Why Leaders Fail

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Why Leaders Fail --- Power, Money, Faith talk given by Lynn Green at Cuffley Baptist.

First part of this on power may be called 'servant leadership'.


This is the most emphasised aspect of leadership, but it is the most important.

Mark 10:35-45 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.
They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory."
"You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?"
"We can," they answered. Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared."
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.
Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

The disciples didn't get this. Not until the final supper when Jesus washed their feet did they get it. The lesson of servanthood is hard to learn and keep learning. Why is it so difficult for leaders to learn it? We all know leaders who have got carried away with their position. Christian leaders who are famous are quite common. And their falling is also quite common. Lynn knows a young woman whose greatest struggle is that all the leaders whom she knew and trusted have committed adultery. She has difficulty trusting leaders now. And Lynn has a very high level management consultant friend. He went to one of the Christian leaders who fell and asked one question; "Who in your organisation can say no to you?" The leader laughed and called in his secretary and she laughed. "No one says no to me."

Talk among yourselves and answer the question; "Why is it so difficult for Christians leaders to be servants?" "Why is it difficult for leaders to be Christlike?"

  • Too sensitive to criticism.
  • Distortion of some of the gifts God has given---passivity, believe their own advice.

It's OK to give double honour to those who lead the church well. The difference between churches which work well is leadership. We, in our democratic culture wish it didn't work that way but it does. What is the key to the "success" of Holy Trinity Brompton church---reaching 250000 through Alpha courses this year---is good leadership that resolves the normal hassles between themselves. It is God's will to bless church leaders and prosper them. It is his purpose that the righteous should shepherd the earth's wealth and resources. But God has difficulty finding trustworthy people. We turn things upside down---God gives us people to serve and we think they are here to serve us!


Need to look for humble leaders that God can bless. The greatest pitfall is pride. A good example is Nebuchadnezzar---the most powerful man on the face of the earth and perhaps one of the most powerful men who ever lived. According to the Daniel2 vision, he was the most powerful. In Daniel4 he looked at all he was leading and thought it was all due to himself. God warned him through a vision but within a year perhaps he thought Daniel got it wrong now and then. And he lost the kingdom and lived among the animals for 7 years. Can't think of a more humbling situation. God restored him. God is looking for humble men and women. God is still humbling Christian leaders. If we don't humble ourselves God is able.

We fail because God blesses us and we fail to walk in humility. Let me give you a personal example. Last week at a day of prayer and fasting I was convicted of selfishness. I was more committed to my things than what others were doing. Felt I should humble myself and ask forgiveness. It wasn't easy. Afterward got a few messages of appreciation for my humble leadership. What a temptation---if I have a humble demeanour I will be appreciated more! What a horrible thing; I know my weaknesses. The only remedy is to sit in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Calvary road is the only answer.

Lynn recommended "The Calvary Road" by Roy Hession. Reading it is like being spiritually cleaned out. We will no longer walk in pride but with head bowed walk the Calvary road. Otherwise the gifts God gives us may lead to destruction. It was tough for the disciples.

Insecurity = Pride

Out of all the different kinds of pride---background, success, appearance, family etc the most difficult is perhaps that expressed in 1 Kings 12 (2 Chronicles 10)

Rehoboam is the son of Solomon. The kingdom was at its greatest; it was feared and powerful. Rehoboam was coming into a difficult position. His father was the wisest man who would ever live, the kingdom was at its zenith. And yet his father fell.

The people of Israel had complaints against Solomon's heavy handed leadership and ask Rehoboam for relief. Rehoboam went to Solomon's counsellors who gave good advice---humility and relaxation. He didn't like the advice and went to younger leaders; "I am much tougher than my father, he scourged you with whips, I will do it with scorpions." And the kingdom split.

Rehoboam made the decision out of insecurity. There is more damage done out of insecurity by young leaders than anything else. Newly appointed leaders are at the most vulnerable. He was new to the position and was vulnerable. It is pride but it doesn't feel like it. There is a strong internal voice which says; "How am I doing, I don't know if I can do this. I must demonstrate that I can do this. I must get in control." It is a very serious problem because it is not recognised to be pride.

