3 ways to mess up in Christian leadership

Phil Wilson lectures at BST's Rothwell campus

Phil Wilson lectures in Old Testament at BST’s Rothwell campus

If you want to know how to totally muck it up as a Christian leader then take a look at King Saul, the details of whose reign we find mainly in the books of Samuel. He provides some quite brilliant examples.

His main weakness, which eventually became his downfall, was that he was driven by pride. He was terrified of losing the respect and love and praise of others, and his obsession with keeping those things overrode his desire to obey God.

It’s interesting to observe how this one sin mutated into three different forms throughout Saul’s life, neatly offering us three keys things to avoid if we want to be godly and effective leaders…


In the first stage of Saul’s kingship recorded in 1 Samuel 9-12, he is becoming established as a leader, and God reveals through various means that he will be Israel’s first king. Saul, however, appears to be very hesitant to take on the job. He comes across as a very shy, bashful, humble chap. Now of course it can be a great virtue to be humble and modest, but sinful weaknesses are often hiding deep within our virtues and this was almost certainly the case with Saul. Why was he reticent to stand up and take the job thrust upon him? Probably because of a fear of failure – a fear of the pressure of being constantly in the eye of the public, running the risk that his people might not love or respect him. Hiding behind his seemingly virtuous modesty was actually a great deal of pride.

In the second stage, we see Saul well and truly established as king. Now he is obsessed with keeping his people’s respect. In chapter 13 he becomes terrified into offering a sacrifice as he sees his people scattering away from him. In chapter 14 he makes a foolish vow in order to try to force his soldiers to stay with him. In chapter 15 he lets his people disobey God’s command because he follows their desires rather than God’s. In contrast to his faithful son Jonathan, whose faith is in God rather than the number of soldiers behind him, Saul chooses to follow his people rather than to lead them, desperate for their love and support. His fear of man flowers into disobedience of God.

In the final stage, from chapter 16 onwards, Saul quickly degenerates into a murderous tyrant, seeking to massacre any threat to what he held most dear to his heart: the exclusive love of his people. David has emerged as his likely replacement, and it is clear that he is God’s choice, but Saul’s concern is not for the will of God or even for the wellbeing of his people – his concern is entirely for himself as he faces losing his power. It is the same underlying weakness which has been there all along, now revealing itself in a different form – murderous jealousy.

The story of Saul is a powerful reminder for all aspiring to Christian leadership. Unaddressed weaknesses can end in leadership catastrophes. Our eyes need to be on Christ our perfect leader, believing and obeying Him out of a desire to do His will, not to nurture the praise and love of self.