Why some Christian leaders fail.


Celebrity is the worst drug in Christian leadership right now.

The problem is, it often starts from a good place.

You’re a young Christian leader with a platform that starts to grow. Your church does well. Your blog blows up. You start speaking at a lot of events. And in the midst of that swirl, you quietly start to think to yourself, “If I get a bigger platform, God will get bigger glory.” But eventually as you start to believe your own hype, that mutates into “If I get a bigger platform, I’ll get bigger glory.”

This happens for a lot of reasons. Sometimes it’s because Christian leaders refuse to have people in their lives who can tell them no. A church where the word “no” is off limits is doomed. Sometimes the leader is trying to heal an old wound with new attention. I’ve done that. One day a friend said to me, “No offense, but if the attention you’ve gotten so far hasn’t healed whatever wound you think you have already, none is going to.” He’s right. That’s one of the reasons I go to counseling.

But I think there’s also a part of us that thinks God needs our platform. He needs our abilities. He needs us to win. Here’s the truth about that:

God will never be handcuffed by your failures or unleashed by your successes.

He doesn’t need me to complete him. He is already complete. He doesn’t need me to play my role in his story or it won’t be told. It will be, his plan will be done, regardless of my ability to do it. He doesn’t need me, he loves me. He invites me into his story and allows me to be part of it as an act of love not desperation. There’s a big difference.

For the last few years I’ve been coaching leaders, especially given the minefield that social media offers us. I’ve learned something. Influence is not a good thing or a bad thing, it is just a thing. It is a knife, useful for cutting through lies and clearing the clutter to show people the truth. You just have to make sure you hold the right end.


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  1. David Harris says

    Wow. This is fantastic! I’ve been coming to that very realization: “He doesn’t need me to play my role in his story or it won’t be told. It will be, his plan will be done, regardless of my ability to do it. He doesn’t need me, he loves me.”

    It may be just a change in perspective – we may do the same things, but we’ll do them for the right reasons and with the right attitudes.

  2. Charlotte Schmitt says

    This is just the smallest slice of the pie as to why Christian leaders fail. After being in Charismatic circles for 33 years, I can tell you where the failure starts and where it ends. It is Spiritual abuse toward the congregation over and over and over until it finally catches up with the leader. The “my way or the highway” persona presents itself as adultery, power sucking (a lot is never enough for these people), bullying, legalism, degrading, outright abuse of women (and their opinions, of course), as well as stealing financially. I’ve even seen these people enlarge their borders and go to developing nations and do the same there. That’s where they really gain some momentum. And, yes–I still go to church every Sunday because these people are not God and I have learned not to put them on pedestals.

    • David Harris says

      Charlotte, what you describe is all too common in the church. We would love to think that the church could be free of those issues, but the church is made up of people, and they’re fallible. I do wish, though, that the church as a whole provided a better example of what we say the power of the Holy Spirit does in a believer’s life. The words don’t mean much if the actions don’t back them up.

    • Justin Daigle says

      I once heard a more famous older pastor tell his students, “There are three things every leader in the church must deal with in their lives. Sex, money and power. Almost all ministry failures lead back to these three issues.”

      • Tiffany says

        Justin, my pastor once said it is gold, girls, and glory that will get a pastor into trouble. Pretty much what you said, kind of.

    • nadira says

      “It is spiritual abuse towards the congregation over and over again,” so rightly put! Pastors feel they are powerful and invincible. I’ ‘ve been a born again spirit filled Christian for 40 years, and, I still cannot understand why pastors feel one of their greatest job is to break people. From what I can see in Jesus ‘ ministry, even Jesus took the disciples and trained when while they did the job. Changing people is the job of the Holy spirit not pastors.

  3. says

    Thanks Jon. I hope to grow my blog and reach, but undergirded by “He must increase and I must decrease.” Not meant to be a Jesus juke – like to remember why I’m doing it. Thanks again.

  4. says

    Authentic Christian leadership serves. Jesus said, “Even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life ….” Kingdom leadership is foundational. It comes underneath, supports, uplifts, and equips people to fulfill their role and place. It’s not about celebrity at all. Christian leadership must be honored. But read Paul in the New Testament. His model of leadership is revolutionary, flowing right out of Jesus’ ideas about leadership. You could say celebrities always fall. Why? Because we’re celebrating man.

  5. says

    Wow! Great wisdom.

    “He invites me into his story and allows me to be part of it as an act of love not desperation.”

    I feel like I know that, and have even preached that, yet I still need to be reminded of it myself! Thanks Jon.

  6. Lisa says

    Wait! No way! It’s not about me? My gran gran used to tell us grands … While you kids are deeply loved, don’t get a swollen head about your importance because it will happen. Took me 40 years to figure out what “it” was. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. says

    Amen to this. God will not be thwarted, and he does not need us. His plan will be accomplished: the only question is whether our role is witting or unwitting.

  8. says

    I left Christian ministry because I was exhausted from the many Christian leaders who refused to allow “no” to be told to them. They surround themselves only with people who reflect back to them how awesome they are. I experienced this same kind of religious narcissism across the spectrum from fundamentalists to liberals.

    Fame and power make it difficult for Christian leaders to refuse to get enamored at the sight of their own reflection. They fail to realize the greater power and freedom in letting go of speck-eye searching & stone throwing because of their own plank-eye & sin. They fail to let go of the compulsion to justify judgment of others and, instead, pursue healthy ways to gift grace to themselves & others.

    It is indeed rare to find a Christian leader who is succeeding in such healthy ways.

