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Leading Through Disappointment

Leading Through Disappointment

Gail and I are champions for celebration! We believe the church as a whole and leaders in particular wait too long to celebrate. Celebration is a PLI value.  Today, however, I’d like to look at the other side of the coin.

Men and women leading in the Mission of God need to be able to manage disappointment.


Gifted leaders with high expectations will encounter disappointment.  Disappointment results when there’s a gap between expectations and experience.  A disappointment gap!

 Here’s a heart-felt Disappointment Gap illustration from a Fox Sports article.

 Among college football fans, Nebraska Cornhuskers (I’m one of them) are the 2nd most  frustrated (read DISAPPOINTED!) fan base in the country. (Any guess who’s #1?) For 20  years we have expected that this could be–actually should be–a year we compete for the  national championship! And every year for 20 years we have experienced the  “Disappointment Gap” because we fall several victories short (more this year) of a national  championship season.

Disappointment Gap: the gap between Expectation and Experience.

There are two ways to deal with the disappointment gap:

  1. Don’t expect much… lower future expectations to past experience, OR
  2. Manage the Disappointment that results from the gap.

Let’s look at Number 2 today.

My guess is that our Disappointment Gap finds good company in the Bible:

  • Abraham and a sky of stars
  • Joseph and a fading dream in prison
  • Elijah post the prophets of Baal
  • Jeremiah!
  • Judah and Exile and Its Laments
  • Jesus and the Garden… or the Cross
  • Paul and the desertion of John Mark

If you’re dealing with disappointment in your ministry, your marriage or family, or disappointment in yourself…  You’re in good company.

Here are several simple thoughts:

  1. The Disappointment Gap is not to be done alone, isolated.
    * Invite someone(s) you trust into the conversation and let them know what hurts.
    * Invite God into the conversation. The Psalms can be a gift here.
  2. The Disappointment Gap usually creates a new season for growth.
    It strips away pride and arrogance that seems to easily afflict us as leaders.
  3. The Disappointment Gap can create a season of fight or flight.
    * Anger and frustration can be scattered indiscriminately on people we love (fight).
    * Dreams of business as a barista or “when retirement comes” seem an inviting alternative to leading through the Disappointment Gap (flight).
  4. The Disappointment Gap requires us to remember:
    * We’re loved by God for Jesus’ sake, not for our leadership performance.
    * Why we first stepped forward to lead and serve.
  5. The Disappointment Gap almost always signals a sign for a change…occasionally a new location, sometimes a new conviction, maybe a new strategy or approach, almost always a change inside.

My guess is that you’re acquainted with the Disappointment Gap?  Let me simply say thanks. I know it’s difficult to keep an eye on the Mission of God when you’re down in the gap.  Share this with a friend, a peer, a board, and calibrate a conversation.

Rev. Dr. Jock Ficken

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