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Part of a good leader’s job is to continually grow. Paul told Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim 4:15).

This growth will often come through self-reflection and self-correction – also called repentance. But how does this occur in real life? Why is it that some individuals keep on doing the same thing over and over again? I propose it is because they have not made a mental habit of self-reflection.

I was a computer programmer for a few short years before the internet. When an issue would arise in the middle of the night, I would receive a phone call. At this point, I had two goals. First, fix the problem so I could get back to sleep! The second goal kicked in the next morning. I wanted to evaluate the problem so that I could prevent being woken up again.

In other words, a problem gave me a chance to understand and make correction. A leader must do the same thing. Fix the problem in the moment and then see how to correct it in the future.

How can we do this? Let me suggest four steps using a “fictional” example of becoming irritable with my wife.

1. Self-critique. “I was irritable.” Perhaps she brings it up. Or perhaps I realize that I did not meet the standard of Jesus and the law of love. Did I walk by the Spirit of love in that moment? No. Then I sinned. Examining my own heart is the first step to throw off defensiveness and dullness of heart. Because I am accepted in Christ I can look clearly at ways I still need to grow. I believe Jesus is bringing circumstances into my life to make me more like him.

2. Self-reflection. “I was irritable because I was tired.” With this step I am asking what was behind the sin. Why did I give into temptation? I am not excusing the sin, I merely trying to go beyond the sin-confess-sin-confess cycle. At other times, this self-reflection will drive me deeper to see the idols in my own heart.

3. Self-connection. “I was tired because I had driven twelve hours the previous day.” Without making excuses, I am drilling down to ask what circumstances played a role in my attitudes and actions. Perhaps I made poor choices.

4. Self-wisdom. “The next time I drive for a long time, I will tell my wife I need some alone time.” Here we move from reaction to wisdom. This circumstance will happen again. What will I do differently? I don’t want to return to my sin again and again (Prov 26:11). I want to grow.

We all make mistakes and will continue to make mistakes. Paul tells Timothy his Christian life is about progress, not perfection. But progress comes as we make less mistakes or different mistakes. We are growing in understanding how the people work, how I work, and how my family works. This is not compromise. It is wisdom.

A wise church leader or family leader is growing in internal awareness, external awareness, and Jesus awareness.