Why a Good Leader Will Disappoint (Confessions of a Struggling Youth Minister)

Several years ago, I was challenged by this powerful sentence from Dan Allender’s book Leading with a Limp: ”A good leader will, in time, disappoint everyone.” That simple, yet poignant sentence changed me. For years as a youth pastor, I struggled with the feeling that I was disappointing everyone: students, parents, volunteers, staff, family, and even myself.

I, unknowingly, lived and led in fear.

I could not come to grips with the reality that I would disappoint people – yet this is a certainty in ministry, even more so in life. 

I’ve lost my temper with a parent and even a group of students. Disappointment. I’ve not heeded the Godly wisdom of my wife. Disappointment. I’ve neglected ministering to my own children in lieu of ministering to someone else’s children. Disappointment. I’ve followed my own dreams, rather than God’s will. Disappointment. I’ve poured too much time into some students, while neglecting others. Disappointment. I’ve called for Godly leadership with my staff, yet I myself have fallen short. Disappointment.  

I was crippled by the fact that all too often, we expect those in leadership to be without fault, never to blame, and always on “our side.” Any movement to the left or to the right on the part of the leader frequently elicits distrust and disillusionment. In the Church, a leader who has disappointed is frequently deemed a failure, a cast-off, and a victim of what could have been.

For many years, I believed that the best pastors, youth pastors, and Christian leaders were those who carried themselves well, who always communicated the right words at the right time and in the right circumstances. Fortunately, after years of leading and being led, my paradigm of a good leader has shifted drastically.

Gone is the fallacy that the best leaders are those who have their lives in balance, who never struggle with sin, and have all the right answers. The best leaders disappoint because the best leaders fail and sin. Because of their confessed weakness, they intimately know and experience grace. In almost twenty years of ministry, there are times when I have failed miserably. With failure there is shame, brokenness, and yes, plenty of disappointing everyone. 

But after the “disappointing” comes immeasurable grace. 

Aside from Jesus there are no perfect pastors and leaders, only those who “will, in time, disappoint everyone.”

A good leader will fail. A good leader will struggle. A good leader will disappoint.

A brief scan through our Bible reveals countless leaders who struggled and “fell off” the proverbial “pedestal.” Noah, Abraham, Moses, Saul, David, the Disciples, and numerous others “disappointed everyone.” The Biblical character I am most drawn to, however, is Peter. Many Christians and even preachers mock Peter because of his propensity to disappoint. 

In Peter, however, I see myself; a loyal, stubborn, brash, and bold, follower of Jesus who at times is quite disappointing.

Peter was in Jesus’ inner circle, and then in a matter of a few short days, fell and fell hard. With bold confidence, Peter told Jesus that he would walk faithfully with Him: “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). Jesus’ response: “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:34).  

Peter did just as Jesus proclaimed. Peter ran, he hid in the crowds and denied Jesus three times. Put simply, he failed. He seriously disappointed everyone. This gregarious, outspoken leader fell and fell hard. The best thing we can do as leaders and pastor is to identify with Peter’s failure, struggle, and disappointment.

In a beautiful picture of redemption, Jesus restored Peter (John 21:15-19), and Peter would become a pillar in the Early Church. In Peter and a host of others in the Bible, it’s clear: leaders disappoint. But through the person and work of Jesus Christ, leaders can experience redemption, restoration and then fullness of Godly leadership. 

What I’ve learned is that the best leaders aren’t those who have it all together, but are those who have fallen off the pedestal and into the arms of Grace.

Here is the simple reality for us as youth pastors and Christian leaders in general: we will disappoint, we will struggle, and we will fail. The question is, what will our response be? Run? Hide? Deny? 

Or surrender to Jesus? 

It’s there, in surrendering to Him, in acknowledging our struggles, failures, and disappointments that we find ourselves – above all, we find Jesus and our need for Him. And then we pour the mighty truth of the gospel into those around us.

We will as pastors and youth leaders struggle, we will in time disappoint everyone, but it’s at the cross of Christ that we find the restoration and grace we need to faithfully live out and proclaim the Gospel.

To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles and podcasts from Rooted’s youth ministry blog.

Darren DePaul is a graduate of Geneva College (B.A., History) and of Trinity School for Ministry (M. Div.). He has been in full-time ministry for nearly 20 years, and is the author of the chapter on discipleship for the book, "Gospel Centered Youth Ministry: A Practical Guide." Darren has been married to his wife Jenny for 14 years, and they have two beautiful daughters. You can read more of his writings at darrenjdepaul.com

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