Pastoral Grit

No not grits; the now infamous Southern United States breakfast food.
Grit = the ability to persevere and accomplish the task at hand regardless of the circumstances.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but also for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Angela Duckworth, “The Key To Success? Grit,” TED, May 2013

Many thanks to researcher and writer Angela Duckworth whose work is contributing to leadership development through her TED talks and recent book, Grit: The Power Of Passion And Perseverance, 2016. Duckworth is fascinated by this muscle exercised by effective leaders over time which empowers them to persevere and flourish…the grit muscle. Since it is a muscle and not a trait, Duckworth suggests leaders can learn and develop grit when they are so motivated.

It strikes me that pastors and church staff, especially in this postmodern age, need sufficient grit underpinning their leadership efforts. How would we describe grit as lived by a pastor or church staff person? What does pastoral grit look like?

Pastoral grit sustains pastoral engagement with a particular people (church) over time. Strange as it sounds, showing up, participating, and otherwise engaging disciples in one’s congregation is more than 50% of leadership effectiveness. When pastors and staff members participate and engage with the congregation, disciples interpret this engagement and attention as a form of love. This is especially true when the pastor is not expected to participate in particular events. One interim pastor described the statements of shock followed by appreciation when he showed-up and participated in the church work day on campus. Certainly he was not required to do this, yet he wanted to do this to engage disciples apart from worship while also demonstrating his interest in them. Pastoral grit gives ministers the motivation to engage and participate consistently.

Pastoral grit discourages the pastor from looking for another call. When considering another call, one’s discernment leads to staying where one is 99% of the time. Given that most years most pastors stay in place, moving is a rarity compared to most of our ministry time. Pastors with grit are able move through challenging ministry seasons without excessively ruminating over the escape hatch. They persevere, knowing that staying in this church, with all its flaws and challenges, is more helpful to the kingdom of God than fleeing. There are certainly times to move, though they are rare. Pastoral grit empowers us to persevere without spending undue energy and time fantasizing about leaving.

Pastoral grit empowers us to get back up after being knocked down. Sometimes ministry initiatives fail. Sometimes our leadership is not appreciated to the degree we prefer. Sometimes the church seems unresponsive to our efforts. Sometimes we pastors are told “NO” by the leadership team or church body. Pastors without grit automatically perceive this experience as terminal. Their interpretation of events is that they are poor leaders, ineffective, or at least misunderstood or unfairly rejected by these people. Pastors with grit realize failure and roadblocks are part of life. In fact they interpret these experiences as opportunities for spiritual growth for them and the congregation. They get back up off their backs and start marching ahead again.

Pastoral grit often is found in “less gifted” pastors than those who enjoy many natural or God-given talents. Duckworth’s description is fascinating. “Our data show very clearly that there are many talented individuals who simply do not follow through on their commitments. In fact, in our data, grit is usually unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent.” Pastors with grit are those who are experienced; knowing what it’s like to fail or be rejected. These pastors learn to rely on God; on God’s Holy Spirit within them for sustaining power, rather than on their talent.

Pastors with grit regularly invest in support systems outside their congregation. These pastors are aware that when we put too many eggs in one basket, we grow overly careful and protective of that basket. Instead, pastors with grit invest in pastoral cohort groups, coaching, support groups, counseling, spiritual direction, etc., resulting in wider support for themselves and their ministries. The outcome is a lower tendency to exaggerate decisions and events in the church context. Since their entire worlds are not bound up in only one group of people (church), they can maintain more objectivity about what’s developing. These pastors position their grit muscles for growth by developing support systems outside their congregation.

Pastors with grit can see ministries, projects, and initiative through from beginning to end. From vision to implementation to updating; pastors with grit remain determined not to let the pieces fall. They expect setbacks as part of the process, persevering anyway. Rather than become distracted by the next best shiny new ministry idea, they continue to build momentum through the good work already begun.

The very good news is that pastoral grit is more like a muscle than a trait. Whatever level grittiness one enjoys, that one can increase grit through practice. So may we cooperate with the sustaining power of God, becoming grittier pastors and church staff persons in 2017.

Mark Tidsworth
Pinnacle Leadership Associates