The early years of ministry are difficult for everyone. Oftentimes during those first days, a lack of experience coupled with a youthful zeal leads to a myriad of mistakes. However innocent blunders are not the only faulty moves that young leaders make. Too often, young men and women fail due to character struggles with pride. Consequently, the pains of formation and the uncertainty of what is new causes many young leaders to quit.
Consider the biblical example of the Apostle Peter. He was a fisherman who was called into ministry and was brimming with self-confidence and passion. Peter regularly acted before listening, as though he knew best. This is most prominently demonstrated in Matthew 26, when Jesus takes His disciples to the Mount of Olives and tells them that in accordance with the prophecy, they will all run away when He is taken to His death. Peter, in his pride, spoke up saying, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” It would be only a short time later that he would sit by a warm fire with strangers and deny ever knowing his Lord three times. After Christ was crucified and the empty tomb was discovered, Peter, drenched in his failures, returned back to his old life as a fisherman. He quit.
Another example is John Mark, the disciple of Paul and cousin of Barnabas. He started out boldly traveling and ministering with these men, but in Acts 15, John Mark is described as having deserted Paul and Barnabas while on mission. While the reason he left is unknown, his departure was a failure in ministry. He quit, too.
In both of these biblical examples, Peter and John Mark eventually found their way back and sought another chance to follow Jesus on mission. After the resurrection of Jesus, John 21 details Peter seeing Jesus for the first time and jumping out of a boat to swim to him, declaring his devotion for Christ while on the shore. In Acts 15, John Mark is seen once again with Paul and Barnabas and wanting to pursue ministry with them again. In both cases, the failed leaders were restored. Jesus asked Peter three questions and then positioned him as His disciple once more. While it took Paul longer, he also ministered with John Mark again and described him as a “fellow worker” and one who is “helpful” to him (Philemon 1:24, 2 Timothy 4:11).
When young leaders fail, whether in regards to competency or pride, the heart of God is for seasoned ministry leaders to be patient and forgiving. Helping young men and women through the good and bad as they seek to return back to their calling will bear long-term fruit. In the case of Peter, he became one of the leaders of the early church, even writing books of Bible. Similarly, John Mark watched, learned and contributed to the early church and eventually wrote the first Gospel account of Jesus. What would have happened if these young leaders been cast aside for their early failures?
John M. Ames is the church planting pastor of what is now Faith Community Church in Providence, RI.