I rarely cut and paste articles into our blog, but this article written by a church leader in South Africa was excellent. My only addition would be to daily apply the gospel by confessing sins, repenting and empowerment through the Holy Spirit and not through our own efforts. This is implied, but not stated.
The following post was republished by Scott Thomas.
Leaders Finish Well
By Dean Carlson, Church Leader in Africa, Jan 01, 1998. Used by permission of Church Leader in Africa. All rights to this material are reserved.
Few leaders finish a lifetime of ministry well. The hazards encountered by Christian leaders in Africa are many. Along the way, many become discouraged by hardships. A large number cease to grow spiritually and stagnate in their ministry. Others tragically fall into sin bringing the Gospel into disrepute.
It is the rare leader who runs faithfully to the end, developed by God toward maximum potential in life and ministry. Only a handful earns the right to echo Paul’s words, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7)
Dr. J. Robert Clinton, professor of leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary, has spent the past 15 years conducting extensive research on the lifelong development of Christian leaders. In an exhaustive search of the Bible, he identified approximately 1000 leaders. Most were mentioned only by name. These included everything from Old Testament patriarchs, priests and military leaders to New Testament apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and pastors. Sufficient information was available on only 49 prominent leaders to analyze how they finished.
The results are shocking. Only 30% of leaders in the Bible finished well. This means that 70% fell short of God’s plan for their lives. This fact should jolt any present day leader who desires to count for God. These leaders are categorized below according to how they finished their ministry.
4 Ways They Finished
Leaders like Abraham, Joshua, Daniel, Paul and Peter enjoyed deepening intimacy with God throughout life. They never stopped learning and growing, even as mature leaders. They led with spiritual authority, for their followers recognized God’s hand on their lives. Fully submitted to the Lord, they were developed toward full potential and used significantly to advance His purposes. They completed what God gave them to do.
Other leaders were slowed down in their ministry because of sin. They fell short of what God intended for their lives. The ramifications of disobedience to God at some point in their leadership continued to plague them, even though they may have been walking with God at the end. Such persons may include David, Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah.
These leaders finished the race in poor shape. They were on a decline in the latter phase of their ministry. This may have been reflected in their inner life with God or in their ministry effectiveness. Leaders in this category include Gideon, Eli and Solomon.
Some leaders were taken out of the race prematurely. They were removed from leadership by assassination, killed in battle, denounced or overthrown. We are not referring here to an honorable end like that of Stephen. Rather, God removed leaders such as Samson, Absalom and Ahab because He was not pleased with them. It is a tragic thing when God regrets placing someone in leadership. The price is great: personal shame for the 1eaderd and damage to God’s Kingdom.
While the interpretation of the date may be open for debate, the overall conclusion is abundantly clear. Few leaders finish well! Only one in three biblical leaders fully cooperated with God over the long haul and experienced the corresponding results in ministry. Do you think the ratio has improved over the past 2,000 years? A quick survey of scandals in involving Christian leaders today would indicate that the situation hasn’t improved at all.
Dr. Clinton and his associates have scrutinized detailed analysis on the lives of over 1,200 contemporary and historical Christian leaders. When compared with the study of Biblical leaders, it is clear that there are certain barriers that commonly prevent leaders from finishing well.
6 Barriers to a Good Finish
1. The Misuse of Money
Many leaders are careless in the handling of finances. Greed can sway sound judgment, leading to sin and eventual downfall. Too often God’s resources have been diverted to personal use. Clothes donated to the poor have been taken by those handling them. Pastor’s salaries have been supplemented from funds for evangelism.
2. The Abuse of Power
There is a tendency for leaders to wield power over followers beyond its intended use and to view special privileges as their personal right. Their leadership style is more reflective of a “chief” than a “shepherd.” Rather than empowering followers for service, they lead for their own personal benefit. Usually these leaders have no accountability system. They stand at great risk.
Success in ministry can pave the way for inappropriate pride to develop within a leader. Self-centeredness can set in, leading to poor decisions and ungodly behavior. We do well to heed James’ counsel, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (Jas. 4:l0)
4. Sexual Misconduct
Illicit sexual relationships have been a powerful tool in the enemy’s hands against God’s leaders. David’s sin with Bathsheba has been repeated countless times in our generation, with no less devastating effects.
5. Family Dissention
Unresolved conflicts between husband and wife or between parents and children can have repercussions on leadership effectiveness. Leaders such as Eli and David, paid a dear price in leadership due to family problems.
As a leader becomes complacent in ministry there is often a tendency to relax and rely on the successes of the past. Johannes Mazibuko, pastor with the Alliance Church in Swaziland, comments, “There are many repercussions when a leader ceases to grow also. One is that the followers do not grow also. You cannot lead people father than you have gone yourself. Also vision is no longer there. Instead fights begin. When people are no longer developing, they start to quarrel.”
It is important to note that each barrier is deeply rooted in character issues, rather than in lack of ministry skills. Personal integrity lies at the heart of the matter. A Zimbabwean leadership trainer observes, “Some leaders look strong publically, and yet they are finished in their private life. When there is a crack in your character, one day it will be opened. Many have long fallen down inwardly only to have it surface later. A good leader is a good leader in his own personal life with God.”
Moss Ntlha, General Secretary of The Evangelical Alliance of Sooth Africa makes the following assessment, “I find that there is a tendency for Christian leaders to want to want to be served rather than serve, to be out for glory rather than sacrifice. It’s very clear that without providing a leadership that has integrity, where what we preach and what we do is one, it’s going to be very difficult to convince anyone that we mean business.”
