by Trevor DeVage



Clemson University broke a 29-game winning streak with its loss against Louisiana State at the College Football Playoff National Championship January 13. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was gracious after the game, even while admitting how difficult it was to lose. “We’re all hurt, we’re all disappointed,” he said. “But we’re not defined by that. I’m incredibly thankful for our team. Such a special group of people.”

His spirit reflects an attitude and an outlook that will serve any leader well. In fact, every Christian can take courage that today’s disappointment does not define our whole life or future.


As I’ve reflected on Coach Swinney’s statement, I’ve thought about all the disappointments that can come to someone leading ministry. Sometimes it seems there are more disappointments than wins.

  • I’m disappointed when a family leaves our church.

  • I’m disappointed when I make a mistake that causes someone to question their faith.

  • I’m disappointed when a staff member doesn’t perform. I’m even more disappointed when an effective staff member decides to leave us and serve somewhere else.

  • I’m disappointed when a non-Christian friend again and again does not respond to the gospel.

  • I was disappointed when our church members committed 10 million dollars instead of the 15 million we sought in our “Raise the Spear” campaign.

But none of those disappointments destroys me or my desire to serve. I thought about this after speaking with a young minister who had come to me desperately disillusioned with the difficult leaders in his small church. He was ready to quit, but I asked him, “Have you done everything you know to develop those leaders? What will your kids think when they see you stick through this difficult season with resolve?” I told him about two full years of disappointment in my ministry when I also saw hundreds give their lives to Jesus. If I had allowed disappointment to take me down, the damage to the cause of Christ would have been greater than any loss or frustration I felt.



So, while refusing to be defined by disappointment, I’m choosing three goals I do want to define me.

1. Finding Jesus. When the curtain closes on my life, I hope people will tell how those far from Jesus found him because of my ministry.

2. Becoming Like Jesus. The consumer culture in our country is undermining Christianity to make it only a shell of the faith described in the New Testament.  I’m working to avoid that trap myself and to demonstrate authentic Christianity in a way we don’t see enough today.

3. Serving Jesus by serving others. I want to be defined by the fact that the “least of these” have been better cared for because of my ministry (Matthew 25:31-46).



Disappointment comes to all of us, but we need not let it define us. We are defined instead by our decision to follow Jesus with everything we have.

This was the challenge to the wealthy man who came to Jesus for a guarantee that he would inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-23). “Sell everything, give it to the poor, and come follow me,” Jesus told him, not because it’s wrong to have money, but because Jesus knew this man’s money had him.

“At this the man’s face fell,” the Scripture tells us. “He went away sad.” This fellow’s disappointment defined him because he had put money ahead of his love for God. And while money is a stumbling block for many, for others it’s something else. For some the issue is family, or business, or reputation, or self. Again and again Jesus challenged those approaching him to leave everything to follow him. “Deny your self,” he said. “Take up your cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23). We’ll always be disappointed with any other choice. And for too many, that disappointment defines them.

This is not to say that following Jesus means the disappointments are all behind us. In fact, Jesus said just the opposite. “In this world you will have trouble,” he told his disciples (John 16:33). Later his brother James wrote, “Consider it pure joy . . . whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2) It’s that joy, not the trouble, that can define us when we keep our eyes on Jesus.

Coach Swinney and his Clemson Tigers will win again. That playoff game will remain a memory, but it does not set the course for their future. With God’s grace, that’s how I’m choosing to see the disappointments that come my way too.

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