When Leaders Fail

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But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them.” (Numbers 20:12 NLT)

Read: Numbers 19, Numbers 20, Luke 1:1-25, Psalms 56:1-13, Proverbs 11:8

Relate: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”–I would guess that most of you reading this post can identify Bill Clinton as the speaker of this quote. The familiarity of his words stem from the media frenzy that followed the discovery of his moral failure. There is no news more sensational than that of a leader failing. People are outraged, saddened, angered, and even a few are pleased by the accounts of those above being brought low. We react strongly to the failures of leaders because a level of trust has been broken. We trust our leaders to show the way, so what do we do when they don’t, especially in the church?

Moses and Aaron failed in the wilderness at Kadesh. They did not obey God, and they lost their right to lead. Sadly, this is not an unfamiliar picture in churches. There are many evangelists, pastors, priests, and other church leaders who have lost their abilities to lead because they have failed to follow God’s instructions. This can be disheartening to many followers. They wonder how they are expected to succeed in their spiritual walks if even those whose lives are dedicated to a full time pursuit of Godly instruction can fall down. Some critics and religious skeptics consider a church leader’s moral deficiencies proof that religion is a hoax. Others, even devote followers, feel betrayed and begin to question if God was really using the leaders to begin with. In fact, many are quick to discredit all ministry that occurred under the individual’s leadership.

We see that although Moses and Aaron did not follow God’s instructions in how to bring water from the rock, their failure did not prevent God’s miraculous provision of water for the people of Israel. In fact, the verse following the rebuke of Moses and Aaron’s failure to demonstrate God’s holiness to the people says, “This place was known as the waters of Meribah (which means arguing) because there the people of Israel argued with the Lord, and there he demonstrated his holiness among them” (Numbers 20:12 NLT). Wait just a minute, didn’t God say Moses and Aaron failed to demonstrate His holiness to the people. Well, if they didn’t do it, how did it happen? God. God is holy at all times, and despite Moses and Aaron’s failure, God still showed up to demonstrate His holiness.

React:  This is as true today as it was then. God shows up and works miraculously even when the people representing Him to others fail. My parents always told me, “Don’t judge God by His people.” When man fails, God does not. The failings of men do not have the ability to eliminate the power of the actions God allowed to occur through them. Moses and Aaron’s failure at Mirabah-Kadesh does not lessen or detract from the parting of the Red Sea. God is God no matter what His people do.


God, thank you for using me despite my broken human nature. Just as you show me your unending mercy and grace, help me to extend compassion to those who fail. Thank you for being faithful no matter how your people act.


9 thoughts on “When Leaders Fail

  1. Moses the man of God. Even he failed. My knee-jerk response is to think that God was too hard on him (and Aaron), but that’s only b/c my standard is myself. I should be measuring God’s actions by Himself. His holiness, not my tawdry well-intentioned easygoing-if-it’s-convenient style of goodness.
    Thank you Rebecca. You have much on your plate, and being a runner, too. Your husband’s success as a pastor depends largely upon you (Pr 31:23).

  2. Thanks for this. We’ve become so used to throwing stones at those in leadership for failing that we forget we ALL fail. It looks different in different people. But God WILL use whom He will to bring glory to His name. I appreciate the reminder that you can’t judge God by His people. We do let others down. Always.

  3. Really, really good to remember. This situation with Moses and what God still did for His people is such a great example of this truth! Thanks for pointing it out. I can use it now to help people who have great concern about this. I inherently see this truth in how God works. He can and will do His work, despite his servants’ failings. For it is His work, not theirs alone.

  4. Rebecca,
    Excellent post on the fallibility among the leaders of the faithful. It is true that “God is God.” And it should boggle the mind to witness clergy members put a spin on God’s word for the world’s acceptance.

    Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said: “Judge the Catholic Church not by those who barely live by its spirit, but by the example of those who live closest to it.”

    God, never chose people to reveal His laws nor Jesus choose disciples to follow Him, based on who they were, but rather who they could become. No saint that ever lived to become a saint was without flaws. All were sinners first. And because they so loved Christ were able to master their flaws and perfect themselves enough to bear the worst of persecutions joyfully. For to suffer for and as Christ was an honor.

    Too many of church leaders today are attempting to confrom the church to fit the ever changing whims of the world. And in so doing are misleading the faithful. The way of Christ’s church and the way of the world are at odds, as they should always be. Sooner or later those who give themselves to the world will find that their happiness is short lived. And they will seek a church that is alive and well in Christ as a refuge for true happiness to turn to. Only if the church stands distinct from the world as Christ commissioned it so, can it be in position to do its part in salvation.

  5. Pingback: My Article Read (3-12-2015) (3-13-2015) | My Daily Musing

  6. ( 6 ) Indeed, they who disbelieved among the People of the Scripture and the polytheists will be in the fire of Hell, abiding eternally therein. Those are the worst of creatures.
    ( 7 ) Indeed, they who have believed and done righteous deeds – those are the best of creatures.
    ( 8 ) Their reward with Allah will be gardens of perpetual residence beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever, Allah being pleased with them and they with Him. That is for whoever has feared his Lord.
    ( 1 ) When the earth is shaken with its [final] earthquake
    ( 2 ) And the earth discharges its burdens
    ( 3 ) And man says, “What is [wrong] with it?” –
    ( 4 ) That Day, it will report its news
    ( 5 ) Because your Lord has commanded it.
    ( 6 ) That Day, the people will depart separated [into categories] to be shown [the result of] their deeds.
    ( 7 ) So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it,
    ( 8 ) And whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.
    ( 1 ) By the racers, panting,
    ( 2 ) And the producers of sparks [when] striking
    ( 3 ) And the chargers at dawn,
    ( 4 ) Stirring up thereby [clouds of] dust,
    ( 5 ) Arriving thereby in the center collectively,

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