5 Things That KILL a Strong Leadership Finish

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Will your finish be a blaze of glory or a blaze of gory?

I was recently in a meeting discussing the future of an evangelical movement. The person I was with shared a great challenge — one of the most prominent leaders of their movement was not finishing well, making it hard for the movement to envision a successful future.

That conversation soon turned to why this happened — and how it happens elsewhere. Within a few minutes, we had identified four others who showed similar patterns. They were all older leaders, were immensely respected, yet who were finishing poorly, griping, complaining and often undercutting those who will likely become their successors.

My guess is that you would not be surprised with some of the names, and you could probably quickly identify others in your own movement who have done the same, but that is not really the point.

After our meeting concluded, I continued to ponder the situation even more.

Why do some leaders end so well — Calvin Miller, Jack Hayford, Bob Russell, Roy Fish and so many more- — while others go out not in a blaze of glory, but in a blaze of gory? They finish poorly and leave a mess in their wake. In some cases, they even undo some of the tremendous progress God used them to create in the years prior.

They have all been key leaders — and some still are — though many of those who have followed in their stead are ready for the former leaders to move on to greener pastures, other ministries or just down the road. That grieves me and makes me wonder why some leaders don’t finish well, as the Bible often reminds us to do.

I think there are some common factors shared by those who don’t end well. Here are my five observations:

1. They did not trust the very people they developed for succession.

In all the cases (there were no exceptions in the leaders considered), they had obvious successors with whom they were disappointed.

In some cases, the outgoing leader actively tried to get yet another successor to replace their original successor (without, it appears, considering they might also be disappointed in the replacement successor). Those who are not finishing well seem to always be dissatisfied with who succeeds them, almost as if they are looking for, but unable to find, a clone of themselves.

Ed Stetzer Ed Stetzer is President of LifeWay Research and LifeWay’s Missiologist in Residence. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. Ed is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today's Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN.

More from Ed Stetzer or visit Ed at http://www.edstetzer.com/

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  • http://joewickman.com/ Joe Wickman

    Thanks Ed. I am blessed to work for a leader who shows none of those tendencies. My observations have made me think that the “It’s not my ministry” attitude has a lot to do with finishing well. We are responsible for it. But it’s not ours.

  • Karl Henderson

    Good stuff. Handled well.

  • livingauthentically

    Your five points can pretty much be boiled down to one word: pride. If you do a careful study of the Old Testament kings of Judah, even the good ones had a propensity to failure at the end of their lives. Our goal, no matter WHAT we do, is to finish well. Moses is a great example of that. And so is Jacob, who “worshiped as he leaned on his staff.” Genesis 47:31.

    Pride was such a downfall for so many of the kings who began strong…Hezekiah, Solomon, even Josiah struggled, along with others. It is a common theme, and one we do well to consider for ourselves. Pride can, and does, become the enemy of ministry, and life, as well. And who are we aligning ourselves with, when we are prideful? (ouch)

    It is a warning, and an opportunity…I would love to think I could be like Paul, who was allowed by God to write the most incredible ending of his own life, recorded in eternal scripture: ” I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” II Timothy 4:7-8.

    Simply, we must humble ourselves. The prize is not a big church, a big ministry, the biggest ________ (whatever…you fill in the blank). If it means ending up in a cold, dark dungeon, with chains around your ankles and wrists, asking your ministry “son” to bring your cloak because you’re miserable and freezing, be willing to be humbled.

    Kudos to Pastor Jack…I love hearing great stories. And THANK YOU for not naming others…I don’t need any help being critical….I fight that daily. That’s part of the pride problem. (At least, it is mine.)

  • Andy Wood

    Wow… I love this! And in agreement with the three previous comments, Hold it loosely, friends. Our calling and our “movements” or jobs are not synonymous.