Failure, Not Success, Makes A Leader Great

Peter is a unique case in the book of John, because in many ways, he was not someone who couldn’t believe, but someone who stopped believing. He let Jesus down big time, and was sure God’s plans for him were over. Yet Jesus tells Peter that he is going to become the leader of the church.

How did Jesus turn Peter, a guy who was so shaky he would deny him three times in one evening, to one who would endure crucifixion? A deep and profound experience of grace.

Peter’s pride and confidence in his abilities kept him in 4 spiritually deadly conditions:

1. It made him unsure of his relationship to God, always asking, “Have I done enough?”

2. It left him spiritually weak, because his own sense of strength kept him from depending on Jesus.

3. It kept him self-focused. Peter was so focused on how well was he doing and how he compares to really pay attention to other people’s needs.

4. The result of all this was that Peter was unable to help others in their weakness.

You can’t help others if you are consumed with your own strength. You might inspire them with how perfect you make yourself out to be, but that really won’t help them. It will just make them try to be perfect like they think you are—and that will end up crushing them.

What others most need to see is how God’s grace works in our lives, because that shows them where they can find grace for their weakness. A sinner’s greatest need is not a teacher or a role model, but a Savior. Thus, the story of how God is showing you grace shows them where they can find that fountain of grace. Discipleship is one beggar taking another beggar to the place he finds daily bread.

A deep experience with God’s grace would reverse all four of those conditions in Peter’s life. It took Peter (1) from uncertainty to assurance with God. It gave him an intimacy with Jesus that made him want to draw close. That intimacy (2) filled him with spiritual strength.  Like a child stretching his arms out to his parents, Peter would constantly stretch out his hands to Jesus. In the end, facing crucifixion, Peter could say, “Jesus, you can take all that I have because Jesus, you are all that I need!”

Peter’s failure and experience of grace brought him (3) from self-centeredness to others-centeredness. Once Peter took his eyes off of himself, he became aware of other people’s needs, and was finally (4) able to help them in their weakness. Peter’s failures put him in touch with God’s grace, and God’s grace is where a leader’s real strength comes from. In fact, it is a church leader’s most valuable resource to help others in need. You can only pour God’s grace into others when you are filled with it yourself.

Make no mistake: Jesus chose Peter to lead his church not despite of his failures, but because of his failures. His failures, not his successes, made Peter a great leader. His failures were his gateway to his need for grace; his need for grace was his gateway to Jesus; and his intimacy with Jesus would be his gateway to everything else.

The most powerful force in a Christian’s life is their experience of Jesus’ grace.

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  1. Steve Martin   •  

    So much for being a sinless paragon of virtue.

    It’s actually not possible.

    Preachers should use their own lack of obedience (they don’t need to be specific unless they want to be) when giving sermons. So that NO ONE is left standing after the sermon…but Christ Jesus.

  2. Jon H.   •  

    Mr. Greer, I appreciate your article and I agree with it completely.

    However, as someone in ministry in a small town church, it’s hard to read something like that from someone who seems so extremely successful. There’s been a lot in the blogosphere lately about celebrity pastors. I would categorize you as a “celebrity” pastor – someone who is widely read and listened to and looked up to. Please hear my heart, I’m not casting you in a negative light. I love your ministry, books, etc…but…

    What failures of your own could you share with little people like me who might read this and say, “yeah that’s easy to write when your the pastor The Summit church.’?

    Then people like me can say, “Yeah, J.D. Greer is really human just like the rest of us…”

    Again, not trying to be negative or critical…but I would truly love to hear how J.D. Greer’s failures have made him successful. I think that would be an encouraging thing for people like me to hear.

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