The only certain way not to get to a movement is to quit. We need to persist until we get to breakthrough. The late Steve Smith, author of the T4T method and book, explained to me where he saw Persistence belonging in the journey to movement. “I resonate with the catalytic qualities your research has identified. Three qualities stand out to me: Expectant Faith (in our relating to God)[see my blog on this], Inspiring Shared Vision (in our relating to others), and then simply persisting till breakthrough.”
No one likes to persist through hardship. But there is no way around. The road to movement is paved with challenges, obstacles, and difficulties. And it can turn into a long road, as we journey with a large and often distant goal in view. There is good news! Persistence can be built. If your persistence level is at, say, only 3 on a scale of 1 to 10, you can build it to 4, then to 5, and so on. This article will show some proven ways you can grow your persistence.
Persistence in the lives of effective catalysts
When talking to effective movement catalysts in my research, most of them report having experienced frequent and manifold challenges and difficulties. Their hardships include traveling long distances on foot because of lack of resources, living through war, public slander and libel, persecution, expulsion or threat thereof, and martyrdom of close colleagues, just to name a few.
Amidst and through such difficulties, all effective movement catalysts have built persistence. Persistence is:
the capacity to work with distant objects in view and to be tenacious in spite of challenges; to overcome obstacles and to not give up amidst difficulties.
From a quitter to persistence – my growth journey
As youth and young adult I was not naturally persistent. I quit many things when the going got tough: playing the trumpet, playing in a football club, playing in a handball club, running, and the list could go on.
Reading missionary biographies awakened me to the need to grow in persistence. All the missionaries I read about experienced abundant hardship and demonstrated remarkable persistence. I had none of that. Knowing that I was heading to what others called a hardship country, the Sudan, I became intentional about building persistence in my life. I will share with you how I have done it.
What do I need persistence for?
Here are the realities of ministry in which I needed to persist until we saw a movement emerge:
Learning Arabic: one of the three most difficult languages in the world, according to linguists. Communicating in Arabic, English, and even the tribal language.
Brutal heat: Sudan’s desert climate offers 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) or higher for eight months of the year, and around 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) for two months of the year. Any bodily movement, even a gentle walk to the car, feels draining. Working productively is exhausting.
Rustic lifestyle: We lived in a small brick house with no running water, electricity 1-2 hours a week (yes!). It had bare cement floors and no windows, which resulted in desert dust covering everything. Living like this in itself is energy consuming.
Long work hours: Running an NGO with more than 30 staff and serving more than 200,000 beneficiaries was draining. Burnout was always within reach.
Dysfunctional government offices: We had to fight for every little permit, and we needed permits for almost everything (with the exception of breathing oxygen).
Threats of the civil war: Crossing the frontline every week, armed attacks and ambushes on our teams, our clinics looted, our Land Cruisers hijacked, team members shot at, and more. These constant threats demanded a great deal from us.
Government surveillance: Being on the lookout for national security agents and spies reporting on us, with the constantly lingering threat of closing down our NGO and kicking us out of the country. This lingering threat always hung around our neck like a rope, ready to be pulled at any time.
Mass poverty and suffering: Wherever we looked around us, we saw people in pain, agony, mourning, despair. It was often absolutely overwhelming.
The never-ending cycle of helping 1000 people, only to see more fighting erupt, resulting in 5,000 needing help. Losing hope always loomed before us.
The never-ending cycle of leaping from one problem to the next. Giving up was always an option.
The secular NGO community scorning our “strange Christian NGO.”
Rebel army commanders ever present, playing around with their Kalashnikovs.
The danger of institutional donors withdrawing funding and cutting the foundation from under our projects.
Essentially, everyone in power could turn against us in an instant.
