The Seminary of Suffering

suffering

No one likes to suffer.

Suffering hurts.

It disillusions us.

It makes us wonder why God allowed us to suffer or whether we are experiencing God’s discipline first hand. Add to this a long tradition in Scripture of God asking prophets to identify with His own suffering by embracing a difficult calling that imitates God’s own suffering symbolically–as in the cases of Ezekiel and Hosea.

I want to recommend Wayne Cordeiro’s book, Sifted: Pursuing Growth through Trials, Challenges and Disappointments. The book focuses on how God uses suffering to refine our character. There is danger in a premise like this–that some will chalk up all suffering in a person’s life to God’s hand striving to refine their character. Cordeiro avoids this pitfall. Rather, he takes the approach of Romans 5 and James 1:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

There are certain things suffering brings to the development of our character. Like a sieve, it helps removed hardened parts of our being that are polluting the soil of our hearts. It removes what might prevent growth.

We often think ministry “experience” is what brings wisdom. Perhaps what we mean is that God provides wisdom, and that wisdom often comes courtesy of a diploma from the Seminary of Suffering. Having one’s heart crushed by ministry, experiencing the nails-on-a-chalkboard frustrations of working with stubborn or prideful leaders, making mistakes that cost us dearly, experiencing deep personal loss–and following Jesus through them–this is discipleship that equips a leader for ministry in special ways. When we suffer and endure, our faith deepens, our character is sifted, and we grow more in touch with suffering of God and others.

Wayne Cordeiro’s son sat across from him after graduating college with a Bible degree and proclaimed he was ready for ministry.  Cordeiro looked at his eager child and said, “…you still lack one thing.  One thing that will make you ready to be used by God.”  The young man objected, “I’ve taken the classes, I’ve studied, I’ve worked.  What could that be?” His father responded, “Son, you haven’t suffered enough yet.”

Perhaps his son could be used by God without lots of suffering. Nevertheless, his point is well taken. If Jesus can learn obedience through what He suffered, so can we. If we can, let’s do it–for obedience is better than sacrifice, and to listen is better than the fat of rams before God (1 Sam. 15).

We need not seek suffering. Neither should we waste it. Let it sift you. Let God cultivate the soil of your heart and plant the rich seed of ministry in you. Biblical training is a vital part of ministry development. However, it’s the Seminary of Suffering that cultivates the character of a godly church leader.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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4 thoughts on “The Seminary of Suffering

  1. This is a tough one… There is no doubt that I learned a lot from the death of my son and then my younger brother a year later and I am a different person…hopefully a better follower of Jesus. But seeing that change isn’t always so easy.

    Ironically, I immediately began seminary after the death of my son and if I could go back and give some advise to myself, it would be to take a break and not begin something such as seminary under the duress of such recent circumstances.

    Grace and Peace,

    Rex