Resilience as grit, commitment and courage

The witness of Scripture and church history offers profound instances of faithful resilience.

Nothing matters more to successful leadership than resilience, the capacity to endure the hardship and struggle that litter the road to great achievement. So says John McKinley, who manages the Global Fellows Program at Acumen Fund, in a post at Harvard Business Review.

McKinley goes on to suggest that resilience might be thought of in three distinct but interrelated aspects: grit, courage and commitment.

Resilience is perhaps above all crucial to Christian leaders, whose calling includes an explicit mandate to join Christ on the road to ignoble failure (Mt. 16:24). The witness of Scripture and of church history offers profound instances of faithful resilience in each of the three aspects McKinley identifies.

Grit is the virtue of suffering “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” without loss of determination. St. Athanasius is probably the church’s paradigm of grit who, in his 48-year struggle with the deniers of the Son’s divinity, endured five exiles ordered by four different emperors. A stunning modern instance of resilience-as-grit is Maggy Barankitse, who, despite being left destitute by Burundi’s brutal civil war, pursued a calling to found Maison Shalom, a home for children orphaned by the conflict and a testament that love can provide a true alternative to hatred.

Courage is the virtue of putting skin in the game, of risking harm to oneself for the sake of a commitment; its paradigm is Peter’s willingness to walk out to Jesus on the water (Mt. 14:28-29).

Courage is not simply a war-zone virtue; indeed, we find a shining instance of resilience-as-courage in Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church, which since 2004 has matched its gospel of grace with deeply sacrificial giving, sending more than $4.4 million to the needy in Sudan. The congregation at Ginghamsburg is a living witness to the costly grace of a gospel that calls those it justifies to be “co-crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20).

Commitment is the virtue of committing oneself to an as-yet unknown future; in biblical terms, we might rather speak of “faith,” and here the paradigm is surely set by Abraham, who left his ancestral home in Ur to pursue a promised inheritance (Gen. 12:1-4).

Patrick Awuah learned the virtue of commitment in accepting a call to return to his homeland. Raised in Ghana but educated at Swarthmore and launched into a career at Microsoft, Awuah eventually decided to do the unthinkable: giving up his American Dream, he moved his family back to Ghana to found Ashesi University, an institution dedicated to transforming Ghana’s culture from its leaders down.

These instances of saintly resilience constitute a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) alongside whom today’s Christian leaders are called to struggle. In your vocation, how might you be called to imitate Barankitse’s grit, Ginghamsburg UMC’s courage, or Awuah’s commitment?