Leadership Setbacks

Giving up is easy.

Young leaders are historically very easy to give up on. They are messy, occasionally erratic, regularly unreliable and consume large amounts of time and energy. The nature of this dynamic means that senior leadership tends to give up on young leaders far more quickly than established ones. It’s a difficult line to walk at times. Lots of valid questions come into mind when a leader has a setback. Did we promote them too quickly? Should we be more patient? Does this setback mean they are not leaders at all?

The Apostle Paul wrestled with this issue. In his fantastic new book Leadership Mosaic, Daniel Montgomery writes on Paul’s strained relationship with another leader, John Mark.

“At the outset of Paul’s second missionary journey, he decided to leave Mark behind (Acts 15:38-40). John Mark had deserted him on the previous mission (Acts 13:13) so Paul held the young man accountable. He was willing to confront a difficult issue even though it meant conflict and disassociation from his partner Barnabas. They parted ways, but it didn’t end their relationship. Years later, Paul called for Mark, and asked for his help (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark had grown and changed. A setback isn’t the end of a leadership story”. p. 147-48

Setback’s do not always disqualify leaders. They typically sanctify leaders. Setback’s in the present often prepare us for leadership victories in the future. John Mark was not discarded by Paul, instead, he was held accountable and eventually earned Paul’s trust. This is the kind of second chances that Gospel-centered leadership encourages. Grace implies second chances for sinners and grace is expressed and extended in our leadership through both accountabilities provided and new beginnings offered.

Montgomery concludes:

“Paul is a model for us. Moral failure or poor performance requires strong accountability (Galatians 2:11-19). This may mean practicing church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18) or letting a staff member go, but the Christian leader always keeps theological and relational restoration in view. Leadership like this is meant not to weed out the weak but to help us grow.” – p. 148

The truth is everyone who leads today is leading because another leader chose not to give up on them in the past. Sin makes life and leadership messy. But the Gospel puts us back together. It’s a Gospel of second chances for setback-laden-sinners like you and me.

Chad Williams

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