The Secret Failure of Many Leaders

The Secret Failure of Many Leaders

How tempting is this for Christian leaders today? You’ve given sermons or taught Sunday school or written articles in the past, and your Lord stood with you. You have made decisions for family, for your company, for your children, and God has blessed them. This time feels no different than then. So, without thinking much about it, you switch to autopilot, lean on your wisdom and strength, and grow more forgetful in prayer. Success is taken for granted, gratitude shrinks, presumption ascends.

They bought jeans already torn at the knees. The ambassadors from the great city left in haste to make peace with Joshua and his coming armies. But first, locals reported seeing them rummage through clothes at the local thrift store. Their pretend shabbiness served a vital purpose: survival.

Gibeon lay in the direct path of Joshua’s conquest. He, his men, and their God would be there within days. When the citizens of Gibeon heard what Israel’s God had done to Pharoah, to Jericho, and to Ai, they trembled. Though “greater than Ai,” they shuddered. Who could overcome a plague-punishing, wall-crumbling, city-engulfing Israel and her invisible God?

Their ragtag ambassadors — armed with worn-out sacks, patched sandals, tattered clothes, torn and mended wineskins, and “dry and crumbly” provisions (Joshua 9:4–5) — served as Gibeon’s salvation army. They intercepted Joshua at Gilgal saying in strained voice, “We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us” (Joshua 9:6). Would their lie be discovered?

“Who are you? And where do you come from?” Joshua replies.

They reiterate their deception and add more drama to their performance:

“Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold it is dry and crumbly.”

“These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst.”

“And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” (Joshua 9:12–13)

Joshua looks at the bread, the wineskins, the sandals, the garments, and decides to make a covenant with them. The text interprets that decision for us: “So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord” (Joshua 9:14).

Failure of Good Leaders

Joshua, the son of Nun, was an excellent leader. If you were to write a book on leadership, you could hardly improve upon his example.

From the start, he had large sandals to fill. Moses, the sea-splitting shepherd, the mountain-climbing mediator, the law-providing prophet, now lay dead. Millions of eyes turned Joshua’s way — eyes of a people too given to squint in deadly disapproval. Would he be able to lead them into the Promised Land? Would they be led into the Promised Land?

In the face of vast armies, fortified cities, and fatal chariots, God’s commission to Joshua required force and bravery — which his very presence supplied, if Joshua would trust him. And Joshua did. He routinely risked life and limb venturing upon God’s word. In the end, he seizes and divides the Promised Land among God’s people.

Until now, just one potential blemish stood on his resumé: an early defeat at Ai. Although the rout might have besmeared Joshua, the punishment rightfully fell to covetous Achan. But now, in giving a forbidden covenant to Israel’s enemies, a caveat must be given concerning Joshua’s leadership. Seeing the ragtag group of ambassadors before him, he made the reasonable deduction that they must have traveled a far distance. He trusted what he saw.

He did not make that mistake when overlooking the land with the spies. He trembled not at giants. But here, he believed his eyes, went with his ears, depended on his cohort of rulers who all did the same — he did not ask counsel from the Lord. The matter seemed straightforward enough; they could handle it themselves. Here, Joshua commits the common fault of many successful leaders over time: He forgets to consult his God.

Boast of Businessmen

How tempting is this for Christian leaders today?

You’ve given sermons or taught Sunday school or written articles in the past, and your Lord stood with you.

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