Jonathan Pitts: “Find something to be hopeful about regardless of where you find yourself”

Find something to be hopeful about regardless of where you find yourself. Hope is the joyful expectation of a better tomorrow. Ultimately, I believe that comes through a relationship with God through Jesus. In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders […]

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Find something to be hopeful about regardless of where you find yourself. Hope is the joyful expectation of a better tomorrow. Ultimately, I believe that comes through a relationship with God through Jesus.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Pitts.

Jonathan Pitts is an author, speaker, and executive pastor at Church of the City in Franklin, TN. His latest book, My Wynter Season: Seeing God’s Faithfulness in the Shadow of Grief (release date: February 9, 2021) has been praised by the likes of Candace Cameron Bure, Jeremy & Adrienne Camp, Gabe & Rebekah Lyons and several others. Prior to pastoring, Jonathan was executive director at The Urban Alternative, the national ministry of Dr. Tony Evans in Dallas, Texas. Jonathan and his wife, Wynter, co-wrote Emptied: Experiencing the Fullness of a Poured-Out Marriage and She Is Yours: Trusting God as You Raise the Girl He Gave You before her untimely death. Jonathan serves as president of the ministry he and Wynter founded together, called For Girls Like You. It’s a nonprofit organization featuring a magazine and resources for girls that grew out of Wynter’s desire to empower and equip their own daughters to be who God has created them to be and to provide parents with the resources and support needed to raise strong Christ followers. Jonathan has been featured on the Jesus Calling Podcast, The 700 Club, in Christian Parenting, on the FamilyLife Podcast Network and in many other outlets. Jonathan lives in Franklin, Tennessee with his four daughters, Alena, Kaitlyn, Camryn, and Olivia.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

My name is Jonathan Pitts, and I’m currently a leader in a church. I’m an executive pastor at Church of the City in Franklin, Tennessee. I’m a dad of four girls — ages 16, 13, and twins that are 11 years old. And I’m a widower. Two and a half years ago I lost my wife to a sudden heart failure. So, I find myself in a way different place than I’ve ever been before. Prior to my wife passing away, I was a non-profit ministry leader. I’ve worked in non-profit christian ministry for the better part of 20 years. I’ve done everything from manage talent to manage large scale christian non-profits.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

The most interesting story from my career is actually a lesson that I learned and my biggest takeaway was “Don’t take yourself so seriously.” When I was working in one of my organizations, it was my first executive level job, I just got involved with one of my leaders (a person that was working below me) in a way and got pretty frustrated at a disagreement we were having. In our disagreement I was taking myself so serious and I was taking my position and my disagreement with her so serious, that I ended up getting shingles. It’s a reminder to me when I start feeling really serious about my position or like life is really important or my position is important, that my own health and my own sanity is way more important than anything else I’m doing in life. So, my reminder to myself to just “don’t get shingles.” It was a lesson learned that was actually very painful because shingles is really painful.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There’s a few things. I work with two different companies right now.

As a pastor of Church of the City, the thing that makes my company stand out is that we are a family of churches that, what we say, is “living in the way of Jesus for the renewal of the city.” We believe that our faith should have an absolute impact in the city that we live in and that the faith that we believe and we live out is actionable. So, from homelessness to single motherhood, to drug addiction, to marriage and family, and everything else we do, we believe that we should be having an impact that betters the city that we live in. If the city that we live in isn’t getting better and isn’t getting renewed and isn’t progressing, then we’re not doing our job.

