top of page

Why Leaders Fail Part 2: Charisma Over Character

When my husband and I were last looking for a pastoral position, we were testing the church search committee as much as they were testing us. They would ask us questions and we would ask our own. And there was one question I would ask that was my litmus test on the culture of the church. I would watch my husband tense up a bit as I opened my mouth and said, "If I were to lay down on your carpet and cry and snot on it during worship or prayer, would you be okay with that?" Many times they would hummm and haaaa and nervously give an inadequate answer. But I had to know: do you make room in your services for open expressions of repentance, worship, and prayer. Many did not. Such expressions make people uncomfortable. "What if newcomers were there? What if a new believer saw such behavior?" No. Such expression isn't acceptable. Tears don't grow churches.

In addition to us understanding what they didn't want in leaders, we began to realize another growing trend in church search committees: they were looking for someone with at least 5 years of experience, which was totally understandable, and someone who was also under the age of 45. In fact, if that person was 30-35 years old, that would be great. Late twenties? Even better...especially if they wear skinny jeans (I jest...sort of). I'm sure the logic was this: we want a young person to fill our pulpit in order that he may attract younger people and families to attend our church. We need someone who can keep up with the tweets, posts, and trends of the modern age of advertising. We need someone with pep and pizazz, filled with a youthful zeal that attracts others to himself and to our social media pages. In other words, we wants hits on websites and bottoms in seats and a younger person can bring it.

Now, It's been said that the world belongs to the young and if you look around at what the pastoral search committees are looking for, you just may believe it. In fact, it is fully understood among many ministers that they better not be looking for a Lead Pastor position at 50 years old, because by that age, you are archaic in church culture. But hey: go lead a Senior's Life Group. You'll thrive there until you die.

Now, don't get me wrong: I entered full-time ministry at 24 years of age and I wouldn't change it. I was full of pep, pizazz, and youthful zeal. I was also full of inexperience, lack of wisdom, and downright idiocy at times. Thankfully, I wasn't in a lead position but served for years as an associate. There is a very good chance that had I been the lead pastor, I would have destroyed the congregation in my pride and zeal. But I fear that, in the name of being "cutting edge and current with the times," churches often raise up young people AND newer believers in leadership with the same lack of experience, pride, and untempered zeal. I believe this is one reason we have so many Church Leaders failing: we never tested their depth of character. We never allowed time for them to mature in His word, relationships with others, and sanctification of their own souls. Once again, we promote the young and the new believers. Let's talk about the first problem: preferring young people in leadership.

Young People

One reason leaders fail in church is because they were put in that position when they were too young. We promote them to authority in spite of their inexperience and set them up to fail when difficulties come. As a society, we have perpetuated dishonor towards the aged among us. Ageism is a real thing among those looking for work, both in and outside of the church. While we need the passion and zeal of the young, how much more today do we need the wisdom of the experienced? If we would stop promoting the young so quickly apart from true, biblical discipleship, we could cut back on so much heartache. The bible says, "Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life" (Prov. 16:31) and that "wisdom is with the aged and understanding in the length of days" (Job 12:12). If we remove the gray haired glory from our church leadership, we remove the gift of wisdom, discernment, and understanding that they are called to be to the church. It is necessary for the health of a local body to have older, seasoned saints pouring into the younger, zealous ones. Think of the beauty of Simeon in the Christmas story. Luke 2: 25-35 tells us that Simeon was an older man who was "just and devout" who had been "waiting for the Consolation of Israel" for many years. It also says "the Holy Spirit was upon Him" and he moved in great revelation of the Spirit. Now, moving in great revelation is a gift given to any age of person. But becoming "just and devout" comes in the years of learning to wait on the Lord. It comes with learning to trust His word and yield to His ways. It is tested. It is tried. It never happens over night. And, to be quite frank, true, pure revelation from God often comes in the same way. Sure, young people can receive a prophetic word from God, but knowing how and when to share it? That usually comes over years of experience. Simeon, in his tested wisdom, made his way to the young Joseph and Mary and gave them a word of wisdom. It was a difficult word; one that needed the understanding of the aged to offer well. But think of its impact! Mary and Joseph were able, from Simeon's wisdom, to prepare their hearts for the hard road ahead. Mary treasured it in her heart for years to come. Much like Mary and Jospeh needed that assistance, we need older saints to serve our local bodies so desperately in this hour. In fact, the Hebrew word for a church elder/leader comes from the word "beard" as in,"someone old enough to grow a full beard." We need older saints to fill positions of leadership if - and only if - like Simeon, they have been approved by God through faithful years of obedience to His word.

But since we in the church have become more interested in "instant success", we have less value for the process of sanctification and maturity that comes with age. In short, we have fewer seasoned saints serving among us. Scripture is clear: the Father desires his house to be filled with all generations. He wants the old and the young working together. Malachi 4:6 is a familiar passage that says God desires to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children's hearts to the fathers. The marriage of zeal and wisdom, passion and purpose comes when we work together. It was never meant to be "us and them" when it comes to age in the church. It was meant to simply be a family, with every member mattering to the whole. And while we all matter and have a part to play, scripture is also clear: not everyone should be elevated to teach or preach in the congregation. That leads me to my next thought, and it is of even greater importance and, I believe, one of the biggest key to why so many leaders fail.

