Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend I used to mentor. Our discussion veered toward leadership. One of the issues concerning him was failure. 

As I reflected back after our conversation, my head was flooded with my many leadership failures. As just one example, there have been many people I’ve mentored and hoped great things for, and yet under my leadership those things did not manifest.

Did I not say the right things? Was I not available enough? Why would God put this person in my path if failure was inevitable? It’s easy to internalize blame for the poor results of our own actions when they may be part of God’s plan. 

I’m not saying this so we can abdicate from poor decision making but to bring us to the idea that failure is a part of leadership and is often the place where God needs to and will intervene. Because God is the perfecter. As Romans 8:28 professes, He is putting everything together for those He has called! 

As we chatted that day, the young leader told me about a person he’d helped. Initially, it had seemed like this person was trending in the right direction. But then things fell apart, and to make the matter worse, the person spoke terribly about my friend. 

I counselled him to consider the criticisms and see if there is anything he could learn. I also suggested that sometimes God uses us as agents for others to learn the lesson they need to learn. We might not be a part of the epiphanic moment—we may also be one of many participants God is using to guide someone.

God is patient and will allow us time and give us opportunities to learn what it is we need to learn. Not everyone we do our best to disciple will follow through on that guidance, and this doesn’t necessarily reflect negatively on our leadership capabilities or calling. In fact, the Bible is full of leaders who fail—David, Saul, Solomon, Moses Elijah, Peter, Paul, and Noah to name a few. 

Failure is part of the path, but victory is inevitable. As 1 Peter 5:10 says, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

One of the most complex gifts for us to understand is that God gave us freedom to choose. When God asks us to do something, the result is not up to us.

Our obedience is just one ingredient in what God is putting together. 

Our responsibility as leaders is to trust what we hear from God, implement what we perceive God has said, and let Him deal with results. Otherwise, we become overburdened, tired, overextended, and unconnected to our source of hope and strength—God. 

If we believe God is in absolute control, that His ways are higher than ours, and that He has a plan for our good, this means that at many times we will not understand what God is doing. It will feel out of our hands, even though we have the opportunity to be involved in small ways. 

Our job is not to be successful, but to be faithful. Concern for people in our care for their own sake demonstrates our love for them and our attentiveness to God’s callings on our lives. And sometimes, what we perceive as failure in leadership God sees as us getting one step closer to fulfilling that calling.