3 Sure Ways to FAIL as a Spiritual Leader

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I believe some leaders are born. Some are made. Some rise to an occasion, seemingly out of nowhere. “Summoned,” I guess one could say. Such was the case with King Jeroboam. In 1 Kings 12:2-3, Jeroboam “stayed in Egypt. But the people summoned him.” He rose to a great opportunity, then ruined it as quickly as he had risen to it. Oh, he led people. That’s what leaders do. They lead. The only question is where a leader takes followers – in the context of church life, either toward God or away from him. Here are three sure ways to lead people away from God, from Jeroboam’s failed example (1 Kings 12:25-33). In other words…

3 Sure Ways to FAIL as a Spiritual Leader:

  1. Lead from fear, not faithJeroboam was afraid that if the people kept returning to Jerusalem to worship, their hearts would return to Jerusalem and to unity and peace. Then, he thought, they would revolt against him as their king and kill him. First of all, what is so wrong with unity and peace? Jeroboam feared losing his positional authority, so he despised the possibility of peace. Secondly, if the people’s hearts were turned back toward peace and unity, why would they kill him? He would only need to turn his heart with theirs, and his joy would be made complete. And could the God who made him king in the first place not also preserve his life if need be? But that’s what anxious fear does. Spiritually, it seduces us to forget faith. Practically, it makes us live in reaction against the worst case scenario. Psychologically, it whispers to us the lies our terrified minds secretly want to hear. Fear paralyzes a leader. If you want to fail as a spiritual leader, this will do the trick every time: lead from fear, not faith.

In what ways might you be leading from a position of fear? What are you afraid of? Failing? Losing rapport? Being disliked? Having to admit you were wrong and correct course? How may this fear be twisting your leadership practice(s) into reacting against the worst case scenario? What lies are you believing, that fear has whispered into your soul? How can you relinquish fear and lead from a position of faith in God again?

  1. Promote convenience over obedienceLeading from a position of fear, Jeroboam set up two golden calves as idols of worship for his followers – one in Bethel and the other in Dan. “Going to Jerusalem is too difficult for you. Israel, here are your gods who brought you up from Egypt,” (v.28). Are you serious?! Is this not exactly what got thousands of their forefathers killed at the first giving of the Law (see Ex. 32:4, 27-29)?! At the giving of the Ten Commandments, “God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. [Commandment #1] Do not have any other gods besides me. [Commandment #2] Do not make an idol for yourself,” (Ex. 20:1-4). Sure, there are some decisions leaders make that are matters of convenience. But when it comes between convenience and obedience, real spiritual leaders choose obedience every time. Another sure way to fail as a spiritual leader: promote convenience over obedience.

What clear commands of God have you been ignoring or circumventing as a matter of convenience either for you or for your followers? How may you have been patting your people on the back while they walk further and further away from God? What matters of obedience do you regularly shelve for convenience’s sake? What course correction would God have you make today, so that obedience and convenience are in their proper order again?

  1. Go with good ideas over God ideasTo top it all off, Jeroboam appointed priests who were not Levites, set up shrines on high places, instituted a religious festival on a day he randomly chose, and decided to offer sacrifices on the altars himself (vs.31-33). All good ideas, for convenience’s sake. It made logical sense. I’m sure the priests he chose were good guys with lots of qualifying degrees. The shrines were beautifully constructed, maybe even with little dedication plaques on the side. The day he chose for the new religious festival, I’m sure, was on a day when no one was preoccupied with sporting events or other competing activities. It made sense to Jeroboam and to the people. All good ideas. The problem was, even if they were good ideas they were not God ideas. Church leaders are full of these today… good ideas that are not necessarily God ideas. Good ideas that are not God ideas might make sense logically, but they will surely end in God’s discipline instead of God’s blessing.

What good ideas have you adopted in your leadership before seeking the Lord’s counsel? What measure of God’s blessing might you have sacrificed, yourself, on the altar of pragmatism? Is it possible that you have been leading in a lot of good things to the exclusion of the best things? How can you begin to pray more specifically for God’s counsel, instead of simply promoting whatever seems good at the time? What decisions need to be undone today, so that God’s glory might return to your people tomorrow?

Spiritual leadership is a great joy, but it is also an enormous responsibility. How about you? Have fear, convenience, and good ideas robbed you and your people of God’s blessings? Or are you operating in faith, walking in obedience, and prayerfully seeking God’s counsel for today and tomorrow?

Grace and Peace,
Tony

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