Working definition of this leadership concept:
To fail is to fall short of a standard or to not meet a goal. It is to disappoint expectations.
In this article I am going to focus on failing our own expectations, as I think that the shame and disappointment of not meeting our own standards often impedes our leadership.
Benefits for leaders who fail:
1. Failure teaches leaders about themselves, about their limits, about their character and often about God. In fact, often the experience of failure doesn’t just teach, but actually transforms leaders.
2. Living through failure helps decrease the fear of failure which in turn results in greater confidence in facing the unknowns of the future.
3. Experiencing failure can increase our compassion and understanding of others experiencing failure.
Benefits for the community where there is freedom to fail:
1. When the team is free to fail, they are free to risk, and amazing things are possible.
2. When there is good communication providing feedback and accountability, moments of failure can become moments of growth.
Biblical inspiration and support:
Peter. I thank God that Jesus’ disciple Peter, with both his strengths and weaknesses, is included in the Bible. Peter told Jesus at the last supper that he was willing to die with Him (Luke 22:33), and yet when the guards came to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane hours later, Peter fled. Later that night he was asked if he was one of Jesus’ disciples. Three times Peter denied even knowing Christ. That seems like failure to me. He broke his word to Jesus that he would stand by Him. I believe after Peter failed this way his heart was broken. We read in Luke 22:62 that after Peter had denied Jesus three times he “wept bitterly.” Peter had disappointed his own expectations of himself as a disciple of Jesus. But what I see here is that although Peter failed his own expectations, namely, he failed to stand by Jesus in the face of prison and death, I do not think Peter failed Jesus’ expectations.
In The Gospel of Luke we read Jesus' words: “31 ‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.’ 33 Peter said to him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.’ 34 Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.’” (Luke 22:31–34, ESV)
First, we see that Jesus’ expectation is that Peter will fail; he will deny Him three times. Jesus knows this about Peter, even before Peter knows this about himself. But look at what Jesus said in verse 32, “…And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32, ESV). Jesus also expected that Peter would repent. And when Peter turned, was he to condemn himself, or disqualify himself from leadership? No. He was to strengthen the other believers. He was to continue in the service Jesus had trained him to do—even after failing.
Jesus does not seem to see Peter’s failure as the end of his service to God or an end to his relationship with God or even an end to his participation on the Jesus team. Jesus did not see Peter’s failure as the end of his leadership, instead I think the Lord used it to shape Peter to lead more powerfully. I wonder if failure is an experience that can be used to form us more to the image of Christ. And friends, I wonder if Peter may be better qualified to strengthen others after his failure than he was before failing his expectations?
I really failed my own expectations last fall when I took a step back from a team during one of the most challenging moments the team had ever faced. I felt awful. I could not believe I was doing it. I had prided myself on my reliability and my loyalty. I had told myself I would never abandon my team, and then, in the face of both the COVID pandemic and my own family’s suffering due to a hard medical diagnosis, I was at the end of myself and realized I needed to let go of my position. Even though I took some time and sought the Lord with other team leaders, and we all agreed that I should step back for a season, in my heart I still felt like I had abandoned them. I felt like such a failure for months. But was I really a failure? I was obeying God’s leading. I had submitted myself to spiritual authorities, and they agreed I was obeying God’s leading and blessed my decision. Why then, did I still feel like a failure? I spent months wrestling with my thoughts. I had failed my own expectations and that failure made me examine my pride, my expectations and how I define failure. It has been one of the most transforming seasons of my life. It was the first season in many years that I did not have any ministry responsibilities and that created space for me to just be with the Lord as a person. As I wrestled with my thoughts in prayer with the Lord, He brought me to a place of peace where I could “just be” with Him. I let go. I received God’s love. I was not really sure how to do it, so I would just say out loud, “Lord, I receive Your Love for me. I invite You into this pain.” I now spend some time most mornings sitting quietly and asking the Lord to remind me that He loves me. I prioritize and protect my time with God, realizing that I am better able to help people the way I really dream of helping them if I give myself space in time with God in the Bible and prayer. I am beginning to accept my limits and to release my former expectations. In the process, I am finding that I am becoming more of the leader I have always wanted to be: more humble, patient, hospitable and loving. Through my experience of failure God has brought me much healing and freedom.
When I felt like a failure last fall, I found a lot of people wanted to convince me I had not failed and keep me from talking about myself that way. The thing was, there was something very freeing about being able to look the thing I dreaded in the eye and to stop running. I had been running from failure my whole life, and it had kept me exhausted, with one eye over my shoulder wondering when it would catch up. But now that it was here—I mean, I had definitely failed in my opinion—well, there was something very real about facing my fear and realizing it did not destroy me. I can survive failing. I can survive disappointing myself and others. I can survive not living up to my expectations. And that, that was empowering.
What if we are allowed to fail?
And what if when we turn to God in those moments He can free, heal and transform us in ways we never thought possible?
Read through Peter’s failure in Luke 22 and then read Acts 2. Peter’s failure was not the end of his story. He was a failure survivor.
Take a moment to look back on a moment of failure in your life. Ask the Lord to give you insight. Why do you consider it a failure? What was the nature of the failure? Was it a bad decision, a moral failure, a human limitation? Is there anything else you need to do to make amends to move forward? Now here’s the big one, what good fruit has that failure produced in your life?
Did it reveal a blind spot?
Did it help you adjust your expectations?
Did it humble you?
Did it bring you to God?
Failure is a town we pass through.
Failure is not an identity. People fail. It’s an experience humans share. It does not define us or our worth.
You are not the worst thing you have ever done.*
You are so, so, so much more than anything you have done, or anything that has been done to you.
Failure is more like a town that we all seem to have to pass through from time to time on our way to other things.
But I think sometimes we start living there. We give up hoping, we give up trying, because the pain is too much. Friends, failure is not a town to live in – it’s just a place we pass through time to time.
Pray and ask God to reveal if you’ve taken on failure as an identity.
Read Ephesians 1:3-8 and write down the words in that passage that describe who you are as a Christian. Failure is not one of them.
A parting word on failure:
Leaders who fail…grow.
* I believe the first time I heard this statement it was being shared by a former inmate in a radio interview as something a mentor had shared with him while he was incarcerated. It has resonated with me ever since.
Comment: What have you gained from experiencing failure?
Hi! I'm Jeri Howe.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies