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One day I started experiencing sharp pains in my abdomen. They were awful. It hurt to sit. I would be driving along and the pain would hit and almost incapacitate me.

So I ignored it. And eventually it healed itself without me doing anything to address it. Said no one ever.

No, when the pain got bad enough that I couldn’t tolerate it, I did what any normal person would do: I googled it. After one of the diagnoses came back as possibly endometriosis, I gave up and went to the doctor.

The doctor poked around a little bit and diagnosed my problem. We developed a plan of treatment, and within a few days (maybe a week), I was back to normal.

Last week I reflected on how some pain is growth. You can check it out here. Today, I want to touch on the opposite side of the spectrum: some pain needs to be addressed.

I tend to have a very patient personality. Playing the long game is one of my strong suits. So when there’s pain in my leadership, my default is to let it linger hoping it will get better or address itself. Once or twice, it has worked out that way, but more often than not the pain is a symptom of a bigger leadership issue.

Pain points in our ministries or organizations reveal friction, and friction needs to be addressed. But how do you know the difference between growth pain and dangerous pain? Here are three questions to ask to help you identify the difference:

  1. Is the pain a result of inaction on your part? Have you been too passive in casting vision, clarifying roles, or leading the way? Where vision is not clear, there is no unified target to aim for. And when you don’t clarify the target (or at least help clarify the target), everything is a possibility.
  2. Is the pain a result of a toxic personality trait? We need to be careful here not to write people off, but understand that sometimes their behaviors are at the root of the issue. The person who arrogantly pushes against authority, or the person who has deep-seated trust issues. These are issues that are not easily addressed, but that need to be covered.
  3. Is the pain a result of poor leadership on your part? What’s your greatest leadership flaw or struggle? If you can’t answer that, spend some time evaluating. I can point to half a dozen negative situations in my leadership over the past 12 months that result from my greatest leadership struggle. It’s not accidentally going away. So what am I willing to do to address it and grow? The same question goes for you: what are you willing to do to lean into your weakness?

Ultimately, any pain we encounter needs to be diagnosed to find the root cause. Some pain is growth, but some pain needs to be addressed.

What pain in your life needs to be addressed? What are you waiting for?


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