Creative LeadershipCreativity

Stretch Armstrong and the Power of Resilience

What my daughter's toy taught me about not giving up...

When our daughter Bailey was young, one of her favorite toys was the “Stretch Armstrong” doll. It was a super hero (I think), and you could twist, bend, stretch, and smash him into any shape, and he would bounce right back. To this day I have no idea what he was made of, but trust me – I could have used a body like that when I played high school football.

Looking back over the years, working with churches and ministries across the country, I’ve seen an enormous number of horrible situations, poor leadership, serious mistakes, and outright sin. I’ve known TV evangelists who lived double lives and eventually died of AIDS, ministry leaders who ended up in jail, pastors who cheated on their wives, and ministries that collapsed because of financial scams.

Aside from the devastating impact on victims, the congregation, ministry supporters, and the public, it is often just as destructive on the church or ministry employees. Good people – who dedicated their lives to the gospel, only to be betrayed, treated with contempt, slandered, or fired for wrong reasons. In many cases, it wasn’t actually the pastor who actually did the damage, but another unqualified or incompetent leader within the organization.

As a result, some of those devastated and abused employees have ended up divorced, unemployed, or alcoholic. The disappointment and humiliation was so great, that for some – even years later – they have yet to recover their bearings.

That’s not to say all churches and ministries are toxic. In fact, the overwhelming number of churches and ministry organizations are doing great work. I’ve had the wonderful privilege of working with some of the most sincere, dedicated, honest, and authentic organizations in the country, and it’s been the great joy of my life.

But a handful of toxic organizations have left terrible damage in their wake. When I see these friends or former employees, they often ask, “How did you survive?  Why aren’t you more cynical?  Why do you still work with churches and ministries?”

Great questions, and late at night I’ve wondered about it myself.

Some time ago, one of these organizations decided not to renew our consulting contract. The church wasn’t exactly toxic, but I’d seen the symptoms before – out of touch leadership, obsession with loyalty over expertise, rampant insecurity, a rock star mentality, and incompetent managers. I was at a loss to help, and as I sat alone in a restaurant across the street after the meeting where we’d been abruptly let go, a single word came to my mind:

“Resilient.”

The dictionary defines the word as: “The ability to recover quickly from setbacks, or the ability to spring back quickly into shape after being bent, stretched, or deformed.”

Sitting alone in that restaurant, the thought occurred to me that perhaps the reason I’ve been able to shake off disappointments, betrayals, cynicism, skepticism, and distrust was an unusual gift I’d never thought about before: resilience.

I don’t claim any great expertise. I’m not a particularly accomplished musician, writer, speaker, or filmmaker. But by golly, like Stretch Armstrong, I bounce back.

We should never forget that on our worst day we have much to be thankful for, and should never forget that simple fact. God is remarkably gracious, even though His work is often hard to see because of our immediate hurt and pain.

But time and time again, I keep going back to that image of my daughter Bailey playing with Stretch. It was her personal mission to disprove the claims on the box. She did her best to twist, stomp, bash, and pull Stretch Armstrong into submission, but in the end, his resilience was triumphant.

No matter what your level of talent or expertise, one thing you can be is resilient. You can, as Shakespeare said, “Suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” because scripture assures us we are more than conquerors.

God is greater than any incompetent leader, deceitful manager, or obnoxious co-worker you will ever encounter – in or outside the church. The truth will eventually be known, and in light of the resurrection, even our most abusive and disappointing experiences will pale in comparison.

No matter what, don’t allow yourself to become cynical, bitter, or blame God.

Be Stretch Armstrong. 

Be resilient.

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2 Comments

  1. Great post Phil! Thanks for the glimpse into what makes you tick. It isn’t easy to be resilient but so essential. I have several things I hope I am remembered for (being a follower of Christ being the main one)-resilient doesn’t sound like too bad a word to add to the list. 🙂

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