Grief, Resilience, and Authentic Leadership

April 15, 2024

by David Woolverton, Kairos Affiliate Professor, Faculty Mentor, and Mentor Support Team member


On December 22, 2022, two days before Christmas Eve, I tested positive for COVID-19. A pastor’s nightmare, for sure, since Christmas Eve is the biggest worship event of most local churches. I rebooted my plans, got another pastor to preach in my place, and planted myself in an upstairs bedroom for what became eleven days of quarantine. Almost immediately, it became clear to me that I had to “do something” to prevent myself from going stir crazy from boredom (daytime television and I just do not get along).

So, on day two, I opened a Word document on my laptop, set my hands on the keyboard, and prayed: “Lord, consecrate me by the blood of Jesus to be a vessel through whom you speak to your people. Holy Spirit, write through my hands the message you want your church to hear.” With eyes still closed, I started typing.

Two and a half hours later (now with eyes open), a story began to emerge unlike anything I had written before. It was a creative “extrapolation” on the “call to ministry” story of the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. At the time, I had no idea where my writing would lead. By the end of the next day of writing, I had completed another segment—this time, less creative and more reflective. It formed itself into a chapter about loss and easily connected with the “weeping prophet” I had used as a “mentor” to my reflections. Then, the next day I repeated the process—each day offering the same prayer and emerging with an additional chapter having been written. By day eleven, nearly two-thirds of the book was done, a pattern to the writing had emerged, four more biblical “mentors” had begun to speak once again, and a platform for what would become my book Prophet and Loss had developed. A lot can happen in eleven days.

I’m a mentor by nature. Mentoring is in my bloodstream. It’s one of the primary reasons I was attracted to Kairos to begin with. I’ve mentored many people over my years of ministry—and have been mentored by some great leaders, as well. But something about this book project surprised me.

In my writing, I had developed my own “mentor team”—five biblical prophets (Jeremiah, Anna, Hannah, Huldah, and Hosea) whose lives had a lot to share with mine. And my mentors were all well-equipped to speak into my vocational and personal journey—for each had been where I am. They also happened to be long-dead.

Not a problem though, right? I just had to look at these iconic historical figures through a very different lens—grief.

But why grief?

In specific terms, grief is one of the primary emotions of change. Certainly, there are other emotions related to change, but after over thirty-five years in ministry, I would argue that grief is the most important. In fact, in my experience, the more significant the change is, the more intense the grief response will be. We are most familiar with grief as it relates to death, and

death is certainly one of the more potent arenas for experiencing grief. Yet, grief also comes at other times and in other contexts—both personal as well as professional.

Leaders lead. They bring change into their organizations. Those changes always produce loss on some level. Loss and a call to leadership, therefore, are intimately intertwined. You cannot lead people through change without helping them grieve what they are leaving behind. And you cannot help others navigate grief if you haven’t gone through it yourself.

Prophet and Loss is about how God uses our personal and professional losses to make us better pastors, more effective leaders, and more empathetic people—especially within our post-pandemic culture. I argue that grief is a gift from God, best viewed as a “mosaic,” where each of our significant losses forms a constellation of individual tiles that, when seen together over time, helps tell a larger story of God’s redemptive love, grace, and mission.

Through our experiences of loss and grief, God prepares us for deeper levels of leadership, equipping us to create environments within our organizations that navigate change and growth in a healthier way, and align us to God’s grander mission.

As a lead-in to each chapter, I invite the reader into my own fictionalized rendering of each prophet’s call to ministry and their individual experiences of grief related to the messages they dispensed.

Prophet and Loss: Embracing Grief, Nurturing Resilience, and Harnessing Authentic Leadership is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and can be a great resource for several outcomes in any of our degree programs at Kairos.

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