As far as the magazine I run on behalf of my wife, For Girls Like You Magazine, we believe that God has a plan for every little girl and their life. We believe that as we share the stories of little girls and their lives and the things that they’re doing with God and for God, they can be examples of what other girls can be doing in this world for good. So, it makes it really unique, and the magazine itself is an inspiration for girls as they see other girls doing things that they can be doing themselves, because they’re no different from the girls that are doing these amazing things.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are many people who have influenced me in my life that have been a part of my success. My dad was a massive part of my success. My dad taught me that there is nothing more important than my integrity and nothing more important than my reputation. He used to tell me when i was a kid, “You last name is Pitts, and that should mean something.” It was just a reminder to me that everywhere I go, that my name and the name that I come with is going to carry with it a reputation, that reputation is either going to be good or bad. And I get to control that. One of the only things I control in my life is how people respond when they hear my name. So, my dad’s always been really important in that way and always lived his life in a way where he was making sure that our family name was always represented well. Because he did that, my dad was always an example to me for that, I do the same thing. Or at least I try to.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I would define resilience as the ability to simply keep putting one foot in front of the other when there’s nothing in front of you but barriers/just being able to continue to progress when there’s barriers and obstacles coming in your way. The characteristics or traits of resilience, to me. . I think the thing that will lead to the most resilience in your life will be having an attitude of gratitude and being able to have a perspective that sees beyond the moment. I think about my own life and the loss of my wife two and a half years ago, the thing I’m really grateful for and the resilience that I built up was specifically in the area of gratitude for what I had. When I think about my wife, instead of thinking about what I lost, even though I can’t not think about the fact that I lost her, I think about what I had. I think about the gratitude I have for having been married to her for 15 years, having had her in my life for 15 years, the stories that we were able to write together, the four daughters that we were able to have togher, and the fact that she saw our daughters to the ages of nine, and eleven, and fourteen. I can think about all the things that our girls aren’t going to have their mom for going forward, but those years she got with them are invaluable, and the time that I got with her was invaluable. So, regardless of the obstacles that are in front of you, resilience is putting one foot in front of the other and seeing all the ways that you have had good in your life and have had things in life that are beneficial. There’s a verse in the bible that says, “Whatever is true and right and honorable and pure and lovely and admirable and excellent and praiseworthy, think about these things.” And that verse is a reminder to practice celebration. So, if you can practice celebrating the good things that are happening, even as the obstacles are in front of you, then resilience is that much more possible.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

I chose my dad for that because my dad is not only a picture of resilience, but he’s what it looks like when resilience is worked out, who he is now as a person. He was resilient, and i’m the beneficiary, he’s the beneficiary. It’s been beautiful to watch his life.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Yeah, I guess I wouldn’t tell this story to puff myself up, because I get no credit for it, but I remember when my wife Wynter was pregnant with our third and fourth baby girls (twins). We went to the doctor for the check up to see how healthy the pregnancy was, and they told her it was going to be a stillbirth. And so, we walked out and, frankly, we just prayed and just asked God to spare the baby that would have been a tubal pregnancy. . . And we went, we prayed, we left for vacation, we came back a week later and came to find out not only was there one baby inside of my wife, but there were two. So, I can’t take credit for it, but for me, I think it’s a reminder to hold on to hope and that you just never know. You never know what’s happening. You never know the full story. So, never assume just because you hear one thing, even from a medical physician. Just because you hear one thing, doesn’t make it true.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

In June of 2018 I was celebrating my 15 year anniversary with my wife Wynter — 15 years of marriage, four daughters, successful career as an executive and ministry leader, my wife was a successful author, and we celebrated our 15 year anniversary on June 27th. July 24th (27 days later), my wife would quickly and unexpectedly leave this earth as her heart would stop. It was the hardest day of my life. It was the hardest day for me as a leader, as a man, as a dad, having to tell lots of people that my wife and my best friend was no longer here on earth. But, by God’s grace, just because she left this earth, it doesn’t mean that I’ll never see her again. So, I’m grateful that I’ll get to see her again. But, it was the hardest day of my life. I think I just bounced back out of resilience. I think resilience is seeing the positive, even when the negative is happening. So, with that same verse — ”Whatever is true, right, honorable, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy, think about these things” — I was reminding myself just to celebrate despite hardship and tell myself what’s true despite the hardship. I believe it’s true that I’ll see my wife again in heaven one day, so I can celebrate that. Even though she’s no longer with me here on earth, I can celebrate the fact that I had four daughters with her. I can celebrate the fact that we made it to 15 years. I can celebrate the fact that we had a happy marriage. I can celebrate the fact that we grew in marriage over and over and over again, year after year, day after day. And so, yeah, that’s the hardest day of my life so far, and I still feel like I’m coming back from it. But, in general, I feel like I’ve had a really healthy grieving process and have a healthy perspective on life and death.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

I would say, just growing up as a mixed kid (my mom is German-American-Midwestern and my dad is an Affrican American guy from New Jersey). Growing up as a mixed kid in the 80’s, was not necessarily normal. So, a part of my growing up was trying to fit in wherever I went because I never felt like I was like the people I was with. I wasn’t “black enough” for the black people, I wasn’t “white enough” for the white people, so I was always trying to figure out ways to become a part of the crowd, honestly. In some ways, it was really healthy, because it taught me to navigate, it taught me to make changes, it taught me to be resilient. The negative side is I did struggle with my identity at some level, but what’s beautiful now is a 40 year-old man that’s learned to deal with his past and deal with some of the struggles. I find myself only really benefiting from how I grew up, growing up mixed, because now I can get along with any crowd and anybody. Now it’s a part of my arsenal.

