In three previous blog posts, I have been talking about crucible experiences (trials, or in other words, painful and stressful life or work circumstances) and the role they have in transforming us. But as I have noted, difficult life experiences in themselves do not refine us. Our response to the crucible experiences of life and ministry is what allows the crucible to become transformative.
|Ananias restoring the sight of Saint Paul
Pietro da Cortona, 1631
Crucible experiences are often endured alone, or at least without the company of other human beings who truly understand the pain and stress you are experiencing. Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days alone with the wild animals. Elijah ran away from Queen Jezebel to Mt. Horeb, leaving his only companion in Beersheba to travel 40 days into the wilderness alone. Abraham went to Mt. Moriah to offer up his only son as God had commanded, and although Isaac with him, Abraham bore his test in silence, without explaining all that was going on in his mind to his son.
But although the crucible may often be experienced alone, I believe that crucibles are best processed with the help of others. If crucibles are designed by God to transform us, and we are to fully mine the wealth of all that God wants us to learn from them, we need the Body of Christ to learn from them. God sent Ananias to Paul in Damascus to help him make sense of what had happened to him on the road when his whole world was turned upside down. Jesus debriefed Peter on a long walk along the beach up in Galilee after Peter denied him 3 times. Even Jesus was attended by angels after the devil had tested him in the wilderness (Matt 4:11).
Leaders, by the very nature of their role, rarely work alone or learn alone. Indeed, the experience of the Leaders for Manufacturing program at MIT and the Young Presidents’ Organization suggests that the most effective learning takes place when the individual leader has access to others who care enough to challenge, cajole, critique, and care. Thus, in preparation, organizations need to make explicit provision for leaders to build their own advice networks—people to whom they can turn for honest, critical, and timely advice. In deployment, these same people can serve as a learning community, a place where insights can be shared and where personal dilemmas, problems, and achievements can be presented, analyzed, and understood. (Kindle Locations 3586-3591).
How can we access these “advice networks” or “learning communities” to help us make the most of the learning available in a crucible situation? Let me give you a couple of ways this works in our organization.
1. Coaching or mentoring during the crucible
We are increasingly recognizing that our younger missionaries are asking for mentors to guide them through the challenges they face in their early months and years in a cross-cultural environment and the challenges they encounter as new parents or newly married couples. Some of our senior missionaries have played critical roles as mentors and friends for new missionaries, helping them to persevere when the crucible seems unbearably hot.
In our mission organization, we provide a coach for a 3-month period for every first term missionary at the midpoint of their first term, which is often at the height of the crucible experience for new missionaries. We call this MOP-up (Member Orientation Program under pressure), and it builds on the prefield training. I shared a testimony about this coaching experience in another blog post a few months ago.
In one of the crucible experiences that I went through a number of years ago, I felt very much alone. But in God’s providence, shortly after the height of the crucible’s intensity, I found a coach through a Google search, and became his “coachee” for a period of six months. He helped me process some of the questions that had remained unanswered from the crucible – and some new ones as well. One of the most valuable lessons I learned through this coaching time was what I blogged about in my previous post – be a learner, not a victim. This coaching experience was so impactful in my life, that I made coaching a significant pillar in our SEND U training strategy.