Young Believers

Because "Likes" on our ministry Facebook page has become of such importance, we have a tendency to appoint leaders based on their charisma not their character, and the reality is this: character takes time to develop; charisma does not. I have seen it over and over again. A newer believer with a burning heart for Jesus comes to a church with a message to share. He wants to lead a group. He wants to do outreach. He wants to do, do, do. And too often, we "oooo" and "aaaah" over his charisma and gifting, giving that new-ish believer roles that scripture clearly has not authorized him to fill. 1 Timothy 3:6-7 says, "A church leader must not be a new believer..." This is Paul talking, by the way. Paul. The Hebrew of Hebrews who knew the Torah & Old Testament backwards and forwards. Yet, when he came to know Jesus - already with a solid foundation in the word - he spent three years being discipled again in understanding the word before he was released to serve (Phil. 3:5; Gal. 1:11-2:10). Three years!

So, here is Paul, speaking in 1 Timothy to a younger man, not to promote new believers. Paul will tell him not to let anyone look down on him because he is young (1 Tim. 4:12), a scripture most young believers love to quote. But he also told him that he must, "study" the word of God in order that he may be tested, tried, and approved by God for leadership (2 Tim. 2:15). Now being "approved by God" and "approved by God to be a leader" are two different things. All believers are approved by God as children by faith in Christ Jesus. But the approval that Paul is talking about here is approved by God as leaders. This in light of what Paul says in chapter 3: a new believer cannot serve in leadership. We are not all approved by God as leaders. Why? Because in order to be approved as a leader, we must PROVE ourselves to those around us as someone who is deeply rooted in the word of God, full of character, fruits of the Spirit, and more. As I shared in my first post, "When Leaders Fail," a church leader must live blamelessly (1 Tim. 3:2). In fact, the list in Timothy for qualified leadership is of vital importance for us to really....and I mean REALLY...follow. This means we must establish a church culture that follows the Biblical narrative of not promoting people too quickly. And scripture is quite clear:

"Do not lay hands on (to appoint to leadership) anyone too quickly (1 Tim. 5:22)".

"Know who works among you (as leaders in the church) (1 These.5:12)."

"Do not be eager, my brethren, for many among you to become teachers (James 3:1)"

"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a worker who does not need to be ashamed (2 Tim. 2:15)"

If we would but test the character of those who desire to serve among us, we would avoid great scandal later. How can we test it? One way is that qualified leaders must hang out with them, paying attention to self-promoting conversations and hidden motivations. Many newer believers are blind to their own arrogance and lack of experience. I don't say this to shame anyone, but as one who has been blind to her own. We need to help one another understand our tendency to believe we are better than we think when we first find that fire of ministry burning inside of us. I've been there!

My husband and I have had the privilege of serving in full-time ministry for 19 years. And I say full-time on purpose. We served part-time before then, but trust me when I say: it ain't nothing like full-time. Everyone who volunteers in ministry or serves part-time seems to think it's the same thing - that their experience qualifies them in the same way. But the load, dear ones, is completely different. As someone who has experienced both, the burden and the weight of responsibility takes on an entirely new dimension when it is your entire life's calling and provision. As pastors, we have many zealous people approach us with their dreams of fulfilling their callings. If we aren't careful, we can promote them based on their love for Jesus instead of their proven character like Timothy and Titus tell us to do. Love for Jesus is necessary for salvation and obedience but more that that is required for leadership. It is the HEART and the FOUNDATION and the MOTIVATION for leadership, but it is not the only qualifier. This is why another way my husband and I test younger believers is by throwing the ugly-truth of ministry at them. We do everything we can to talk them out of it, and discourage it, because the reality is this: if I can talk you out of it, you may not be ready for the very long, difficult road that ministry can bring. Your character has to be enough to sustain you when your are tempted, when you are accosted, when you are discouraged. THIS is leadership in the body of Christ: being mistreated, misunderstood, and weary. It's not the lights on the stage or the promotion of my sermon series on Facebook: it's holding the hand of the dying or comforting the barren, as they cry out, "Why, God" when no answers can be provided. It's sacrificing your days and nights for the drug-addict or the Bi-polar partitioner when your own family has its own stresses and pains that few people know about. Charisma can't help you in these moments, beloved. Only character can. True, tested, nitty-gritty tried in the fire of adversity, tiredness, and endurance kinda character alone.

So, let's seriously consider who we want serving in our pulpits, classrooms, bible studies, and outreach programs. Let's take time to know them. Take time to disciple them. Take time to approve them. And in so doing, I believe, the church will have far less leaders failing because their charisma won't be what matters but their character will be.


bottom of page