By most standards, successful leaders get good results. Their success is not measured by their output, but their outcomes. If the good results are not there, the leaders are called a failure. This is true in politics, business, sports, academics, nonprofits, etc. Ideally, we like to see leaders who operate by high moral standards AND produce good results. Sadly, there are some leaders who will abandon good morals and resort to bullying tactics such as harassing, lying, and humiliating others to get their way. Controlling leaders are the worst; for though they may get results, they also damage lives, and that’s no good. The world is better off without tyrants.
Most would agree that good leaders have a clear vision of what they want to achieve, and they communicate it clearly and persuasively, inspiring and motivating others to achieve that vision. Good leaders have integrity, which means they are honest, ethical, and abide by virtues that represent the highest and best in mankind. They lead by example and inspire trust and confidence in others. They display genuine empathy for those under their care and work to create a positive environment that operates within the bounds of reality. They are decisive and able to make tough decisions confidently, quickly, and with sound judgment, while not compromising their compassion for others who may be affected by their decisions. Such leaders are adaptive to unexpected challenges and ever-changing circumstances, collaborating with others, listening to wise counsel, and taking responsibility for their actions. These are some of the marks of a good leader, for which we applaud them. But in the end, success in leadership is ultimately measured not by their output, but by their outcomes. That is, successful leaders get good results.
But this paradigm of success based on results does not work when considering those called into service by the Lord. Oh, there are examples in the Bible of believers who obeyed the Lord, preached His Word, and got positive responses. Jonah’s preaching led many thousands to believe in God (Jonah 3:1-10). This is wonderful. Peter preached on the day of Pentecost and we are told “about three thousand souls” responded positively (Acts 2:41). We love this. And a short time later, Peter preached again, and “many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). Hallelujah! However, when one reads through the Bible, such positive results are the exception and not the norm. The majority of those called by the Lord to lead others into His will were rejected, treated with hostility, and did not obtain positive results. Many of these godly leaders “experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated, (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground” (Heb 11:36-38). But these godly persons were not failures in God’s sight. They were a success, for they 1) subordinated themselves to God, 2) operated according to His Word, 3) sought to lead others into His will, and 4) were faithful to the Lord, even when others rejected their leadership. According to Earl Radmacher, “the call of God is for faithfulness to Him, to His Word, and to the call itself.” And Warren Wiersbe states, “the test of ministry is not outward success but faithfulness to the Lord.” Below are a few examples of godly leaders who were faithful to the Lord, even though their guidance was rejected by others.
- Noah was faithful to the Lord as “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5), and his preaching ministry transpired during the 120 years he spent building the ark (Gen 6:13-14). But those who heard Noah preach for all those years rejected his message, and only “eight persons were brought safely through the water” (1 Pet 3:20). Yet, Noah was a success in God’s sight, for he had been faithful to the Lord, even though his message was rejected by his generation.
- Toward the end of Moses’ life, the Lord called Moses and Joshua to a special meeting (Deut 31:14), and appointed Joshua as Moses’ successor. It was at this meeting the Lord told Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them” (Deut 31:16). Here, the Lord informed Moses that those he’d led in the path of righteousness for forty years would begin a journey into apostasy after his death. Surely this was difficult news for Moses to hear. And this news was difficult for Joshua to hear, because it meant his leadership of the nation would not have a positive impact after he died. Though Joshua knew his godly influence would not continue after he died, we count him a success because he was faithful to the Lord to lead the nation in righteousness.
- The prophet Samuel was faithful to the Lord and tried to lead his generation away from their foolish request for a king so they could be like the other nations (1 Sam 18:4-9). Samuel tried to warn the people about the suffering they would experience if they got what they wanted (1 Sam 8:10-18), but they rejected his leadership, and “the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, ‘No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations’” (1Sa 8:19-20a). God gave them Saul, a king after their own hearts, and the nation suffered. Samuel was faithful to the Lord to lead His people into righteousness, even though the leadership and people of Israel would not listen to him.
- The prophet Isaiah was given a vision of the Lord (Isa 6:1-7), which was followed by a call to ministry (Isa 6:8a). Isaiah answered the call, saying, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isa 6:8b). But then Isaiah was told his ministry would be met with negative volition and his words would have a hardening effect upon those who were already committed to wickedness (Isa 6:9-10). When Isaiah asked, “how long” his difficult ministry would last (Isa 6:11a), the Lord answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people and the land is utterly desolate, the LORD has removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land” (Isa 6:11b-12). Isaiah was faithful to the Lord for many years, even though his audience rejected his message.
