Tonight (23 June) I will be sharing at an FES (Singapore) leadership consultation on “Leaders who Fail.” There is a sense of deja vu here. In 2003 I was part of the first Eagles Leadership Conference and was asked to do a workshop on “Growing Through Leadership Failure”.
I had been through a divorce and had lost most of my public ministry. Divorce is a serious failure. It means not keeping the vows you made to God, whatever the mitigating circumstances. Leaders ought to be held to higher standards. I understood why I was no longer deemed suitable for public ministry and leadership. Yet here was a major organisation, Eagles Communications, willing to give me an opportunity to serve. I know they received flak for doing so. Some churches and Christian organisations distanced themselves from the conference because I was one of the speakers. But the Eagles leadership did not change their decision for me to serve.
I wondered who would sign up for my conference. Church culture was focused on success. There was any number of books and seminars that offered help for people to succeed in ministry. Would anyone come to a seminar on failure? When I walked into the room to begin the workshop, I was surprised that the room was full. When I asked some of the participants why they had chosen my workshop, they said that they had never been given an opportunity to talk about failure before. At that moment it dawned on me that God could redeem my failures by allowing me to share with others the lessons I had learnt from my failure. Indeed, the first thing my story did was to give permission for people to share about their failures. In a world that glorifies success, many have learned to hide their failures and that means they don’t get the help they need.
In the depths of my failure, I looked afresh at the Bible and realised key leaders like David in the Old Testament and Peter in the New Testament, failed big time. This does not give us carte blanche to fail. Their stories are there as warnings for us and there is wisdom in the scriptures as to how we can minimise the possibility of our falling. But it is also true that the stories of folks like David and Peter are evidence that even the best of us can fall.
The stories of David and Peter are, ultimately, stories of grace and restoration. But the journey to restoration began with both of them taking responsibility for their failures (2 Samuel 12:1–25; John 21:15–19). It is in admitting we have sinned that we open the door for God to forgive and to restore. That is never easy. But with God there is a road back if we are willing to take our medicine no matter how bitter. (The medicine is bitter because it tears down our pride.) I also learnt that God’s grace comes through others. You can’t really restore yourself. The grace that came through the Eagles and leaders like Nehemiah Lee and Edmund Chan were key in my journey of restoration.
It has been 19 years since that Eagles conference. It has been a long, hard road, but I am in a good place now. A key part of God’s restoration was His provision of Bernice, my beloved wife, who paid the price of accompanying a broken person. Tonight, I will share whatever I can with my young friends. I will share things that will help them to avoid failure, but I will also tell them that if they fail, there is hope.