It all started with a long walk down an aisle at a Christian youth conference. Maybe it was the sound of teenagers singing “I Surrender All.” Then again, maybe it was what I ate for lunch. Regardless, I felt myself walking forward at the altar call. There, in an auditorium packed with soul-hungry youth, I dedicated my fifteen-year-old self to a life of Christian ministry. Simply, I loved Jesus and wanted my life to be about Him.
Only life wasn’t simple at all.
First a painful divorce. Then single motherhood and eventual remarriage. Followed by years of complicated parenting and disgruntled teenagers. Not to mention a cancer diagnosis, times three. And three children from a traumatic background added to the family right as life started to settle down.
Real life turned out to be far less neat and tidy than the imagined life. As for my altar-call promise? I wasn’t sure a girl could still lead and serve Jesus when her life was a mess. Didn’t my complicated story disqualify me?
For too long, I’d bought into a misconception: Leaders need a well-ordered life, to be put-together, strong.
Not someone like me.
But as it turned out, the things I most regretted about my story became the heart of my ministry. And the very things I thought disqualified me ended up becoming the means to fulfilling the promise of a fifteen-year-old girl to her God.
There is certainly a place for integrity in leadership. And some situations require stepping back for a time while God heals and restores. But leadership isn’t about appearances of perfection; it’s allowing God to use imperfection for impact and His perfect glory.
Regardless of how complicated your story, leading from a place of imperfection can be the basis of a powerful ministry. Here’s how:
Tell the truth. Sometimes we’re so desperate for a different life, we deny reality, to ourselves and others. But to embrace an imperfect life, lead in the middle of it, we need to admit the truth about our story. Own it. Authenticity ministers far more than put-togetherness. Besides, our need to be “polished” and “perfect” is often proof of a desire for personal glory, not God’s glory.
Circle up a team. Leadership can be isolating. Even more so when real life is complicated. That’s why we must surround ourselves with the right people through the process, for both encouragement and accountability. If we’re going to lead authentically from a place of weakness, we’ll need a team helping us through it with integrity and strength.
Prep to grow. We’re hard-wired to shrink from pain. But the Bible is filled with stories of men and women who thrived in great hardship. Moses. Esther. Joseph. John. In every case, the unexpected life provided the fertile ground for powerful leadership. The same is true for our unexpected scenarios. Rather than shrink back, lean in. Nothing will bring maturity and growth like a tough season.
Watch for God’s glory. When the Israelites were trapped between an angry Egyptian army and the Red Sea, they could only see the precarious nature of their predicament. Little did they know they were on the verge of a breathtaking miracle. When you and I land in terrifying circumstances, we can easily see the hardship and miss the opportunity. Instead, we must open our eyes to what the God of the Impossible can do! Look for God’s glory, wait for it. Then, when it comes, let your life shine. For Him.
A storyteller at heart, Michele Cushatt speaks nationwide with Women of Faith and Compassion International, and is co-host of the popular leadership podcast This Is Your Life With Michael Hyatt. She has written for Today’s Christian Woman and MOPS International, and her first book, Undone: A Story of Making Peace With An Unexpected Life , releases with Zondervan on March 10. Michele and her husband, Troy, live in Denver, Colorado with their six children.