I will be 60 years old on my next birthday. As a Christ follower, I have been in leadership for almost 40 years. I’ve not only watched my own life unfold over time, but I have also had a ring-side seat to many other leaders.
Sadly, many leaders do not finish well.
In fact, it seems of late that more Christian leaders are falling or are being exposed as having fallen some time ago more than ever before. And it isn’t just moral failings, as some leaders have kept their integrity but are “mailing it in” in terms of their role. They’ve lost their drive, their passion, their… hunger. Or they have that drive and hunger, but it’s self-oriented. It’s about building their name, their platform, their “brand.” They have lost any sense of a Kingdom mentality. And then there are those who are engaged in all things spiritual on the outside, but inside they are a spiritual desert.
No leader I know intentionally seeks out any of these scenarios, nor do they often plunge themselves into a ditch through a sudden turning of the wheel. No, people tend to drift into such things. Every leader I know who ended up less than what they intended had, in truth, been drifting for some time.
So, what can be done? It’s simple: Become aware of what it looks like to be in drift-mode in terms of your ministry, your servanthood, your character and your spiritual life.
Here are some things to look for:
1. You are emotionally involved and committed to keeping programs, even nomenclature, from earlier eras. Particularly those you were involved in building, creating or crafting.
2. You no longer feel compelled to learn because there is nothing you feel you don’t really understand about doing ministry effectively.
3. You frequently find yourself threatened by younger staff with new ideas, even avoiding hiring or surrounding yourself with younger people.
4. You shoot down creativity or new approaches because it is threatening, and you do it in the name of practicality, experience or supposedly seasoned insight.
5. You see other churches as the competition.
6. You treat your staff with condescension. You believe they exist to serve you—that you, in essence, are the ministry.
7. You care more about your image than your character. You think more about finishing on top than finishing well.
8. You have little or no vision that isn’t self-centered or tied to personal ambition. You want your church to grow for your name’s sake, not the Kingdom’s.
9. You feel entitled to engage in what you know is sin because of all the good that you do.
10. You know that no one knows your private world, and that is the goal.
11. You don’t even blush when you speak out against things that you know you do, or challenge people to do things you know you don’t.
12. You’ve started cutting corners and you don’t care or aren’t particularly bothered by it. There’s a growing loss of conviction on matters of integrity.
13. You haven’t had a private time of prayer and scriptural reflection in weeks, maybe months. Maybe longer.
14. You don’t feel compelled to pray before engaging in making decisions, preparing or delivering a talk, leading a team or counseling an individual. Prayer is, at best, an afterthought instead of in the vanguard.
15. You equate time in Scripture preparing to preach or teach as time in the Word for your own life. “Doing” ministry becomes an accepted substitute for actual time spent with God.
16. You believe your own press reports, meaning how a follower views your spiritual life is how you begin to believe you are actually doing and living spiritually.
Obviously, these 16 signs are indicative and not meant to be exhaustive. The key is to have these signs (and others like them) challenge and convict. To become aware of drift in regard to ministry, servanthood, character and spiritual life.
Because the uncomfortable truth is that the ultimate goal of our one and only life,
… is to finish well.
James Emery White
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Stephen Barnes
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His forthcoming book After “I Believe” is now available for preorder on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.