The other thing I would say is, I was a Boyscout growing up and would go on to get my Eagle Scout Award. Boyscouts was this beautiful journey for me from a Cub Scout as a really young man, through Boy Scouts, to when I got my Eagle Scout Award when I was 18. It just taught me different ways to be resilient — from map orientation, to survival, to outdoorsmanship, to archery, to swimming. There were so many skills I learned as a scout, that broadened who I was as a person and as a man. I’m really thankful to Boy Scouts to this day because of that. Some of the best leaders that invested their time in me were Boy Scout leaders that were volunteers. So I would say a lot of different people, both men and women, poured into me. Scouting was one of those ways. Church was another. I would also say that sports was another. So one of the beautiful things for me is, I’ve had so many diverse experiences and a lot of my resilience has come from seeing and having to experience life in different circumstances and different situations.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient?

1. Find something to be hopeful about regardless of where you find yourself. Hope is the joyful expectation of a better tomorrow. Ultimately, I believe that comes through a relationship with God through Jesus.

2. Practice thinking about that which gives you hope. For me, that is the reality that even the bad things that happen are refining me as a leader, dad, and man.

3. Practice speaking the very thing that you are thinking about. Don’t just think about what you’re hoping for, talk about it as well.

4. Find a community that supports that hope. You want people supporting you that think the best and will encourage you in that hope.

5. Repeat. You will continue to have challenges that will require you to be resilient. Don’t give up because challenges come. Expect them. And find hope in spite of it. Think about that hope, and talk about that hope.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I honestly would say right now I’m really grateful because I’m getting to do that in a time when I didn’t know what my life would be like. My wife passed away, left this earth, and for two and a half years, I’ve been reorienting my life without her. I was able to write my story down, to write a book. And that book is both talking about the joy of the past and the frustrations of what would happen when my wife left this earth — the anger, the disappointment, the sadness, the grief — but then also the resilience that I built through that time that, honestly, I walked with my girls through. My four girls are the most resilient people I know, who have lost their mom and kept going and found joy. So, to inspire people, I would tell that story because I think story has a real ability to help people see themselves in the person they’re reading about, or the life they’re reading about, or the story they’re reading about. So I would just share my story, which is what I’m doing through my book My Wynter Season. It’s a great privilege to be able to share my story of walking with my wife, “My Wynter Season” — her name being Wynter and then sharing the Wynter season that came after losing her — but then talking about how good life can still be despite death, how good life can be despite grief, how good life can be despite difficulty and challenges that need to be overcome. I’m really grateful that I get to have that perspective and that I can live from that perspective. So, I would just share my story, which is what I get to do now and what I’m grateful for.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂

I don’t know that a lot of people would call him a leader necessarily (he’s certainly an amazing athlete), but Tiger Woods would be a person I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with.

When I was 16 years old in 1996 when Tiger Woods went pro. I’ve always admired his life, his reliance, his determination, his winning attitude, his confidence in himself but still his kind of gentle demeanor even though he was confident and strong, and how he was also respectful with the people that were around him. Obviously Tiger Woods has gone through a lot, but I would love to sit down for a meal with Tiger, because not only did he have that great number of years of victory — all the different tour events that he won, all the different majors that he won — he also had great setbacks and has had to show resilience. So, I would just want to ask Tiger what’s worked for him/what hasn’t worked, just get to know him.

I love the game of golf. Golf has been the only sport in my life that I’ve been able to play post-high school, where I’ve been able to continue to work on not only my body, but also my mind. That’s why I love golf. So, probably Tiger woods would be the number one for me, because I’ve just watched his life over the past twenty something years and watched the guy go to great heights, have great falls, and still be, in a way, really earning respect and just continuing to try to make his unique contribution to the world. I think it’s really beautiful, and I love it.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on Instagram at @pittsjr26 or you can find For Girls Like You using the handle @forgirlslikeyou on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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