In light of these barriers, what can be done to ensure a good finish? The Apostle Paul realized that there is much that can be learned by studying the lives of other leaders. He wrote in Romans 15:4, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.” Referring to the stories of God’s people in the Old testament, he says, “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.” The wise leader will 1earn from the mistakes of others and train himself to avoid them. In the words of an African proverb, “The person who is ever ready for war is never defeated.”
Factors For Success
Several common ingredients can be found in the lives of godly, effective leaders.
1. Lifelong Perspective and Learning Attitude
Effective leaders realize that God’s development agenda spans their entire lifetime. They continue to grow, right to the very end of their lives. Such new learning leads to expanded vision. The author of Hebrews writes, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (13:7,8)
Throughout history, God has enabled men and women to finish well. What He has done for them, He can also do for each of us. The growing leader will carefully observe how other spiritual leaders have overcome and will then equip himself to run in a similar fashion. Insights may be gained through studying Biblical leaders, by reading Christian biographies or by drawing near to godly leaders around them.
The basic processes by which God develops inner character and deep spirituality are similar for all leaders. Character is developed as men and women are tested in areas of integrity, obedience to the Word, and sensitivity to guidance from God. Difficult experiences, crises, and conflict are God’s productive training ground. Successful passing of these God-initiated tests often result in an increase of Cod’s blessing upon the leader and an expansion of leadership influence. Failure leads to remedial learning and a slowing down of the development process.
2. Spiritual Renewal and Disciplines
Jesus modeled the importance of pulling away from ministry activity in order to seek fresh intimacy and direction from the Father. In order to finish well, leaders need repeated times of inner renewal. The alternative is a drift toward complacency and a plateauing of growth This is especially true for leaders in the middle phase of their ministry, from the mid-thirties to the mid-forties.
Caesar Molebatsi, a highly accomplished South African leader, comments on the challenge of fast-paced ministry: “You begin to drown in your own success. You do so many things and because God has gifted you, people demand that you do more. As you attempt to respond to those demands, you end up drowning in them. The antidote to this is to learn afresh God’s presence so you stay connected.”
Leaders must “go up the mountain” to seek renewal for their lives and ministry. Swazi Pastor Dumisani Dlamini has made a habit of spending three weeks each January for prayer, fasting personal study and seeking God for direction in ministry for the new year. Retreat centres or the homes of friends away from his ministry situation in Mbabane have served this purpose well. His church encourages this time away, realizing the spiritual vitality that their renewed pastor will bring back to the congregation.
Leaders who finish well have learned the value of the spiritual disciplines. The basic disciplines involving the devotional life and the study of the Bible, along with such practices as solitude and fasting can deeply shape character and increase the probability of a good finish.
After he had been in ministry for about 21 years, Paul wrote, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:27) Some 15 years later, when he was probably between 65 and 70, Paul shared time-tested advice with Pastor Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Lifelong spiritual training made it possible for Paul to finish strongly.
The issue of mentoring is critically important in Africa. Xolisani Dlamini comments, “The reason that some young leaders are not walking upright is because the people who they consider as ‘fathers’ are not fathering them. Their fathers have clumped them. Fathers should not give up when we are leaders. They need to continuously mentor us.”
Philip Dungulu, a pastor in Soweto, has gathered together a co-mentoring group of eight pastors from churches in nearby townships. He states emphatically. “No one can survive all by himself. We need one another. If I’m going to overcome moral problems, there has to be a group of people that I confide in. A group that I can be open. We all face our own struggles. These struggles are overcome, not only because we read our Bibles and talk to God, but also because we talk to other Christians about our problems. And we know that they will minister to us in these areas.”
A top Zimbabwean church planter reflects, “When God called me to ministry, the first thing I needed was to surround myself with godly men. I gave them permission to counsel and rebuke me. These are my mentors. As busy as I am, I try to get time with these men to pray with them and share my problems and successes. They are the secret to my effectiveness. Wherever there is a successful man, there are good mentors behind him.”
Clinton’s research has revealed that most leaders who have finished well have had ten to 15 significant people who came alongside to help them at various stages in life. Dr. Richard Clinton advises, “Simply put, if you are serious about finishing well, you need to find mentors who can hold you accountable in every area of your life and ministry and who will help you avoid the pitfalls that will arise as you move through life. An effective mentor will ensure that you continue to grow and develop.” (R. Clinton, p.24)
How do you want to finish your ministry? Are you encouraged by the trends in your life or are crucial changes needed? What practices and safeguards are being built into your leadership now that will make for a good finish later?
Take heart! God wants you to finish well! He is earnestly committed to develop you toward maximum potential as a godly leader. And if you fully cooperate with His shaping wok, you will join those who run successfully to the finish. May Paul’s passion as a leader burn within our hearts, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
Clinton, J. Robert, THE MAKING OF A LEADER, Colorado Springs, CO, NavPress. 1988
Clinton, J. Robert, “The Mantle of the Mentor”, Barnabas Publishers. 1993
Clinton, Richard and Paul Leavenworth, STARTING WELL: BUILDING A STRONG FOUNDATION FOR A LIFETIME OF MINISTRY, Altadena, CA, Barnabas Publishers. 1994
Dean Carlson is Director of Africa Ministry Resources, Southern Africa Region. He lives in Johannesburg with his wife Kathie and three children.