Dr. Robert (“Bobby”) Clinton studied the lives of 3,500 leaders and found that few leaders finish well. 

Many drop out. (Usually due to burnout. Some have a moral failing.)

The majority plateau. (A slow fail.)

Only a few are disciplined, keep growing, and finish well.

Even in the Bible this pattern holds true. He identified 49 Bible leaders that we have enough data on to study their life story and only 13 of them finished well. That means that for every three or four leaders only one finishes well!

What is a Christian Leader?

From his study of Christian leadership in the Bible Bobby Clinton gives this definition of a leader:

“A leader is a person (1) with God-given capacity and (2) God-given responsibility to influence (3) a specific group of God’s people (4) toward God’s purposes for the group.”

Notice how God-centered this leader is! God is the source of the leader’s capacity, responsibility, followers, and purpose.

This is a very different leader than is typical in our culture. This is a spiritual leader who is being formed in the image of Christ Jesus and empowered and led by the Holy Spirit.

Christian leaders in churches, nonprofit organizations, professions, and families fail when they are not continually God-dependent and God-honoring.

4 Reasons Why Christian Leaders Fail

Specifically, what causes a Christian leader not to finish well? Why do seminary trained pastors and other highly educated leaders fail? Why is it that even men and women who are very intelligent, great with people, and spiritually gifted fail in their leadership?

How could it be that a leader’s excellent training and superior giftedness are so often not enough for them to finish well?

Bobby Clinton indicates that leaders who plateau or fail:

  1. Lack a Sovereign Mindset. They don’t see and trust God at work in all their life situations, even hard or bad things. They’re not abandoning outcomes to God.
  2. Haven’t developed a ministry philosophy. Leaders who don’t articulate and live out their God-given mission and values get diverted and become ineffective.
  3. Don’t have a close mentor. Leaders will rise to the level of expectancy of their mentor — if they don’t have a caring and wise guide they won’t rise high.
  4. Stop learning. Plateaued leaders neglect to develop and improve by reading, reflecting on their experiences, and seeking feedback from others.

If a leader has any of these weaknesses it leads to problems, especially in the pressures of ministry.

Obviously to succeed in carrying out our calling from God we need to get on the positive side of these four criteria and

    1. Cultivate a Sovereign Mindset.
    2. Articulate and live by our God-appointed mission and values.
    3. Form a close relationship with a mentor.
    4. Keep learning. Study Scripture, books and seminars on spiritual formation and leadership, conversations with friends and mentors, and personal reflection.

6 Traits of Leaders Who Finish Well

Christian leaders can finish well! To do so it helps to set our sights on what a godly, effective leader looks like.

There are six characteristics of exemplary Christian leadership that Bobby Clinton found in his research. Godly leaders…

  • Maintain a vibrant relationship with God
  • Keep learning from various sources — especially life
  • Manifest Christlikeness (the fruit of the Spirit)
  • Live out truth and find God’s promises to be unfailing
  • Work with a growing conviction that God is doing something special through them
  • Leave behind a legacy (e.g., changed lives, ministry model, good works that last)

(Dr. J. Robert Clinton was a professor of leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary for thirty years. This article is from his best-selling book on Christian leadership: The Making of a Leader, 2nd edition, published in 2012. See Chapters 8 and 9 and Appendix D.)

Spiritual Leadership Training

This article is excerpted from Soul Shepherding’s manual in “Spiritual Leadership.” This is part of a two-year retreat-based program in “Spiritual Formation and Soul Care Ministry” for Christian leaders, pastors, and shepherds called TLC (for “To Love Christ”). This experiential learning takes place in an authentic community of apprentices to Jesus. Over 60 pastors/leaders have participated in TLC. You can read some of their testimonies and learn more here: “TLC Training Retreats.


Soul Talks Podcast “Becoming a Wounded Healer

“I was burned out and didn’t even know it,” Ken Baugh says to Bill, reflecting on being a lead pastor. He shares his story of stress overload, church conflict, fear, shame, anger, and how God used this to call him into a new and deeper ministry of being a wounded healer to disciple people to Jesus. This is the first of a 4-week series on “Repairing Torn Hearts and Relationships.”

4 responses to “Reasons Why Christian Leaders Fail

  • do you have any links relating to leadership restoration for pastors who have already fallen through moral failure who don’t believe God is finished with them, have sought repentance from God and congregation and want to go back into ministry?

  • I have been working on being a better leader in my faith. Reading Tailored Dreams by Daniel Christian Bradley and it’s been an awesome read. All leaders that I know I have recommended this book too. Just something about his life and how he’s helped others especially the youth is inspiring. danielchristianbradley.com is his site and tells about his life and his story.

  • Ur. Explanations are brief and straight forward unlike many theologians who complicate issues of God ly importance by their use of twisted English.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *