The Failures of a Leader

I’ll never forget the time I went out to eat with a new friend from our college fellowship. After we had each shared some of our background with the Lord, my friend remarked, “You sure have failed a lot!” That was over 20 years ago, and I have failed many more times since then. But I have also had many successes, because I keep getting up again when failure occurs.

The secret of being a successful leader is not so much in avoiding all failure as in learning how to get up once you have made a mistake. Paul saw that leaders must not only be those who have experienced the Lord as “the God of all comfort,” but also as “the Father of mercies.” While we need comfort when we are afflicted or go through trials, we need mercy when we sin or when we have failed.

As was his custom, Paul begins 2 Corinthians with a reference to God’s grace and peace (2 Cor. 1:2). These are foundational to the life of any leader, or any Christian for that matter. As the God of all comfort, the Lord imparts His peace. As the Father of mercies, He brings His grace to those who have fallen.

Paul was painfully aware of his own failures. He referred to himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and at one point cried out to God, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24) He never forgot that before his conversion he had been a persecutor of the church.

The Rebound Factor

Few other qualities are as vital to successful leadership as the ability to rebound from failure. This is shown in the lives of leaders throughout the pages of Scripture:

Abraham made a terrible mistake when he went along with his wife’s idea that he have a child by her servant, Hagar. Nevertheless, God later fulfilled His promise to give Abraham and Sarah their own offspring, and Isaac was born.

Moses had to overcome his failed attempt to deliver his people from Egypt when he was age 40. At age 80 he was given a renewed call at the burning bush, and the Israelites were ultimately delivered.

Samuel apparently did a terrible job of raising his children. Still, God used him mightily.

David had to rebound from horrendous personal failures: adultery, deception and murder. Nonetheless, he will be remembered not as a failure but as a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:32).

Peter, only days after denying the Lord three times, received a new commission from the Lord to feed His sheep.

John Mark deserted the apostolic team of Barnabas and Paul, but later rebounded to write the Gospel of Mark.

This list is only the beginning! Various failures could be cited in the lives of other heroes of the faith as well—but God gave them the grace to bounce back and ultimately fulfill His purposes. Other than the Lord Jesus, there is no perfect leader, so our only hope is to learn to rebound quickly from our failures. These rebounds will not come by our own strength but by God’s resurrection power—“the power of an indestructible life” as the writer of Hebrews calls it (Heb. 7:16 NAS).

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