In our work with churches and pastors, we have found the Stockdale Paradox to be an essential underpinning for leader health as well as church health and revitalization. 

Jim Collins term this concept the “Stockdale Paradox” named after Admiral James Stockdale, one of the most decorated United States Navy officers, who was also awarded the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War.

The Stockdale Paradox is that we must confront reality and point towards hope. We need to name the brutal facts but genuinely believe that in the end, we will prevail. 

The Stockdale Paradox is essential to churches in transition, conflict, decline, or plateau. The messier and more uncertain the season, the more critical the Stockdale Paradox. The Stockdale Paradox is also essential to productive, healthy change. 

The Stockdale Paradox also has some biblical connections. If you think about the essential events of the Gospel, you find the confronting of reality as well as the pointing towards hope. Good Friday is the reality, but we are a people of hope, an Easter people. We are simultaneously sinners and saints. This is the Stockdale Paradox. 

Good Friday is only good because of Easter. Easter is not much of a story without Good Friday. Jesus lived the Stockdale Paradox. Jesus constantly named reality and yet pointed people towards hope.

So often, especially in transition or crisis, churches are good at one or the other. Often times we get stuck in hopelessness and negativity. We confront reality, but never think, talk about, or look towards hope. Other times (as is more often the case) we live in denial of the reality we are facing and live only in hope. No problem was ever solved without naming it, yet often in the church, this is what we expect. We either get stuck in Good Friday or we look to live the Easter life without any truth, any suffering, any confrontation of reality. 

Healthy leaders and healthy churches embrace the Stockdale Paradox. They confront reality and point towards hope. 

To learn more about leader health or church health and revitalization, contact us at

Rev. Dr. Marcus J. Carlson, Executive Director, Preparing for Amazement Ministries


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