Leaders who fail

Mark 3:19

“… and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him.”

Luke tells us that Jesus spent a whole night in prayer (Luke 6:12) before selecting the twelve men who would be His apostles – the men responsible for spreading the good news of God’s Kingdom throughout the world. There would be no opportunity for a re-run of His ministry; He had to get it right first time.

And He picked Judas…

Did He ever have doubts about His guidance during the months that followed, when the Twelve so often disappointed Him? Yet it seems that He knew, even at the time of choosing, what would happen at the end (John 6:70).

When we appoint church leaders, we don’t want to make any mistakes. We pray, we ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and we probably apply all the secular wisdom we have at our disposal as well. And yet, far too often, the people we appoint turn out to be unsuitable for one reason or another: personality defects, deeply hidden sins, or susceptibility to temptation. Inevitably we start thinking: Did we get our guidance wrong? Were we going against God’s will? And the answer – surprisingly – is, “Probably not.”

Israel’s first king was Saul. He was chosen and appointed by God, recognised and anointed by the prophet Samuel and endowed with the Holy Spirit. There could be no clearer indication that he was the man of God’s choice (I Samuel 9 & 10). And yet he rapidly went off the rails, persistently challenging God’s authority over him. The final straw was when he refused to obey God’s orders when engaging in a supposedly ‘holy war’ against the Amalekites; after that, God regretted ever making him king (I Samuel 15:11).

Surely God knew what would happen when He appointed Saul; He was not taken by surprise! He grieved not because He had made a mistake in choosing him, or because He had failed to foresee the outcome, but because both king and people would go on to reap the bitter consequences of their stubbornness and rebellion. And Saul went on to become a tyrannical ruler, authorising (amongst other things) the massacre of the entire high-priestly family (I Samuel 22:6-19).

Both Saul and Judas were clearly chosen by God for their respective roles, yet they went on to betray the hopes placed in them. From them we learn that there is more to successful Christian leadership than the initial divine appointment; even chosen and gifted leaders can fail to live up to their calling. But such failure does not necessarily mean that their original appointment was a mistake.

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