John’s last chapter, as we noted yesterday, is probably a late addition to the gospel, but is notably John’s writing. It is also terribly important to the early church, for without it, we leave Peter in disgrace. But with it, we find in Peter a leader who truly understands leadership.
No leader can be truly effective in leading others until they have failed deeply. Without that, either pride or ignorance of the pain others feel at their own failures will make a leader ineffective. Peter is such an effective leader primarily because he learns the lessons that only failure, repentance, and reinstatement can teach.
If we think about Peter before his betrayal of Jesus, we think of a loud, impulsive, brash, enthusiastic but naive follower. We find him with his foot in his mouth more often than not. We find Jesus scolding him for his wrong impulses which drive his behavior. In short, we find a pretty ineffective leader. In fact, while Peter sticks with Jesus longer than any disciple besides John, he cannot hold the band together once Jesus is taken.
If we think about Peter after his betrayal of Jesus, we think of a pillar of the Jerusalem church, author of 2 New Testament letters, a preacher sharing his story to great effect, and a man who can sit patiently in jail awaiting God’s plan. Miracle maker, public speaker, patient leader.
The difference between these two Peter’s is both his and Jesus’ reaction to his betrayal. There is no greater failure than to deny Jesus publicly and Peter does so three times. But unlike Judas, he doesn’t give in to despair. Instead he returns to the community and leads it. And when Jesus appears, he goes to him as fast as possible. And in so doing, his repentance is complete, his failure forgiven, and his status as leader reinstated.
Do you have a story of failure in your life that God used to make you a better leader? Are you facing a failure right now and need to trust that God can use even this to make you a better follower?