“You have so much faith in me.”
That’s what one of the kids I mentor told me this week. (Okay, she’s now an adult, but they’ll always be “my kids”!) It felt good. I stand out because I believe in her, more than most. And she’s earned it. She’s been everything from responsible to creative over the years, a gifted communicator, authentic to the core, and a hard worker.
Then the other shoe dropped.
“Maybe even a little too much faith.”
That’s the insecure yet honest 18-year-old I know and adore – because it was me fifteen years ago, too.
I told her that I have big faith in her because I’ve not only seen her past successes, but I see what incredible things she is capable of going forward. My faith in her isn’t blind – both looking back and looking forward inform my decision to believe in her wholeheartedly.
It’s really a personal commitment of mine. The people in my life that I consider “bad mentors” are the ones who really didn’t expect anything of me. They never pushed me, they never challenged me, they shielded me from any adversity and didn’t have big faith and high hopes for what I would achieve. People with low standards usually get a poor return for their faith investment, let’s be honest.
The people who have inspired me the most, the “good mentors,” are the ones who believed I could do more than even I believed. They had confidence in me when I did not, they had expectations higher than I felt I could achieve.
And I decided I would be one of the good mentors. But big faith isn’t enough. Believing someone can fly isn’t the same as them being able to. What happens when we fail?
The problem with many mentors and ministers (and teachers and parents and…) is that they believe big but don’t know what to do when it all comes crashing down. When I told my “kid” how much I believe in her and how I am determined to have big faith in everyone I mentor, this was her response:
“That ends with you getting let down more often, doesn’t it.”
Period. Not a question. A statement.
Just because I believe she can fly isn’t the same as being able to. Sometimes I push myself and others beyond our means or abilities and we fail. If you try challenging things, sometimes you’ll surprise yourself with an unlikely success. Just as often, yeah, you just won’t cut it. Do my students often let me down? Sure. I often let me down, too. So why don’t I feel like it? Why haven’t I given up? Why do so many other mentors and leaders burn out early while I’m still charging into the fray?
Like she said – having big faith in people should end in me having big disappointments. But I don’t.
I knew I was different, but I couldn’t put a finger on why.
It was important to wrestle with it for a while. Why am I different, and what does that give me to teach others? What can I teach her about believing in people in a big way – yet also being okay with being let down?
I found my answer (as I often do) in a work of science fiction. “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card is a brilliant sci-fi story that is full of philosophical wisdom. And it is one of the first places I learned that the entire point of training is to allow failure without consequence. You may have known that intuitively all along, but for me this was an epiphany that rocked my world. Allowing failure without consequences is the quintessential definition of grace – look at what Jesus did on the cross to erase eternal consequence from our own failures – and it’s the most essential element in training, mentoring, and raising disciples.
I have massive faith in the people I lead – yet I walk into that relationship not just equipped with confidence to hand out, but also with massive amounts of grace to catch them with. Failure is an option, and sometimes the best option. Sometimes it’s because we failed in a hundred small ways that we learn everything we need to pull off the most staggering victories in our lives. But you need an environment full of grace to make those mistakes and learn those lessons.
A good leader – mentor, minister, teacher, parent – doesn’t just believe in their kids. They forgive them and pick them back up. “Why do we fall, sir? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up” says Alfred to Batman as their mansion burns to the ground. Talk about a great mentor.
God wants you to win big. This isn’t some health, wealth and prosperity garbage. That movements says, “Define winning in man’s eyes, and God wants to give you that!” It’s hogwash and deep down we all know it. But what I’m suggesting is that God defines winning – and He wants you to be part of the big wins He’s orchestrating daily across His Kingdom!
And one of the biggest wins we could ever be a part of is making disciples of people. Because whether you are a midget or a giant, when they stand on your shoulders they reach higher. Because their wins are your wins. Because their failures are already covered in your grace. Because when you believe in them and they succeed, you see the seeds you planted and watered bloom.
So I dare you. Dream big for others – have big faith in them – and let them know it, fill them with confidence. At the same time, develop a deep rooted seat of grace in your heart. Be ready to forgive and relaunch them every time they fail. Don’t take it personal when they don’t live up to your hopes – teach them from failure and be ready to go again.
If you don’t have big faith in your disciples, you will never see big fruit produced by them. If you have big faith but you don’t have big grace, you’ll quickly kill any fruit they produce. You need both. You need…
…to be like Him.
He said his disciples would do greater things than He! Talk about big faith! We could search the world and never find a person more forgiving and gracious in light of His disciples regular failures. And look at the result! The Kingdom of God alive and well, and each of us invited to be part of it. Amen.
Big Faith + Big Grace = Big Win