Insecurity is pride

Let's apply this to ourselves. We aren't just vulnerable to it when we are young; whenever we are in a situation that stretches us and puts us in over our heads and we aren't sure we can cope with it, we are tempted to over-react. The cultural situation of not wanting to be seen to fail doesn't help. Yet even this is changing in business---the leader who asks for help is increasingly admired.

Let's dissect this.

Characteristics of Insecure Leaders

In the south of England there has been an upheaval in church leadership. Most new church growth is outside the major denominations. Inside major denominations where there is new growth it is often due to new church influence. There are perhaps 1500 new churches in the last 4 years. But there is not much training given to the new leaders and little accountability. The leader may well have been trained as a postal worker. There is a lot of insecure leaders then because they often don't know what to do.

Can you think of some of some of the damage as a result of that insecurity?

  • They don't take advice easily.
  • "Don't touch the Lord's anointed." A well developed theology of leaving only the leader to hear from God appeared. And the sense that if you speak against the leader you speak against God.
  • Believe that they can hear from God perfectly and don't need others around them. They tend to isolate themselves from others who could help them or balance them or even correct them.


Story of a girl who was going to attend a DTS in YWAM. She phoned and said she couldn't come because her leaders said she had rebellion. Her leaders wanted her to stay until the rebellion was dealt with. Lynn persuaded the leaders to let her come to the school and let them have a go at sorting her out. And the story came out. The leaders who did this were good guys who wanted to do well. They were thrown into the deep end when their own leader went away and didn't return. They weren't trained but had to do something to fill in. They didn't have standing in the community and couldn't get people to do what they wanted. It was like Rehoboam, he was not well equipped because he was inexperienced. These young leaders couldn't get people to obey so they said; "We are called to be the leaders and God will speak to us and we will tell you."

The girl was a 'why' person and she always asked why. The answer was usually; "Because we say so." Two characteristics---reliance on leadership and dominant leadership style.

They would say; "We are getting up early in the morning and seek God." She would say; "Why." The leaders thought the difficulty was that the people were far from God and needed spirituality. She kept asking why. They thought she was in rebellion and so confronted her. She was a sensitive young lady and believed her; she repented and yet still asked questions. They confronted her in front of the whole church; "She is a rebel, she is the reason we are not doing badly." The next day she asked why and so they treated her like a Pharisee and wouldn't speak with her. She went crazy and arrived in the UK in a bad way. She got better over the next few months.

The leaders were good guys but they were trying to support their own leadership. And there have been suicides in this part of the country by people who were accused of rebellion. There was a peak of this control in about 1980 and it has mercifully improved greatly. There were certainly a lot of false stories as well but where there is smoke there is fire.


Another manifestation is legalism. Insecure leaders like rules because it gives a standard to judge people and keep them on track.

When God does a renewing work it is a challenging time for the rest of the church when they see God using someone he really shouldn't.

So many good moves of God get corrupted by legalism---the Welsh revival and the Pentecostal movements both fell into legalism. Leaders under attack, responded with insecurity and rules. I admire John Wimber who, despite mistakes and all the attacks, doesn't respond with insecurity. He hasn't built a fortress to attack the rest of the church.

Often God raises up pairs or teams of leaders to keep one another on the right track.

If nobody can work long-term with the main leader then there is a problem. And insecure leaders squash up and coming leaders.

Spiritual leadership has such incredible opportunity for abuse. People listen to us in matters concerning the deepest things of life and eternity. Leadership is not about establishing us and our ministry.

How Can We Work in an Environment in Which We Have Insecure Leaders Over You?

Alastair---one of the most difficult things is working under insecure leaders. How do you do it?

Story---Lynn's first example of it was when he was younger. He has from youth had a natural leadership gift. On his first training school he went with a team to Afghanistan to reach out to the many young westerners. On the team was a man who had led before but had had some difficult times. He became the leader and Lynn thought he would support him. At breakfast one day---lumpy powered milk and cornflakes---Lynn realised they were making the milk the wrong way. He was just about to make it the correct way. The leader came along and said; "Don't do it that way it will be lumpy." Lynn's response was that it was the correct way. The leader leaned over and said firmly; "Are you going to obey or rebel?" Lynn is a why person but now has learned to say it in a very gentle way---3 pages of affirmation and then; "perhaps there is another way."

