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Courage: essential for turnaround leaders

| by Bud Brown

Which is the more courageous act?

  1. Running into a burning building to rescue a child, without giving thought to your personal safety?
  2. Disciplining a church bully who threatens peace in the church, when your job and family‘s livelihood is at risk?

“Courage“ invokes thoughts of bravery, physical peril, and danger. It is a domain in which first responders, law enforcement, and the military operate.

Although leading God‘s people doesn‘t typically come to mind, courage is an essential trait for those who step into the role spiritual leadership. Consider Joshua, an exemplar of physical and moral courage. In the first chapter of the Old Testament book which bears his name we read how God and the people he led summoned him to moral courage.

Joshua, a profile in courage (Joshua 1:3-9)

3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

Note the interesting thought structure here:


A. Promise: I will not leave you or forsake you (verse 5)
B. Exhortation: be of good courage (verses 6 and 7)
C. Exhortation: observe all the law (7)
B. Exhortation: be of good courage (9)
A. Promise: The Lord your God is with you (9)

Courage is standing for and doing what is right, regardless of the consequences. It is anchored to the firm belief that God will prevail. It is cultivated by and flows from abiding steadfastly in God‘s Word.

Courage is a moral persuasion before it is a physical action
Col. Eric Coll has written, perceptively, about moral courage. In an opinion piece for the Washington Times, “Leadership character: The role of courage,“ he observes:

We focus on the physical aspect of courage the most, because we think it‘s the stuff heroes are made of. However, without the foundation of moral courage and wisdom, those actions might simply be reckless. Moral courage is at the heart of our resiliency to resolve internal strife, and it is all about choice not genetics. To understand it, we have to go a layer deeper than asking “Would I do the right thing?“ That question is loaded; and regardless of whether we answer yes, the why remains unaddressed. Better questions to ask are “Am I easily intimidated?“ or “Does criticism bother me?“ These get at the selfish insecurities that inhibit the development of moral courage.

Hoping or thinking that we will be courageous when a critical moment arrives is a cowardly approach. We cannot become someone in 30 seconds that we haven‘t been for the past 10 years. The critical truth of courageous leadership lies in how we live every day, not just the flashes of the extreme. [emphasis added]

Notice that last piece? Courage is a daily practice grounded in the choices we make and the habits we develop. Slowly, incrementally we learn to stand for a do what is right in God's eyes, regardless of the consequences. Courage is fortified by the knowledge that God will ultimately prevail. It is cultivated in the daily practice of abiding in God's Word.

Courage is essential for turnaround pastors

So what's this got to do with leading turnaround churches? It's simple, really. Leading plateaued or deteriorating churches is (or should be!) an exercise in courage.

  1. They often face vicious resistance to changes those churches need to be revitalized.
  2. They must often say “No" to requests (or demands!) that divert the church from its mission and vision.
  3. They must be willing to risk the consequences of failure while the church learns how to join Jesus‘ mission.
  4. They may suffer withering attacks from church bullies and saints who want to keep the museum open.
  5. Their paycheck, and their family‘s income, may be on the line.

How about you, pastor? Are you courageous?

Photo source: istock

Bud Brown

An experienced ministry leader, writer and educator, Bud Brown is co-founder of Turnaround Pastors and co-author of the ground-breaking Pastor Unique: Becoming A Turnaround Leader. He is a change leader in many venues — small rural, upscale suburban and mega-sized churches. He brings special expertise to change leadership in the local church, mentoring pastors to become revitalization leaders, training churches how to find and recruit the best talent, and training leadership teams how to achieve their shared goals. Bud also trains pastors in conferences, workshops and coaching sessions. 

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Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12:2 (NIV)
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