One of the strands woven into leaders’ character in the community of faith throughout millennia is resilience. In both the Old and New Testament and in the chronicles of extra-biblical history, this one single strand of character is irreducible. In the world of the 21st century Pastor, it is relevant and necessary. In a recent 2017 Barna Group survey of 14,000 pastors, resilience emerges as the single most important trait needed to survive and thrive in pastoral ministry. Many questions arise about a definition of resilience as applied to Christian leadership. The need for biblical and historical examples are essential to gaining a fuller understanding of resilience and its implication for pastoral ministry.
The best place to begin understanding resilience is the Scriptures. The purpose of endurance revealed in the Scriptures is clearly expressed by the Apostle Paul. Consider Romans 15:4-6:
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In his book, The Resilient Pastor: Ten Principles for Developing Pastoral Resilience, Mark A. Searby shares the biblical perspective on resilience. He writes, “The biblical term for resilience is ‘perseverance’ or ‘patient endurance’. The active sense refers to ‘steady persistence in well-doing,’ and the passive sense to ‘patient endurance under difficulty.’ Webster defines resilience as “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity especially the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity (a marathon runner’s endurance).
Resilience, as applied to church leadership, is essential. Martin Manser combines leadership and resilience and defines it as “The ability to persevere in a task or calling. The Christian is called to endure in the face of trial or opposition, and his endurance brings spiritual rewards.” The examples below will demonstrate an enduring perception of discerning and obeying God’s call as a lifelong endeavor.
One of the first examples of resilience is Noah. In Genesis 6, the world is dark with only a pinprick of light from Noah and his family (see Genesis 6:8). In the following verses, God challenges Noah to build an ark made of gopher wood (v.9-17) and forges a covenant with him and his family. Noah, being a righteous man, responds quickly, and though such an undertaking was remarkable, given the depravity around him, his commitment to finish the project was astounding. For the next 50-75 years, Noah and his sons labored in building the Ark, and we are also told that his actions and words were a kind of sermon (see 2 Peter 2:5). The author of Hebrews best summarizes the resilient faith and obedience of Noah. Consider Hebrew 11:7: “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this, he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” His decision led to his family’s saving, and he inherited eternal righteousness by His faith in God.
In the New Testament, the perfect example of resilience is the Lord Jesus Christ. At the beginning of His ministry, we are told that Jesus knew the will of God and the work He was to accomplish (John 4:34). Jesus was faithful not to lose one of the disciples entrusted Him, despite Judas’ betrayal (John 6:39, 10:27-29, 18:9), and His faithfulness extended into His death on the cross at the end of His earthly ministry. Just before His arrest, Jesus acknowledges His faithfulness, saying, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (see John 17:4). As Jesus hung dying on the cross, He uttered his last words, which indicate his resilience even to the end. Consider John 19:28-30:
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Jesus’ primary concern was to do the will of His Father for the sake of the past, present, and future covenant community of faith. Jesus is the only one who was perfectly resilient and yet without sin through His sufferings.
In church history we encounter a lesser-known Anabaptist Reformer who was a man of resilience, Baltasar Hubmeier (1480-1528). A German Roman Catholic who converted to Protestantism, he was an educated man who was the only Anabaptist to earn a doctorate from the University of Friedberg in 1512. In 1525 he was arrested for preaching on credobaptism (Believers Baptism) when it was forbidden to do so by the Roman Catholic Church. Upon his release from prison, he traveled to Nikolsburg in Moravia to repent of his shame and experience personal revival. While there, a city-wide revival broke out, and in a short time, thousands responded to the gospel and were baptized. Hubmeier penned many books in a short time and is best known for On Heretics and Those Who Burn Them. This work would foreshadow the end of his life. In 1527 he was re-arrested and taken to Vienna, where again he was required to recant.. However, he refused and was subsequently burned at the stake on March 10, 1528. On March 13, just three days after his death, Hubmeier’s wife of two years, was thrown into the Danube River with a stone tied around her neck, where within minutes she drowned.
As believers and church leaders, we are reminded of those who demonstrated imperfect resilience; however, they ran with endurance and finished the race set before them. Consider Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Here, we are given a glimpse of what it takes to run our unique race of faith—a determination to lay aside that which steals our focus from Christ and His calling on our lives. Furthermore, it takes a commitment to censure sin as it rises within us. Our confidence rests in Jesus, the “perfecter of our faith”—He endured perfectly what we could not to give us what we, apart from Him, could never gain. Our resilience, then, is built upon Him and focused upon His finished work. It is comforting to know that it is possible to say along with the great cloud of witnesses that we, like Paul, have “finished the race” and “kept the faith” at the end of our earthly lives. It is also excellent that there is a reward waiting on the other side of glory (see 2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Resources on Resilient Leadership
Resilient Church Leaders by Ed Stetzer (Four Part Series)
Leadership Resilience: Handling Stress, Uncertainty, and Setbacks by Center for Creative Leadership
Mind the Gap: The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Tod Bolsinger
Rethinking Leadership by Brad Brisco
“What Western Christianity desperately needs at the moment is adaptive leadership:
people who can help the church transition to a different, nimbler mode of church.
Such leaders don’t necessarily have to be highly creative innovators themselves, but
they must be people who can move the church into adaptive modes — people who
can create the conditions for change and innovation.”
The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky
Tempered Resilience: How Leaders are Formed in the Crucible of Change by Tod Bolsinger
Leadership for a Time of Pandemic: Practicing Resilience by Tod Bolsinger
Resilient Pastor: Ten Principles for Developing Pastoral Resilience by Mark Searby
“God provides the necessary resources for the development of resiliency. Becoming a
resilient pastor is not accomplished by one’s own strength, skills, and wisdom. It is
developed through a process of relying upon the work of the Holy Spirit as He molds
us into the image of Jesus Christ, the greatest servant leader of all time (2 Cor 4:7–12).
The resilient pastor depends upon the assurance that he or she is redeemed through
the blood of Christ, transformed by the presence of Christ, and nourished by the Word
of Christ. This work does not take place only in isolation, but also in community with
others who are experiencing the same transforming process. It is a journey not
traveled alone, but with saints past and present. We learn from the examples of those
who have gone before us and we learn from the shared wisdom of current mentors
and travelers whom God uses in our shaping process.”
Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving by Bob Burns
 Barna Group. The State of Pastors: How Today’s Faith Leaders are Navigating Life and Leadership in an Age of Complexity. Ventura: Barna Publishing, 2017.
 Mark A. Searby, The Resilient Pastor: Ten Principles for Developing Pastoral Resilience (Eugene: Resource Publication, 2015), 10.
 nc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
 Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).
 Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Church History 694, History of Baptist Notes. Lecture 6, Pg. 4.
 R. Gouldbourne, “Hubmaier, Balthasar (1481–1528),” ed. Martin Davie et al., New Dictionary of Theology: Historical and Systematic (London; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press; InterVarsity Press, 2016), 428.
 Nathan P. Feldmeth, Pocket Dictionary of Church History: Over 300 Terms Clearly and Concisely Defined, The IVP Pocket Reference Series (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 75–76.