.

2 – Crucibles help to deepen a leader’s spirituality. Some of the leaders have spoken about profound and sometimes quite remarkable experiences of God. They have talked about being reassured of his love for them and of learning to trust him and learning to find strength in him. One leader suggested that ‘probably one of the greatest things that you need to learn on leadership… is the ability to strengthen yourself in God.’

3 – Crucibles help to define a leader’s calling. A leader may experience their conversion as a night to day crucible experience by which life’s priorities are changed. For some, calling is a gradual dawning to the realisation ‘this is why I was born.’ For some, the call to a specific role emerges from a particular encounter with God. And it can be the strength of that sense of call that helps a leader to navigate difficult experiences.

4 – Crucibles help to shape a leader’s ministry. Several leaders spoke about considerable paradigm shifts along the way: their ministries today look quite difference from when they set out. Sometimes a crucible experience adds a depth or an extra dimension to a leader’s ministry. A ministry theme may emerge from the crucible.

There are plenty of examples of crucible experiences in the lives of the biblical leaders. For Joseph, the years spent languishing in an Egyptian prison, betrayed and forgotten, tested his faith in the promises of God. For Moses, a dramatic encounter with God after 40 years in exile led to the recruitment of a reluctant leader. For Nehemiah, news of the miserable state of Jerusalem propelled him into a season of prayer and to a place where God put a plan of restoration into his heart.

Leaders: how has God shaped you along the path of your leadership journey?

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