Rejection is inevitable. No one has to sign up for a college course in rejection to ensure it happens at some point. It is unpleasant and hard to take, but interaction with other people almost guarantees it will happen. For those of us in leadership, rejection is a certainty. The major question is how we will respond once the inevitable happens.
Once, while in a leadership program, my leader skillfully led our cohort through a beautiful and safe experience of personal rejection. It was the most simple of exercises. He told the cohort to look around the room and choose a person with whom you would like to go through a difficult experience.
After giving this one sentence instruction he left the room without allowing us to ask the several obvious questions we had about the logistics of such an assignment. Now I understand that this was probably one of the highlights of his week.
I imagined our leader rushing into the lobby before bursting into an uncontrolled laugh knowing the chaos that he had just created. We emerging leaders did what we were supposed to do and obeyed our leader’s instructions. As I got up to walk over to the person I had chosen, I was rather taken aback by the crowd of people who were starting to gather around this person.
I quickly became a little nervous that someone else was going to end up with my intended partner, but just as quickly I calmed myself down by assuring myself the person I had chosen would surely choose me as well. These other poor saps gathered around were going to be the disappointed ones. Then it happened; I learned a simple and profound lesson in a few short words, “I didn’t choose you.”
Pow! I was rejected and felt it to my core. This feeling seemed to last several seconds. Sure it was a simple exercise, but it still stung. These musings and feelings were rather rudely interrupted by another one of my fellow classmates explaining to me that they had chosen me to go through the difficult experience with them. Now I was forced to be the rejector by telling my classmate I had chosen someone else.
The exercise was uncomplicated, and more importantly, this rejection took place in a safe environment. Yet, the feelings were tough and heavy to shake off.
Most of us slumped back into our chairs under the weight of newly acquired rejection. Then our leader returned and calmly explained that the “difficult experience” was now over, and that we were all struggling with one of the most common experiences in leadership. However, the core lesson was what he taught next.
He went on to teach us that bearing in mind the preeminence and all-sufficiency of Christ at the core of who we are is the key to enduring hardships and rejection.
Everyone faces rejection when answering the call to leadership, and there is generally no way to curb it or control it. Jesus was the chief Cornerstone that was rejected by the builders (Matt. 21:42). He knows above anyone what rejection feels like. He is more than capable to help us through those times.
We cannot teach rejection out of the lives of emerging leaders, but we can direct their eyes to the One who will never reject them. We can show them that knowing the person of Jesus Christ is the central source of endurance.