The needs of a growing movement: first with hundreds coming into the kingdom, then thousands, all the baby disciples needed care, the leaders needed training, and all needed our love and time, and, and, and. Again, need without end…
Care for my family: I will make it very personal now. Amidst all of this were my own sons, ages three and one at the time; with our town under siege by the rebel army, street fighting literally a couple of blocks away from our home, one son almost dying of malaria, a cholera outbreak, and evacuation due to fighting, just to name a few…
After we had seen a movement breakthrough and thousands come into the kingdom, the supervisor in my mission at the time said to me: “I have met almost no one in my life who would not have given up.” I write this not to impress, but to point out the kind of persistence that was required of our team.
Persistence is required on the often arduous journey to a movement.
Persistence in the New Testament movement
In the mindset of movement catalyst Paul, persistence is an integral element of fruitful ministry. He reports about his own movement ministry: “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds” (2 Cor 12:12 - NKJV). The signs of an apostle are transformed disciples and churches planted (2 Cor 3:1-3; 1 Cor 9:1b-2). These were accomplished with all perseverance; “with” can also be translated “in” or “by” or “through” perseverance. Churches were planted only through perseverance.
Read what Paul had to persist through (2 Cor. 6:4-5.8-10): “As servants of God, we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments, and riots; in hard word, sleepless nights and hunger; […] through […] dishonor, bad report; […] regarded as imposters; […] regarded as unknown; sorrowful […]; poor […]; having nothing.”
I encourage you to read the passage in the first person singular, applying it to yourself: “As a servant of God, I will commend myself…” How do you feel in response to that? Only when we look likely challenges in the eye, will we prepare to meet them.
I don’t want to scare you. The reality is that the journey to a movement can appear like a marathon.
However, there is good news!
You can build your persistence – much more than you imagine
Let’s use an analogy to understand how much persistence can be built.
I have run a marathon. The real thing. The 42.195 kilometers (or 26.2 miles). A few years ago I completed a London marathon. (Before you are too impressed, it took me more than 4:30 hours). But I did it.
So can you!
Let me share with you how I managed to build so much persistence, because it will show you that you could do the same.
Let’s go to my feeble beginnings. When I first started running, I managed to last exactly 23 minutes. Then I gave up. The stitch I experienced became unbearably painful. No wonder. I had done wrong almost everything I could have.
I had not prepared for the run. Only later I learned that a run starts with thorough preparation. (you can already start applying this to running the marathon toward a movement…)
I ran as hard and as fast as I could. Only later I learned to go slow if you want to go far.
I took no intermittent breaks. Only later I learned that it is wise, when breathing becomes difficult, to just walk for a couple of minutes, before starting running again.
I ran till I was exhausted. Only later I learned that a runner builds persistence by adding small increments. Running just one minute longer or just half a kilometer farther than before.
After a couple of runs like my first, I quit.
A while later I tried again. I prepared for the run. I ran slowly. I took breaks. I built up in small increments. I ran for 25 minutes. Then 30. Then 35. After adding small increments over a period of time, and after a lot of persistence, I managed 10 kilometers in one hour. Then 15k in an hour and a half. Then a half marathon of 21k in under two hours. Then 30k in under 3 ½ hours. And finally, years after I had begun, a full marathon.
You can do that too.
If you doubt it, ask your doctor. She will tell you that any human, unless they have a heart or joint problem, can develop the persistence to run a marathon.
All these principles apply to developing the persistence required to run a movement marathon.
You can do that too.
If you doubt it, ask Angela Duckworth or other psychologists. She has researched the passion and perseverance needed for long-term goals, which she calls “grit” (2016). And her research has found that persistence can be developed.
You need to learn to tap into the sources that strengthen your persistence, learn from the Best Practices of effective catalysts, and then follow the growth path, step by step, increment by increment.
You can build persistence like a muscle.
Sources to strengthen persistence
Effective catalysts reported these to me on surveys of my research.
Assignment from God: Catalysts draw strength from a deep conviction that their assignment was given to them by God. One catalyst describes it this way: “God has given us a clear direction, and we need to keep going even when the needs are insurmountable.” Reminding oneself of the assignment and meditating on it becomes a source to strengthen one’s persistence.
