6 Ways to Finish Well as a Christian Leader

By Bill Gaultiere

In Dr. Bobby Clinton’s study of 3,500 leaders for Christ, it was found that only one-third of leaders finished well. 

Many drop out (usually due to burnout). Some have a moral failing. The majority plateau (fade into a slow fail).

In the Bible this same pattern holds true. Out of 49 leaders featured in the Bible, only 13 of them finished well.

This is why Jesus’ little brother warned us not to be too quick to step into being a spiritual teacher or leader over others (James 3:1). It’s why Paul urged his young pastor Timothy and all of us who serve God to watch carefully over our ministry and our soul which is the source of our ministry (1 Timothy 4:16).

Leaders in the way of Christ have God-given influence over a group of people to bring them to reach a goal. They’re called and equipped by God to join with Jesus in advancing the Kingdom of Light and Love on earth.

This is counter-cultural. It’s spiritual leadership. We’re relying on God, not ourselves. We’re following Jesus first and leading others second.

4 Reasons Why Christian Leaders May Not Finish Well

Why do seminary-trained pastors, missionaries, church planters and other highly educated Christian leaders fail? Why is it that even men and women who are very intelligent, great with people, and spiritually gifted often fail in their leadership? How could it be that a leader’s excellent training and superior giftedness are so often not enough to finish well?

  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.

6 Traits of Leaders Who Do Finish Well

Here are six ways that our Soul Shepherding Institute develops healthy and effective leaders in the way of Jesus:

  1. Cultivate intimacy with Jesus. Being fully devoted to Christ and submitted to God’s kingdom with him (developing a Sovereign mindset) is the source of great leadership.
  2. Articulate and live by our God-appointed mission and values. To lead well in ministry we need to discern God’s call for how we can serve other people in Jesus’ name. This is what will make our heart sing!
  3. Form a close relationship with a mentor. You can’t care for your soul by yourself — you need someone you can turn to for listening, pastoring, and counseling. It’s not enough to learn from books, podcasts, and conferences. All of us in ministry and leadership need a soul shepherd.
  4. Keep learning. Study Scripture, books and seminars on spiritual formation and leadership. Reflect on your life and leadership. Engage in soul talks with friends and mentors, seeking their empathy and feedback.
  5. Manifest Christlikeness (the fruit of the Spirit). In your relationships and service what impacts people the most is the kind of person you are. For instance, becoming patient and kind like Christ Jesus will have a more positive impact on the people you lead and care for than anything you say or do (1 Corinthians 13:1-4).
  6. Believe that God is doing something special through you! Great leaders in the way of Christ have a sense of unique God-given purpose. They’re not jealous of other leaders or competing with them, they appreciate and enjoy their place of service.

Leaders like this leave behind a legacy of changed lives, fruitful models of ministry, and good works that last. Yet, they’re not focused on their legacy — they’re focused on loving God and the people around them with the resources the Lord has entrusted to them.

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You can find more resources to help strengthen your ministry and relationship with Jesus at Soul Shepherding’s website. If you are interested in receiving more empathy in your life, consider meeting with one of our Spiritual Directors to support you in the important ministry work you are doing.

(This article draws on insights from The Making of a Leader by Dr. Bobby Clinton.)


This article is submitted by David Rimoldi of Soul Shepherding.  Soul Shepherding is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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  1. I suppose I should read the book mentioned in the footnotes, but it would have been helpful if this article explained the author’s definition of “finishing well” and “failing”. And it would be extra helpful to have concrete examples of the two for comparison.

    Also, is this concept referring to pastors and missionaries exclusively? If someone pastors and then takes a secular job are they a failure or not finishing well? If someone starts a Christian charity that is mediocre or declining in impact after twenty years have they begun to “fade into a slow fail” (the author’s words above)?

    Out of context of the author’s definitions or any case studies it’s difficult to critically evaluate the claims of this article.

  2. As a lifelong full-time Christian worker, I was once a functioning performaholic. I equated my service for Jesus to my relationship with him.

    I think that pastors and Christian workers commonly fall into that trap, without even knowing it. We go from spiritual high to spiritual high based on our performance for him. Gradually, we grow cold, spiritually dry, distant from God. That leads to not finishing well, or not even getting to the halfway point well.

    The 6 traits in this article are good, especially 1, 3 and 5. Those are the ones tied to the leader’s relationship with Christ.

    Paul said, “I want to know Christ.” This phenomenal leader never, ever thought he had arrived, and wanted to know his Savior more and more. He knew that was his source for service.

    jon@freshfaith247.com

    1. I could not agree more with you Jon. It’s a message I’ve been preaching to myself and those I influence (mentees and missionary applicants)- my love relationship with the Lord is seperate from what I do for Him- they are not the same.

  3. Overall this was a good and needed article. I do think you missed one of the most important items though. Mature leaders always look at reproducing themselves, especially as they get into the last half of their ministry. The biblical principle is spiritual kids and grandkids. Paul told Timothy, the things you learned from me teach others, who are also able to teach others. Paul looked at developing leaders to three generations. Blessingd!

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