Leadership is Tough: How to Respond When You’ve Messed Up

Being a leader with influence and power at your disposal is a precarious position at any time in history. Mark Driscoll is the most recent megachurch celebrity to be caught in the media spotlight.  The ouster of Driscoll and all Mars Hill churches from the Acts29 network, charges of plagiarism and disclosure of Driscoll’s untoward chat room comments reveal a troubled man behind the curtain of accomplishments. The internet is abuzz with Driscoll defenders highlighting his achievements and detractors pinpointing his less-than-honest actions.

Three thousand years ago King Saul and King David, rulers over Israel, struggled to maintain their integrity as leaders; both stumbled, failed and sinned. Yet the biblical narrative regards one as a model to emulate, the other as a disgraced king. What was the difference?


God chose Saul to be Israel’s first king and gave him the opportunity to establish an unending kingdom, and  he blew it. He jumped the gun in I Samuel 13 and offered the priestly sacrifice when the prophet Samuel was stuck in traffic and running late. Samuel reprimands Saul for not keeping God’s commands and tells him he will be replaced. When Samuel confronts Saul with his disobedience, Saul fires up the blame, excuse & justification factory. Well,Samuel didn’t show up when he said he would, the men were scattering and the Philistines were strengthening their position. Saul wanted to seek God’s blessing, “so I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering” (I Samuel 13:12).

Two chapters later, when God sends Saul the message via Samuel to attack and destroy every Amalekite and all their belongings, Saul claims he did do what God commanded though the Amalekite king was still alive along with the best of the sheep and cattle. Saul passes the blame onto the soldiers who took the animals to offer as sacrifices. Samuel’s reprimand convicts Saul who admits he has sinned, but because Saul has rejected the word of the Lord, God has rejected him as king (I Samuel 15:26).

God selected David as Saul’s replacement, and spoke of him as “a man after my own heart” (I Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). It’s difficult to reconcile God’s perspective of this pre-king shepherd boy when in his sovereignty he knew David would commit adultery, try to cover his act with deception and arrange for the death of Uriah.   How could God claim that “he [David] will do everything I want him to do” when he violated the Ten Commandments?  God removed the kingdom from Saul for his wayward behavior, why not from David?

When Nathan confronts David, he asks him, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by repentancedoing what is evil in his eyes?” (2 Samuel 12:9). David immediately acknowledges his sin against the Lord and later pens Psalm 51 where he offers a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. No excuses, no blaming others, no self-justification; only deep sorrow over his sin and the harm done.

There’s more than prompt repentance to separate the kings’ responses. Saul had a cavalier attitude toward the priest’s role, and as Andrew Knowles in The Bible Guide describes it, viewed the sacrificial offerings as tokens to garner God’s blessing and favor. In his heart, he placed his agenda before God’s, usurped the priestly office and disobeyed God’s commands.

David sinned and suffered the dire consequences, as did his family, his wife, his sons and his kingdom. But God knew David’s heart desire was to follow him in obedience and extended grace. David worshiped God, humbled himself before him and respected the role of the priests throughout his life.

Leaders have a choice in how they react to the disclosure of misdeeds and sins; we all do. Humble hearts will bow before the High Priest and keep God’s perspective on their position as leader. Godly hearts will offer more sackcloth and ashes than excuses; more poems of contrition than justifying blog posts; and more sorrow over harm done than face-saving spin.  Which king will Mark Driscoll emulate? Which king will you and I emulate?

Update: August 25, 2014   Mark Driscoll is stepping down from leadership of Mars Hill Church for a period of at least six weeks and outlines eight steps he will take during the break. I pray he will experience the healing and growth he desires, will have wise counselors like Samuel and Nathan, and will humble himself before God. God is in the business of fixing messed-up people with broken and contrite spirits, may Mark Driscoll experience God’s redemptive power and be reinvigorated for future ministry.




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