Confidence in God’s providence is a second source to build persistence. This means the outlook in the world is, as one catalyst put it, that “challenges and difficulties are respected, but they are not negative. They are things our God has trusted us to overcome.” Part of that outlook on the world is also the conviction, as one catalyst says, that “God always provides the way.”
Positive thinking: Catalysts also practice positive thinking. Such practice is not necessarily rooted in faith in divine providence, but the expression of a positive attitude. One catalyst told me: “In our local trade language, a commonly used expression says “there is no way” something can be done. We have turned it around and constantly declare “there IS a way” … and we must find it.”
Fellowship: Fellowship with others who are persistent increases our strength. There is strength in numbers. Facing challenges together with others makes them much more bearable, especially when others tap into the sources of persistence.
Prayer: This needs no explanation.
Persistence: A final source of persistence is persistence itself. This means facing the brutal facts and taking one or two steps to deal with them. As Zig Ziglar said,
“FEAR has two meanings: Forget Everything and Run.
Or: Face Everything and Rise.”
We strengthen our persistence when we consciously practice it. Like in weightlifting, where muscles are strengthened through practice, the persistence muscle is strengthened through the practice of persistence.
Persistence itself is a source of persistence. Our persistence muscle is strengthened through the practice of persistence.
Best Practices from the lives of
Effective catalysts reported in my research that they have incorporated these best practices into their lives, and assess them to have contributed to their movement catalyzing:
Best Practice 1 – Fixation on the long-term goal: Persistence must be more than gritting teeth. Persistence is fuelled by a positive passion for a vision. This passion can be generated and sustained. Effective catalysts do so by meditating on the vision, praying over it, speaking it out loud, making it visible on a poster, recording it, and listening to it.
Best Practice 2 – Finding ways forward, even when there appears to be none: I have often told myself aloud: “There is always a solution.” There really is! We need to keep looking for it or creating it.
Best Practice 3 – Frequently declaring persistence as a motto: One catalyst reports: “It was our motto: We never give up. We lived it out in it sticking out after living through war, persecution, accusation, death of partners, etc.”
Best Practice 4 – An Iron resolve to never quit: At the very base of it all appears to be a catalyst’s iron resolve to never quit. One said: “We have set our faces like flint to finishing the task God has given us and finishing it well.” Another similarly: “I refused to quit or leave.”
How you can develop persistence – a growth path
These are some practical steps that you can take to develop your own persistence that I have gleaned from my own journey and from the journeys of many other catalysts I have surveyed.
Draw on the sources of persistence regularly.
Practice persistence in small matters to build the persistence muscle for bigger matters
- always picking the most challenging task first builds the habit of facing challenges rather than shying away from them.
- voluntarily abstaining from luxuries builds the muscle of self-discipline in small matters: sweets, chips, coffee or tea, taking seconds when eating, social media, TV, and similar activities. Building persistence in small matters prepares you to persist in big matters.
Whenever you have given in or given up, identify the breaking point. Ask yourself: What have been the factors that led me to give in or give up?
Strengthen any breaking point you have identified. In your overall building of persistence, you will identify areas where your persistence is not yet strong enough to meet a certain challenge. Strengthening this particular area is the most effective way to further strengthen your overall persistence muscles.
Which of the sources of persistence do I draw from consistently?
Which sources do I not draw from consistently?
Which one do I want to begin drawing from, and what habit do I want to build into my life?
Where do I most need persistence in my current life and ministry?
What have been my breaking points, where I frequently give in or give up?
How can I build the muscle of persistence in small matters? What luxury could I consider abstaining from voluntarily? Where can I consciously pick the most challenging task first?
What are your thoughts?
I would love to hear from you. What are YOUR thoughts? What is your experience?
Leave a comment below! If you prefer to private message me, you can use the contact form.
Learn more about the other Catalytic Qualities besides Persistence in my book Movement Catalysts. You can order your copy here.
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Emanuel Prinz – Father’s Beloved & Movement Activist
Duckworth, Angela. 2016. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Scribner.
Smith, Steve, and Kai, Ying. 2011. T4T: A Discipleship Re-revolution. Monument: WIGTake Resources.