When I’m the One Who’s Suffering—Part 1

Hey there, courageous leaders! We’re applauding your heroic efforts with an invitation to gain fresh wind and a renewed passion for ministry. Faithful to the Finish Line offers a 10-day challenge from Hebrews 12:1–3 starting June 1, Recommissioned, a webinar with Erin Davis and me on June 9, and giveaways in the Revive Our Hearts Women’s Ministry Leader Facebook group beginning on May 25. Get signed up today!

Friends, you can be assured of this: because Jesus is a faithful Savior, we can be faithful leaders. —Leslie Bennett, Director of Women’s Ministry Initiatives

It’s early morning; the phone rings. Tossing your pillow aside, you frantically search for your phone on the bedside table, unable to find it before the call goes to voicemail. You grab the phone as the bright light jolts you awake to five voicemails, ten emails, and too many texts to count. Each message is from one of the ladies in your ministry—ladies who need your help.

Sound familiar? It’s a typical day in the life of a women’s leader who is devoted to serving God’s daughters. However, there is a twist to this day … today, you are the one who is in need! Today you are experiencing your own version of suffering. 

What is a leader to do when she is the one who is suffering? Is there anyone that she can lean on? Will anyone take her call at 5 a.m.? Is there anyone she can trust during her most vulnerable moments?

I am very familiar with this situation because, you see, I am a women’s ministry leader who suffers with Lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes me to walk a balancing act between serving and allowing myself to be served in times of my own suffering.

We Aren’t Meant to Suffer Alone

Just what is suffering? Suffering can simply be defined as any kind of “pain or distress.” You might ask: What kind of pain? There are many forms of distress and pain that we may be facing: physical, emotional, spiritual, familial, and financial, to name a few. At street level this might look like injury, sickness, death, slander, gossip, sin-entanglement, wayward children, divorce/separation, or loneliness. These are all various types of suffering that we, as leaders, may encounter. We may not all experience the same sufferings in this lifetime, but being a leader does not make us immune to suffering. And in every case, we serve a faithful God who is in control of all sufferings.

In the Bible we see frequent examples of leaders enduring suffering of their own. Consider the words of Paul, written to Timothy from a Roman prison, shortly before his death: 

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. (2 Timothy 2:1–13)

Just shortly before, Paul said, “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains” (2 Tim 2:16).

During my times of suffering, I have learned two significant lessons from these verses. Let’s look at the first one now:

Lesson #1: Even Leaders Need Friends

Every so often, I realize that I am pouring so much into others that I have not taken the time to allow someone else to pour God’s truth into my life. As leaders we can come to see ourselves as the “authority figure” or the “biblical scholar” who does not need anyone to remind them of God’s great truths. 

Often, when I catch myself thinking like the teacher who doesn’t need to be taught, I say to myself, “Venessa, everyone has blind spots. Everyone needs encouragement and sometimes, even a strong rebuke. Yes, even you” (Prov. 17:17, Gal. 6:2)!

Leaders are not perfect people nor are we sinless (Prov. 28:13). Jesus Christ was and is the only perfect one! We are no better or worse than the sister sitting beside us. What makes us unique is that we were chosen by God, for such a time as this, to go to the front of the line and lead others to Him with the gifts that He has given us.

I encourage you—as I have often encouraged myself—to make it a priority to build true and lasting friendships. Of course, this comes with some parameters:

  • Pray and ask God to lead you in this endeavor and then trust Him with the results. Remember there are no perfect friends either.
  • Seek out a like-minded believer. Having broad theological differences can make it hard to receive encouragement and rebuke if you believe the other person is wrapped in unsound doctrine (Prov. 27:17).
  • Look for friends who are seeking to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
  • Ensure that she resists participating in gossip and slander. We all have a past, but you may not want to tell your deepest, darkest pains and distresses to someone who is currently participating in gossip and slander (Prov. 17:9, 20:19).
  • Find a friend who is mature enough to tell you the truth about yourself—in love of course (Eph. 4:14-16)!
  • Move toward a friend who can handle your flaws and imperfections without it affecting your collective ministry work.

Sister, I need you, you need me, and we all need the redeeming love of our Father when we go through times of suffering. These days are evil, and suffering is truly at hand. Please don’t wait until you need a friend to find one (Eccl. 4:7-12)!

From the Leader Connection team: check back with us on Thursday to read Lesson #2 from Venessa!

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About the Author

Dr. Venessa Ellen

Dr. Venessa Ellen

Dr. Ellen, A native of Beaumont, Texas, holds a M.A. in Biblical Counseling from The Master's College, a M.A. in Christian Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a PhD in Church Administration and Women’s Ministry from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, out of Fort Worth, Texas. 

Dr. Ellen serves as the Chair and Program Coordinator of the Women’s Ministry Department at the College of Biblical Studies where she teaches, counsels, trains and mentors women. For more than 23 years, Dr. Ellen has communicated her burden for the women of God in conferences, seminars, bible studies, retreats, podcasts and blogs. 

She loves to read Christian fiction, horseback ride, fly kites, sleep and spend quiet time walking on the beach with her husband, who is also her best friend and Pastor, Dr. Nicolas Ellen. Dr. Ellen and her husband reside in Texas and are the proud parents of two very lovely daughters and have four handsome grandsons.

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