Leading With An Imperfect Life

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

Michelle Cushatt

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.


Join the discussion

Betty McGehee April 24, 2015 at 3:09am

Thank you for sharing your story. I think it is a story that rings true for so many women. If only they could see the lie and break free.

Brandi Smith April 8, 2015 at 6:13am

Thank you so much for posting this! I too have struggled with "my life isn't perfect enough to lead". However, I know this is a lie from the enemy that keeps me from going forward. I am done agreeing with that lie! God has allowed my trials for the glory of His Kingdom and I answer to His call no matter how imperfect my life is!

Laura April 2, 2015 at 2:51am

I loved this article! Thank you for it!

Jeanelle March 30, 2015 at 12:29pm

Thanking God for the words you've shared. This is God-wisdom!

Elise Sharp March 29, 2015 at 9:43pm

Love the fact that you have actually given leaders permission to be 'real' & to be ok with it. And In that it will make them a better and stronger person and leader in Ministry and life..

Linda Thompson March 28, 2015 at 11:17pm

So true and encouraging. I have lived that type of messy life and have the tendency at times to want to live beyond it instead of showing how God has brought me through it. Thank you for sharing how we can still be leaders despite the mess we once lived in.

Ann March 28, 2015 at 6:24pm

Thank you so much Michele and Propel for sharing this is such a liberating article, I'm right in the middle of learning this now. I guess it's fulfilling His word that says His strength is made perfect in our weakness, never realised how powerful that is!

teresa March 24, 2015 at 7:35am

I love your words here, "Tell the truth. Sometimes we’re so desperate for a different life, we deny reality." Looking back over my life, i lived a hard life of abuse and my choices as a young adult to be in the entertainment industry made my life even harder until that day I "really" chose Jesus. I was in the shower when that aw ah Holy Spirit moment challenged me to always be truthful no matter how difficult. I can attest that life does change for the better when you live in your reality, when Jesus is the cornerstone of your life.

Sandy March 24, 2015 at 5:12am

Thank you Propel, Thank you Michelle for these words of wisdom and encouragement.

Sonja March 23, 2015 at 9:30pm

Thank you for this encouragement and vision of what God can do - even with a woman like myself. This helps me not loose hope and perspective for what God is doing in me now and may have planned for me in the future.

Leota Vermilyea Miller March 23, 2015 at 11:23am

I have found that my imperfections are a huge part of leading in my ministry. I can better relate to the people that I'm ministering to and therefore be a better leader.

Melissa Newman March 23, 2015 at 11:14am

What a beautiful story Michelle. What a blessing it is to have a God that can shows us such a perfect love through those imperfect moments of life.

Monica March 22, 2015 at 11:15pm

Parts of me can minister and other parts are still in the shameful stage and I haven't been able to release them to minister. This is the part of me that is still a work in progress. I know though Jesus christ I will find no shame and walk with this in my store one day thank you

Claire March 22, 2015 at 5:39pm

How I wish I could have had a different start in life, but then I realise that God uses this for His glory.

Anna March 22, 2015 at 4:47pm

Love this. Thank you so much.

Fiona March 22, 2015 at 3:21pm

I completely love this!! I have hidden for many years because of my imperfect life and the lie that I am unqualified. Thank you sooooo much for sharing this. It sets me free

Christine March 22, 2015 at 3:05pm

Thank you for sharing this article. I'm living the unexpected life: recently divorced with a four-year-old daughter. I'm still very much in my broken place, and it's encouraging to read about how this brokenness can become the basis of God getting a lot of glory out of my life.

Judy Davis March 22, 2015 at 2:15pm

Thank you for sharing. As a single parent and small group leader, I forget that God will use the gifts I have to offer for his glory. I don't have to be a perfect mom or bible scholar.

Diane Brewer March 22, 2015 at 6:59am

Thank you and thank you. Sometimes I just want to lay it all down. But we just keep getting up and the devil is not happy. So thank you for your story. I'm not alone

Katie March 22, 2015 at 4:35am

Oh wow. Thank God. Finally someone brave enough to share that they aren't perfect and they are still a leader that God is using! I feel like this is where a lot of hypocrisy starts. It's when leaders are thought to be perfect and they absolutely aren't. Sometimes I am guilty of thinking my leaders are perfect too but there are no perfect leaders. No one but God.
Thank you.

Temitope Fagbemi March 22, 2015 at 4:28am

Thanks a lot Michelle for sharing this article. Many at times, I feel like God called me out in the midst of an open sea knowing my inability to swim. But whenever I remember the character of God, that He's good and will never send me to a place that His grace can't reach, I decide to trust in Him as He leads me to lead others. I am so blessed & God bless you too.

Christy March 22, 2015 at 3:00am

This brought tears to my eyes. My story is very similar and I've often thought myself disqualified for leadership in ministry. And yet the pull of leadership remains and I'm allowing God to do what He wants with me despite my insecurities. Thank you for reminding me that God's got it all under control.

Janet Benson March 22, 2015 at 12:44am

Tell the truth. Oh, how that speaks to me! God has shown me in an incredible fashion over the past year that there are others who need to know my story. It's not the pretty, got-everything-together story I always hoped for, but when I obeyed and was open and honest as He led me to be, it opened a door for others who were hurting from the same issues I experienced to reach out to me. It let them see that God does much more than just see us through, He uses our past for glorious purpose we never could have imagined. God allowed me to be an example of how He wants to use us, not in spite of the mess we've made, but because of it. Unbelievers need to know that Christians don't "have it all together".

Tanya March 14, 2015 at 12:18am

Michele, thank you for sharing. I could relate to all of this and agree with you. It is so powerful to share our raw story. Myself and four godly sisters did a day retreat yesterday and poured our hearts out while we sat by the fire and walked outside breathing in the crisp air. God does wonders with our imperfections. Oh how he loves us!

Elizabeth Gourlay March 13, 2015 at 11:39pm

Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom. Very encouraging. Bless you Michele & all at Propel Women.

Tania Vaughan March 13, 2015 at 8:23am

i live the encouragement in this article - too many women feel they have to be a certain something to help others. I could not lead, encourage, mentor or serve God as I do if I was not the broken mess that I am.
Thank you for your honesty and words