Lynn wasn't a rebel but the incident made him one. Lynn was guilty of his sin but the leader too was guilty of contributing to the rebel creation. If you have a steady stream of rebels in your organisation perhaps you are a rebel creator. So Lynn decided to make hell for the leader for the next three months; no one got saved and the team was an utter waste. It wasn't until we returned from Afghanistan that I realised that I was wrong. Had to apologise and put it right. What then to do next? Go home and get rich? The Lord said to go back and do it right. The next time wasn't so devisive---I led the team.

I don't find this an easy one. It is perhaps the most difficult thing to deal with. Sometimes it will work. It is very difficult to work under insecure leaders. You may only be mixing milk and in his eyes you are rebelling. How do you respond? Certainly not as you feel like! One of the most frustrating things is being treated unjustly. The leaders seem to be against us when we are trying to serve them. We are accused of being independent. Go to David and see how to do it. He responded with godliness under insecure leadership. He was under an oppressive leader, admired by all the nation. David seemed to bring out the Jekyll in Saul and was blamed for it all. The tension was the call of God. Has your leader tried to sneak up behind you and tried to slit your throat. There are Christians wanting to take their leaders to court because of abuse.

What does the leader want? Why Leaders Fail--Power, Money, Faith Respect and loyalty. Must then be loyal, David was at the risk of death, to those who don't deserve it. It makes us so vulnerable that we might even be destroyed. Unless God intervenes we may be hurt. "Give until you die," is what Elijah says to the widow, "unless God comes through." It may be that you are so refined in the process that God could use you to change the world. We may think that God has left it entirely up to us and that he won't do anything. God answers prayer. In the extreme God may tell you to leave the organisation. It is often the best thing for immature people to do. David in fact left and lived with the Philistines for a while---it was a pressure relief valve. 1 Samuel 27:1.

Insecurity Still Equals Pride

In our own lives we need to treat it as pride. Escape from it through humility and confession. Of course people will not respond to a leader who is so paralysed that they can't do anything but there is a place where you can share. It is usually with your team---of elders if you are one of the main leaders. It will likely develop the team.

Or, don't take a leadership position unless you are sure that God has placed you there. How can you trust God for the grace to lead if you aren't sure he wants you there? Let us assume like David that someone has the authority to appoint you and keep in good relationship with them. David stayed close to Samuel through the process. Stay accountable to the right leaders---there must be people who can say no to you. Lynn has people above him who can say no to him, his team can say no and the accountant can say no. The accountant doesn't really say no; he says, "If you want to do it you will have to get some new money."

[And do you compare yourself with others? There will always be others who can do it better. But God has asked you to do it.]

This is the most difficult area to deal with in training young leaders. Insecurity may be the most powerful motivator of people into spiritual leadership. And the use of spiritual gifts and teaching. Powerful people often are insecure and cannot be challenged because they perceive it as a threat. Feeling an inner lack, they seek public recognition. And what can be more powerfully upbuilding than others seeing God use you?

Doesn't insecurity throw us back on God? We will never be free from pride and the need to depend on God. If the need is never dealt with then the pride depends on approval given in response to public ministry. And will then never see the power of God in the measure that God intended for the church. One of the most difficult things for we proud people to handle is God using us! In the 50's there were a lot of well-known healing evangelists. God undoubtedly used them greatly but so many of them were in immorality and drunkenness. Extraordinary miracles but how many of us have Why Leaders Fail--Power, Money, Faiththe humility to handle it. God keeps working and looking for vessels who can handle it.

In 1977 YWAM had a tent outreach in Ashford. It was a remarkable time---a jammed tent every night with people healed and saved. God was moving and in was fantastic. The 3 of us baptised 60 people on the last night. One of them said; "We can take the nation." We have so regretted that. The whole thing fell apart.

We don't have too many answers in helping them. Encourage them, promote them but occasionally must deflate them. Most of them have made it. God has his ways of humbling us.

Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

We have core gifts and acquired skills. When we face people with greater skills we aren't challenged. But when they come along with greater gifts....

May have to rebuke people. It is easier to accept from people who find it hard to rebuke.

"The pathway to power is embracing humiliation." Jack Deere.

This is the Jesus model. Jesus' power was accompanied by humiliation. It was just humility. Paul lived the life.

2 Corinthians 12:7 (NIV) To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.

God has his ways of dealing with out pride. And he is able to bring remarkable things to our churches if we walk in humility.