  9. KMR says

    I wonder what it is about being famous people find so intoxicating? I’ve never understood it but maybe that’s the introvert in me. Now the desire for lots of money I get. Anyway yeah, whether you’re a Christian or not most things should be done keeping the wellbeing of others as your main goal and by well being I think that should be defined materially.

    • Steve Rosberg says

      It would be kind of neat to be famous. To not be able to walk down the street without being attacked or screamed at by name. I know someone now who used to be very famous and she hates talking about it. In fact, she wont talk about it so i just dont bring it up.

  10. says

    I have been in “that” church with “that” pastor…we started in a store front with a sweet humble pastor and somehow he got some big name ministers to come to our church. We thought WOW!!!! But just in a short time he started acting like those “big name ministers” Our church became so inwardly focused and selfish it seemed to be a club catering to those who wanted big music and catchy phrase sprinkled sermons. Some of us were like those frogs in the boiling pot, we nearly died before we realized we were dying!! Thanks for bringing this to light!! Hopefully it will help someone examine where they are before they are boiled to death by CELEBRITY.

  11. Jen N says

    Love you, love your blog, big fan. I agree with most of what you say here, but I’m having trouble with “He doesn’t need me to play my role in his story or it won’t be told.” I believe that Jesus left his disciples with the Great Commission precisely because He DOES have a plan for us to tell His story. But you make a very important point about our attitude as we carry out the Great Commission: that it’s never about me, that it’s always about His kingdom, for His glory.

  12. says

    If I believed in reincarnation, I would swear that one being reincarnated into two people and one is them is me and the other is you. Like, maybe it wanted to see what happened if it grew up female and on the west coast and male on the east coast. I relate to so much of what you write. Thank you for sharing it.

  13. Dr. V says

    This message needs to serve as a reminder to all of us whether in church leadership, corporate America, or other leadership roles. We are instruments of God for His Glory. There are warnings in scripture about touching His Glory. Crossing the “line” into believing that man has or is anything without God is self-destructive behavior.

    Thank you for this post!

  14. Priscilla says

    My life was radically changed when I heard someone say, “God doesn’t need you. He can do whatever He wants. Whenever He wants. However He wants. And He’ll do it quite well. He doesn’t need you. He just CHOOSES to use you.”

    Continue to preach this. It. Is. Vital.

  15. says

    This whole post is great, but these words made me want to stand up and cheer:
    “Sometimes the leader is trying to heal an old wound with new attention. I’ve done that. One day a friend said to me, “No offense, but if the attention you’ve gotten so far hasn’t healed whatever wound you think you have already, none is going to.” He’s right. That’s one of the reasons I go to counseling.”
    Keep going to counseling my friend. I will too.

  16. Bill says

    Really appreciate your perspective and thanks for your post.

    Recently reading Matthew, I hear Jesus telling me all that I really have to do:
    Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

    For me, this cuts through the doctrine and contention I see in the church and brings peace to my soul.

  17. says

    Well said, Jon. “He doesn’t need me. He loves me.” Love that. Your words reminded me of a quote I love from Rick McKinley “The kingdom is. That’s it. Jesus does not need you or me to nail it together.”

  18. Rev. Brent Houston says

    This is my story. Everything you said is so very true of my life. Hard lesson. Lost of family, friends, ministry but most of all, hurting the one who died for me.
    I try to dig myself out but it is hard. I may not make it.

    I hope someone who is on “the edge” will read your writing and turn away. Keep God first place…Always

  19. Taylor Ervin says

    Proverbs 16:18 ” Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” It’s when we begin to think that it’s because of us that the church is growing and not the One who is ultimately in control do we begin to see our little world collapse around us. Never seat yourself at the place of honor but rather sit at the back of the table and let the One of honor call you up!

  20. says

    Hi John,
    I just want to say that after buying your book, I was inspired to start my own blog. As a pastor of a small, struglling church, this topic of failure hits very close to home. In my case, it has nothing to do with success though. I recently wrote a post about a similar topic: http://teachablemoments.ca/why-do-pastors-leave/ where I discuss 8 reasons pastors resign.

  21. Timothy Wrighht says


    I believe that the Father wants us to experience and live out of the love that he has for us not just head knowledge. 1 John 4:9 says that we are to live THROUGH Him, not for Him.I do believe that if I do not stay in this marriage and abandon my wife and daughters, then the fullness or Glory John 17:22 that he has given us will not be expressed. It His his Glory expressed through me as a person that honours Him. That is why the WWJD bracelets were such a joke. Jesus has already lived His life. He is growing us as Sons to The Father, not to the earth or His Church. We are amazing because He is amazing and lives and loves through us.

  22. says

    Love this. I have been pondering these ideas in the wake of the World Vision/Noah Movie/Mark Driscoll drama. It seems like Christian leaders seem to salivate at any new Christian drama–looking for a reason to write a scathing blogpost that will soar with regard to clicks, comments, and likes.

    Ironic, probably hypocritical plug::
    I’m a nobody with a crappy blog I sometimes update. Here’s my post on the issue

  23. DWH says

    Coming totally late to the comment party because all this is going down at my church right now, and I got caught in the crossfire of it, and it has been the single most awkward and unfortunate thing I’ve ever gone through in any church. The one thing holding me through is knowing that God is bigger than all the drama, and the church belongs to him and not any of us.

    It’s still kind of hard to stomach the sheer hubris that so much of the leadership seems to be blind to, since they’re stuck in a positive feedback loop. But I guess we all just have to trust that God’s got this.

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