If you look at the leaders of the Bible you will see a disturbing pattern: they don’t fit any pattern. You have shepherds, slaves, fishermen, orphans, princes, nomads, soldiers; some are eloquent, some are tongue tied; some were moral, many had epic frailties; people of questionable skills and dubious choices. They fit no useful profile.
Think about Noah. He led his family into salvation by spending a century building an enormous, seemingly useless, boat. He was willing to fall flat on his face before a wicked world if God didn’t follow through on what He had promised. But he ended up drunk, naked, and cursing one of his own sons. And pretty soon all his descendants were just as bad as the group he left behind.
Moses, a prince, a murderer and stammerer, spent more than 40 years being second-guessed by a bunch of stiff-necked, ignorant grumblers, and died on the wrong side of the Jordan.
Abraham, the man God made a covenant with, had an illegitimate son, then sent him and his mother off into the desert to fend for themselves. His son Isaac, through whom God would fulfill His promise, split his own family by favoring one son, Esau, over the younger son Jacob. Jacob, whose tenacity toward God earned him the name Israel, was a liar and a cheat. Like his father, he also split his family by favoring one son over the others.
King David, the songwriter, the brigand, the murderer, the adulterer, the liar, and a “man after God’s own heart”, suffered the split of his family and his kingdom, ending in the death of his usurper son, Absalom who murdered Ammon, his half-brother who raped his sister. A great leader of Israel, and a terrible leader of his own household.
Solomon, who built the temple of God, has no excuse for his failings. Enlightened by God beyond anyone who had ever lived, he proceeded to violate the written warnings of Moses by amassing slaves, chariots, riches and foreign wives. His wisdom was legendary, but his legacy was a disaster ‒ a kingdom split in half.
The New Testament has fewer examples since it covers a much shorter timeframe, but consider Peter, who had a personal relationship with Christ beyond anything we mean by that phrase today. He stepped out of the boat, he confessed Christ as Messiah, he saw his mother-in-law and many others healed, and he attacked the men who came to arrest Jesus. But he also denied Christ and was rebuked publicly for his blatant hypocrisy by Paul (a guy who never actually met the Messiah) decades later.
Of course there are great examples too. Samson. No, wait. Jephthah … not so much. But Samuel had a pretty good run, as did Deborah, Daniel, Nehemiah and others.
The only common thread I can see in the leaders of the Bible is that they all stepped out in faith, with no guarantees of success, and plenty of opportunities to fail ‒ a messy collection of mixed results. They were often faithful failures. They were weak and useful. They stepped out and fell down. They said “yes” and “no”. But if they were afraid or unworthy or ill-equipped, they still took a step faith. They were engaged with God and faced the consequences as partners with the Almighty, not knowing what the results would be.
As a leader, I’d rather risk being embarrassed by my failure and faults than watch from the couch while the Father accomplishes great things through others who have the faith to fail.