Leaders & Failure: Shadows in the Soul

by Grady King – 

We don’t fail. We learn. These five words give hope thanks to my missional friend, Pat Keifert. What are you learning as leader from failure?

Most church leaders I know fight a sense of failure. No matter the public rhetoric of trusting God, working hard even those good day experiences, often fall short to keep failure in check.  Failure lurks in the shadows of the soul taking up residence in the nuances of fear, guilt, shame, rejection and self loathing.  Most of the time we “perform”— do our job without failure showing through. But it is there and we know it.  The first person to address this reality for me was Landon Saunders. I’ll never forget him saying, “There is nothing quite as sick as being sick of yourself.”  Been there, done that.  The constant sense of failure is a sickness permeating our identity; diminishing our capacity for joy and draining energy for ministry. As a result, we die before we die, hollow in faith, shallow in hope and unable to love—self or others.  Failure wins.

The perfect pattern church orientation turns everyone into inspectors of failure rather than recipients of God’s grace for self and others.

You know the nuance of failure in your life. I don’t have to explain all the ways that failure manifests itself in your life as a leader. Some leaders are birthed in a religious system that emphasizes getting everything right—a “jot and tittle” approach to religion. To miss any point is to be wrong, to displease God—to fail. It’s what my friend Brian, raised in the Plymouth Brethren fellowship describes as “the church of the last detail.”  The perfect pattern church orientation turns everyone into inspectors of failure rather than recipients of God’s grace for self and others. It turns leaders into control mongers. It is damnably futile, spiritually debilitating and morally exhausting.

What if, however, we adopted a posture toward failure that actually compels us to accept our humanity, accept failure and actually learn. We are not Pavlovian creatures. God has given us the capacity to learn, to adjust, to change, and reflect. Paul spoke of weakness and strength co-existing in the soil of grace. His grace is sufficient. (2 Cor 12.7-9).

Take a deep breath and be human, then you can lead. Adopt a new motto—“I don’t fail. I learn.”  Now, say it over and over. What are you learning? God’s grace is sufficient.

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