4 Takeaways from Leading in a Hard Season

Leading in a hard season personally – whether it’s family stress, illness, finances, or a more existential crisis – can take its toll on any leader, and pastors aren’t exempt. We’re operating from a deficit and wondering how we’ll get through it ourselves, much less bring our organizations through it! What we’ve noticed ourselves during a recent rough stretch is that the practices that grow inclusive, vibrant teams really shine when times get tough.

This is Bill sharing today, from a very personal place. My mother was, sadly, diagnosed with cancer 9 months ago. Chemo was brutal, and it didn’t even help. By the Fall her oncologist said she had two months to live. She passed just before Christmas.

Mom’s last walk outside, in early December.

Mom lived in Virginia, yet somehow I got to see her nine different times in 2022. Towards the end I took two extended trips to help provide 24-hour care. Each visit was a gift. At the end, I got to spend multiple nights crawling onto her bed with her to pass the evening together – I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But it wasn’t easy on our church.

To give some perspective, I’m writing this blog just a week after returning home from conducting my mom’s memorial service (a 10th trip) and two days before our little church’s big 10 year anniversary party. Somehow, someway, all signs point toward City Church thriving. With an absent pastor, how is that even possible?

Hard Seasons and Shared Leadership

What’s made the biggest difference is that I’m not actually a pastor. I’m a co-pastor. It’s different. This approach to leadership inherently shares authority and shepherding. Brenna Rubio, my co-pastor, picked up so many of the balls I dropped over the last few months that I stopped counting them. Twice I jumped on flights within 48 hours of getting bad news, leaving her to cover all my calls and Sunday responsibilities. 

Thankfully, our system was built with some redundancy. I’m not The Man. (I never was, but sometimes I certainly acted that way… and built systems that centered me too much.) And I should note, too, that our board stepped up in huge ways as well – not just supporting me emotionally, but supporting Brenna on Sundays, writing the budget, handling some crises, etc.

Note from Brenna: “Wow, they did! And how about this Sunday recently, when I wanted to be at church taking care of all the things so Bill could focus on his mom’s funeral – but all of my children caught a combo of strep + flu and I didn’t want to pass it on? Look how our team shone and the church *celebrated* being the church together!

Another way we invited the church to *be* the church early on was by asking them, if they wanted to support Bill in some way, to be intentional in greeting everyone, and especially new people on Sundays. Perhaps even to invite people out for meals or coffee! Because nothing would make our uber-extroverted pastor more content than knowing people were being welcomed and loved well while his energies were necessarily elsewhere.

Hard Seasons and Believing in People

Sharing leadership isn’t just about “the small stuff.” It’s keeping your eye out for people with all sorts of talents and inviting them to contribute them – even in areas you think are critical and enjoy leading, too!

So at CCLB, we’ve taken a shared approach to preaching. We want to be as multi-vocal as possible, with regular co-preaching, storytelling and a wide pool of potential speakers. In 2022 we heard from over a dozen different preachers in various combinations and countless storytellers.

As pastors know, Sundays keep coming relentlessly, regardless of whatever else is going on in your life! In December we twice had other leaders jump into Sunday sermons, flying solo to give the co-pastors a much needed break. And they were both amazing messages that our people loved. (Check out A Scandalous Dignity and Bathsheba’s Redemption – great titles, too!)  When push came to shove, trusting people with “the big stuff” and building a multi-vocal preaching system made a huge difference.

Hard Seasons and Transparency

Another saving grace for our church has been how it’s shaped by our core values, especially “unforced” and “awkward.” (Yes, those are two of our stated values). Let me spell out what that meant for me in this hard season.

First, since we’re unforced, we don’t lay heavy expectations on people. For example, we don’t take an offering on Sundays (though many people give online regularly). And we don’t hound people to show up to church. We believe people will choose into practices that bring them life.

So in this hard season, the church embraced this value on my behalf. They actually believed in treating me in unforced ways. There was no guilting me for missing Sundays, there was only support. People gave me space by not texting or calling, and if they did reach out, they’d always end with, “Just wanted you to know I care – please don’t respond.” (Brenna gave the community a little coaching on this from up front early on, and it was beautiful how folks took it to heart!)

Second, since we’re awkward, I got to share frankly with the church about what it was like to walk alongside my Mom to her death. They heard it all. They knew the triumphs, they knew the tears. Through stories on Sundays and written updates, they followed along. And so, so many have come up to me and said, “Thanks for sharing about your mom’s process of dying. I’m learning so much from it.” 

(You can find some more thoughts on being awkward and unforced HERE.)

Hard Seasons and Good Enough

Lastly, our system was built with some give in it.

Before City Church I remember an old, rugged minister telling me repeatedly I had to work at least 70 hours a week to be a good pastor. This approach, though well intended, is part of the reason so many faith communities feel like giant machines. 

But since the beginning, City Church has worked to steer clear of this mentality. We don’t value overwork. We take sabbaths and let things go undone sometimes. Sure, we want to work hard at what we do, we want to be faithful and honor our calling. But we’re also committed to having healthy margin in our lives. Then when the hard times come – which they will – we’re not already maxed out.

So in this recent season, Brenna and I regularly reminded each other (and everyone else in shouting distance) that what we had to give was good enough – God would do what God does with it! And now with some new energy and focus, we’re ready to lean into what’s next.

How about you?

The hard times will come – perhaps you’re living through them right now. You don’t have to walk through it alone, silently shouldering the pain – you’re human and allowed to struggle, to be tired. The beauty of embracing our limitations is how that nudges us toward community, connection, and partnership. Your hard season of leadership is a chance for your healthy team to grow even stronger.

1 thought on “4 Takeaways from Leading in a Hard Season”

  1. Christopher Poest

    Thank you for this, Bill (and Brenna) … for your words here, and your ongoing example of how to live into these things of which you speak.

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