7 Mistakes Leaders Make

I love the Bible for its honesty. In fact, the Bible’s bluntness about even the leaders of God’s people is one argument for its Holy Spirit-led inspiration. Writers who determine on their own what to include in the story would likely have omitted stories that paint spiritual heroes in a negative light—but the Spirit would not allow such as He “carried along” the writers of the Bible (2 Peter 1:20-21). Indeed, the Bible stories warn us against making the same mistakes these leaders—most of them significant leaders for God’s people—made:

  1. ADAM: neglecting one’s family responsibilities. This conclusion is admittedly based on silence in Genesis 3, but we can only wonder why Adam did not speak up before Eve ate from the forbidden tree. His failure as a steward of creation and a leader in his marital relationship would bring disaster to creation. My guess is we need not elaborate on the stories of leaders who have lost their homes through neglect.
  2. MOSES: ignoring the commands of God. The Hebrews had no water, and God told Moses to speak to a rock to bring forth water (Num. 20). Instead, Moses spoke harshly against the rebellious people and did what he had done in the past—he struck the rock. His sins were probably several, but the bottom line is clear: he chose to follow God according to his own terms. Frankly, a leader’s frustration with rebellious followers often leads to his own sin.
  3. JOSHUA: not seeking the counsel of the Lord. Joshua 9 tells the tragic story of God’s people being deceived by the Gibeonites. Not only did the Hebrews succumb to the deception, but they also did so without having first prayed to seek God’s insight and direction (9:14). That’s always a risk for leaders who let down their guard. How many times do leaders act first and then pray second?
  4. DAVID: relying only on training and experience. Study the story of David as a shepherd boy, and you find a youth thoroughly trusting God to fight his battles for him (1 Sam. 17).  He knew God would deliver him from bears, lions, and even a Philistine giant. Study David as king, though, and you discover a warrior seeking to determine the strength of his armed forces (1 Chron. 21). That happens sometimes—the young man who trusts God comes to trust in self when he has gained some leadership training and experience.
  5. JAMES AND JOHN: wanting the best seats in the kingdom. Likely thinking wrongly that Jesus was going to establish an earthly kingdom (and certainly under the influence of their mother’s wishes), the brothers sought seats of honor in Jesus’ kingdom (Mark 10:37). Little did they realize that kingdom living for them would mean servanthood and sacrifice rather than position and prestige. Too many leaders make the same mistake today as they seek honor without humility, titles without trial, and power without prayer.
  6. SIMON PETER: speaking for both God and the devil. It was Simon Peter who best stated who Jesus was: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Matt. 16:16). In this case, the apostle listened to God and spoke the words God had given him. It was also Peter, though, who rebuked Jesus when He spoke of His coming death in Jerusalem. Jesus strongly condemned him in turn for speaking the words of Satan this time (Matt. 16:23). It happens to us, too, you know. Leaders at times speak both God’s word and the devil’s words—sometimes in the same conversation.
  7. THE APOSTLES: being overconfident. Simon Peter is best known for his promise of faithfulness to Jesus when He spoke of his impending death, but don’t miss the last part of Mark 14:31: “But he [Peter] kept insisting, ‘If I have to die with You, I will never deny You!’ And they all said the same thing” (emphasis added). They ALL said they would die with Him, but ALL fled not long thereafter (Mark 14:50). None of the apostles kept his word when the danger level rose. Overconfidence led to trouble.

Perhaps that is where this blog should land. I know no leader who says up front, “It’s likely I’ll commit the same sins I see leaders in the scripture commit. I’ll probably fall, too.” I do know several leaders, however, who would say, “I never thought it would happen to me – but it did.”

Help all of us avoid these dangers. What steps have you taken to keep from making these same mistakes?


  • Allen Calkins says:

    That would (will) make a great sermon series…maybe it has already been one..

  • Bryan Kelso says:

    Great great examples and reminder of the importance of EVERY SITUATION as a leader (seeking God’s wisdom, God’s way, God’s work, God’s will in every situation). Thank you! Your ‘Biggest Challenges’ post last year also challenged my thinking. As interested, here’s a link to some of the thoughts you inspired on PASTORAL LEADERSHIP and DISCIPLESHIP with Moses and the Disciples as examples http://www.globalmensgroup.com/a-model-and-principles-for-building-church-growth-and-impact/what-the-bible-says-about-pastoral-discipleship-church-leadership/. Have a fruitful Tuesday!

  • Don Matthews says:

    Great insights. Moses made some mistakes. He did one thing, however, that is very seldom written about. He listened and followed the advice of his father-in-law Jethro. In doing so he set up the basis for the modern form of government. I am going to write a book called “The Jethro Principle of Leadership.”

  • David Frost says:

    Great insights. I have told each congregation of each church through whom I have served that I will at sometime fall and fail. My two biggest weaknesses are #2 & #3. I fight these continuously.

  • Tom Estes says:

    This is simply outstanding. These thoughts will definitely make it into some upcoming lessons. Thanks so much for the work, Dr. Lawless.

  • Thank you for this Dr. Lawless. The fact that the Bible includes all of the ugly details of the heroes of the faith was a major factor in helping me take it seriously as an unbeliever. If the Bible was the product of the minds of men, all of the less-than-flattering details would have been excised.

    On a more practical level, the failures of our forebears are incredibly instructive in helping us avoid the same pitfalls. While I’m not yet a ministry leader, I do learn from these examples by being sure to turn from a particular path before I begin heading in the same direction as one of those that walked before us.

  • prophet James Tamba says:

    Want to give God the glory for you, you have been making days.

  • Steve says:

    #7 is the result of not praying enough.
    Prayer is the prerequisite – Without the “Helper” eternal truth cannot be understood. The Apostles didn’t know what was about to happen, but by faith; they waited, as instructed, for the fulfillment of the divine promise. Jesus promised even greater things by the power of the Holy Spirit. Before the gift of the Holy Spirit the Apostles were unable to follow through on their promises. Overconfidence is the result of starting without 1st seeking the Lord in prayer. The Spirit of God is in you and He is waiting to guide your every step.

    By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles did die for Jesus. The Apostles couldn’t keep quiet about Jesus. They spoke with boldness. Except for John, who was exiled to fulfill God’s purpose, the remaining eleven were crucified, stoned, beheaded, and speared to death for the love of Jesus.

    Self-confidence is overconfidence. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing. We have reason to be confident. Our Lord has won the victory! Let our confidence be in Christ alone!

  • Larry McKeon says:

    I can relate most with #4 (David) I have held several positions of power both in the Military and Local Police Dept. and I have recognized on several occasions where I might allow the position and power that came with that position control my inner ego. I can remember experiencing humility more as a child than I do as an adult, so today that is one trait I ask God to help me experience more today as I did when I was a child.

  • SLIMJIM says:

    Wow very good list to probe my own heart. Thank you.

  • dewi hikmah says:

    to become a better leader, you must learn from other leader mistakes

  • Peter Heide says:

    Thank you for your insight.
    Concerning # 5–James and John.
    I would add to the pairings you have listed two additional ones: righteousness without ridicule and salvation without sacrifice. These, as well as your list, are true not only of James and John, but all of the disciples, including us. I am an ELCA pastor and am planning to use these five pairings for a Lenten Bible study series if that is OK with you!

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