The longer you lead, the more susceptible you become to discouragement, cynicism, and bitterness. Frankly, losing hurts. It’s painful when evil prevails. No matter how hard you preach, teach, and counsel, people still make horrible choices that destroy relationships, families, and churches. No matter how carefully you strategize, sinful people will undermine your best efforts. Political systems, governing authorities, and corporate practices all bear the taint of sin and seem to conspire against spiritual progress. When these forces align, it’s tough to maintain faith. When a ministry organization loses money or people or influence because of unjust practices, it’s easy to just give up. Why try when the deck seems stacked against us?
You must maintain faith in God’s promises and strive for the best, believing God’s ways will produce positive results. The only problem is, sometimes they don’t. That admission may shock you. As a Christian leader, you might expect me to claim otherwise. The fact is, God’s people are sometimes thwarted, not just in their lifetimes but for several generations. Remember 400 years of slavery in Egypt? Spiritual forces, evil people, and imperfect institutions conspire to produce this grim reality.
Hope is only lost when our perspective is skewed. God promises to make all things right at the end of time, not at the end of your project, ministry career, or lifetime. Justice is coming. God’s ways will prevail. God’s work will be established. Righteousness will reign. Every unfair outcome will be reversed. Every abused Christian will be justified. Only when Jesus comes will all things be made right. Not before, not necessarily in your lifetime, and certainly not on your timetable.
Part of your leadership legacy is maintaining hope to the end of your life. Doing so isn’t simply practicing a high level of spiritual denial. Hope takes the pains and problems of the world seriously, admitting the worst of them. Hope also admits, in the short run, that God’s people will be abused and his work stymied. Hope begins with honesty about life as it is, not as we wish it would be. Hope, however, isn’t overwhelmed by these immediate realities.
Hope results from a fixation on the future return of Jesus Christ. It may seem like a far distant reality, but it’s nonetheless the ultimate reality. Jesus promised he will return. When he appears, he promises the world will be remade without the curse of sin. Christians will finally celebrate life, service, and worship without the taint of sin. Finally and forever, God’s work and God’s ways will prevail. All injustice will be rectified, all relationships restored, all motives purified, and all situations resolved fairly. Every wrong will be righted. Think about that the next time you are on the losing end of a leadership challenge, abused by some unethical politician, cheated by an unscrupulous businessman, or undermined by an unregenerate church member. Your losses are temporary – real and painful, yes. But still temporary.
Without confidence in Jesus’ return, your leadership legacy may degenerate as you become bitter and cynical. Part of your legacy is finishing strong, keeping your faith in the possibilities of God’s people accomplishing ministry. Another significant aspect of legacy is to encourage younger leaders to press ahead, even when you know they won’t always be successful. You can’t fake motivation for these legacy-leaving contributions. You will stay strong to the extent that your hope is settled on something beyond your lifetime of experiences fraught with failure. Your hope must be fixed on this eternal reality: Jesus is coming soon, and when he does, all things will be made right. Let that stirring affirmation guide and motive the legacy you leave. Despite the likelihood of mixed results now, it’s worth leading because Jesus is coming again.