Two other categories of common failures among leaders:


To love the Lord your God with your whole heart and mind... must continue to stimulate yourself through books. The Calvary Road hits the heart, Openness of God hits the minds. The Reformation thrills us with the rediscovery of salvation by faith. Openness of God thrills us with the renewed concept of God personal who interacts with the world. Gives insight into biblical concepts of God's activity on earth. Sets mind at rest---God really expects us to make decisions, He really answers prayer, he really relates to us.

Recommended Small Church, Big Vision, and 2 books by Gunter Krallman, Mentoring for Missions, (systematic development and multiplication of leaders) and Deeper Life in Christ, (deep, pithy sayings from Andrew Murray. It is another hard one.)]

Why do Leaders Fail?

Money, sex and power. All the above is power. But what about money in England? There are many failures here but they aren't so public. In Korea and Singapore there is a lot of money. Here we are still a little impoverished so we don't attract too many who are into accumulation of wealth and houses etc. But we have financial challenges. And mostly stewardship areas.

You are responsible for your own finances and will become responsible for some church finances. If you are faithful in little you will be faithful in much.

  • If you are stewarding money don't confuse your money with that money. Never confuse designated with general money. It is hard to keep good accounts because it is hard to keep good accountants. In YWAM we struggled to keep good accounts and never quite knew what money we had. Ended up using designated money. The Charity Commissioners are clamping down on this. Money set aside for a specific purpose must be used for that.
  • If you are the leader and are making decisions about how the money is spent, don't keep the accounts. Let someone else do it.

Be very clear when you have responsibility with others money in your secular employment too. Faithfulness in small things leads to faithfulness in much. Unfaithfulness in little, dangerous in much.

Stepping Out in Faith

Faith and actual. There is a huge tension. We bought a property for £2.1 million. We didn't have it and didn't know how to get it. Lynn had heard from God and some of the others too. Others were happy to go along with it but said we needed a Plan B. We had no reassurance by the time we wanted to from the Lord. Lynn let them look for another property. They worked out a thorough Plan B but we stayed where we were. We got into the situation where we would either be evicted or buy it. What made it hard was that 6 years earlier a Christian organisation was in the exact same situation next door and they were evicted. What was the difference between them and us? A close friend who knew them said they always expected them to lose it but always thought you would get yours. The neighbours got very defensive about any thought that they hadn't heard from God. YWAM tried to stay open to correction and input. The principle side of me would like to never go ahead until we have the resources lined up but it just doesn't happen like that. The only way to go ahead safely is to stay open and humble. The day to finalise the deal was the day when the bank said they wouldn't lend £1 million and the trust wouldn't give £500000. So we would be way short. The non-Christian solicitor warned that if we didn't have the money we shouldn't go ahead. But he had seen enough of the miracles. He didn't want to know whether we had the money. Agreed to the deal. Over the next 8 weeks God provided through extraordinary means. It wasn't because we fund-raised well. I have never waited on God so much. Often God gave me things to do that are unrelated to what needs to be done.

Can wait on God best when things get desperate. Went to pray for a sick woman who has since provided a lot of the money. It is not a straight line.

How do you know that you are right? Must do what you believe God is saying to you. Thankfully God doesn't take you straight into the deep end, there is an apprenticeship.

God has wonderful ways of even making our mistakes lead to his glory and our humiliation. Imagine how Elijah must have felt when he was about to confront the prophets of Baal.

Must embrace humility and be willing to be wrong. If they are determined to do it no matter what then they are likely to be wrong.

While there is a natural tension between stewardship and vision from God we are in a healthy situation of having to trust in God.

One of the best things to do is to think through very clearly what can be done with our resources and what then we are expecting in 'miracle' territory. Ask God for some indicator that you are in the right place. One of the signs we had was the gift of some beautiful paintings that were very valuable. They had been in friends' house but the insurance company balked and wanted a change in security. They didn't want to change their lives so gave them to us. It was a confirmation to us. The paintings turned out to be fake!

God always wants us to trust him. We trust the things he gives us and so he pulls them out from under his feet.

The primary activity of God in our lives is Christlikeness. It is his first priority; not more people in church.

In the light of the disaster next door we not only talked to lots of people but wrote regularly to all our supporters and asked them to seek God and share with us any reservations they might get in prayer. Did get one letter of reservation that we followed through---they simply didn't know the situation well enough.