- Jeremiah was a godly servant who faithfully preached God’s Word for decades, even though his generation would not listen. Jeremiah said, “these twenty-three years the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened” (Jer 25:3). Jeremiah had a recalcitrant audience who would not listen to him, though the majority were glad to listen to the false prophets who spoke “a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the LORD” (Jer 23:16). Because the leadership and people rejected God’s message through Jeremiah, the result was divine judgment, as God raised up the Babylonians and used them as His disciplinary agent to destroy the nation. The result was that many thousands of Israelites went into Babylonian captivity in 586 B.C. Jeremiah was a success in God’s sight because he was faithful to the Lord and preached His Word as he’d been commissioned to do (Jer 1:4-10).
- Of course, there’s no greater display of leadership than the Lord Jesus, Who spoke perfect truth all the time and called others to trust in Him (John 14:1) and to follow Him (Matt 4:19). During His time of ministry on the earth, as the God-Man, Jesus was the perfect leader. He repeatedly offered His kingdom to the nation (Matt 4:19; 10:7), was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), healed to sick (Matt 8:13; 12:15), raised the dead (Matt 27:52-53; Luke 7:14-15), fed the masses (Matt 14:19-20; 15:35-38), and perfectly executed the Father’s will. Near the end of His ministry, Jesus said to the Father, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4). All that Jesus said and did was perfect; yet, the majority of those who heard His message and saw His miracles rejected Him (John 3:19; 12:37). Jesus was faithful to do His Father’s will, and though He was rejected at His first coming (Matt 12:24; John 19:15), He will be welcomed at His second coming, when all Israel will say, “Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt 23:39). At that time, “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26), and Messiah will begin His reign on the earth (Rev 20:1-6).
I could go on to write about Peter who was persecuted for his faithful leadership (Acts 5:17-18, 40), Stephen and James who were martyred for their faith (Acts 7:1-60; 12:1-2), Paul who suffered greatly (2 Cor 11:23-29), and others who were faithful to the Lord and preached His Word. Though there were some who responded positively—just as we have—the pattern is that the majority of those who heard God’s Word from God’s servant-leaders rejected it and continued in a path of sin and rebellion. Yet, these servant-leaders were all successful in the eyes of the Lord, because they were faithful to Him and to their calling
As God’s people, we control the output of our message, but never the outcome. What the recipients do with God’s Word is between them and the Lord. As God’s children, we are to be faithful to learn His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2), communicate it to others in love (Eph 4:15), and let it do its work in the hearts of those who hear (Isa 55:10-11). However, we realize this will result in mixed outcomes, depending on the hearts of others. Charles Spurgeon said, “The same sun that softens wax also hardens clay.” By this he meant that God’s Word, which gives light like the sun, has different effects depending on the material exposed to it. The reality is that some hearts are positive to God (wax) and these grow soft when exposed to the light of His Word, but other hearts are negative to God (clay) and exposure to His Word only makes them harder. We are responsible for our output of lifestyle and message, not the outcome of results. God measures our success by our willingness to submit to Him and our faithfulness to walk with Him moment by moment, learning His Word and doing His will. As God’s children, we want to be among those whom Jesus says, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matt 25:21a).
Dr. Steven R. Cook
- The Gospel Explained
- The Christian with Integrity
- A Role Model for Believers
- Commitment Love
- A Godly Mother & Grandmother
- Treating Other with Dignity
- The High Calling of God’s Servant
- Advancing to Spiritual Maturity
- The Qualifications for a King in Ancient Israel
- Being a Christian Servant: What it Does NOT Mean
- Choosing a Righteous Life and Righteous Friends
- God Uses Imperfect People
 Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen, and H. Wayne House, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 814.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 30.
 Though Israel’s journey of apostasy began with the death of Moses, it exploded after the death of Joshua (who was also a godly and faithful leader), and for roughly 350 years Israel turned away from God and worshipped idols (read the book of Judges). Yet, even with this difficult news, the Lord encouraged Joshua, saying, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you” (Deut 31:23). Near the end of Joshua’s life, he encouraged the people to adhere to the Law of Moses so that they might know success and blessing (Josh 23:6-11), with a warning of judgment if they disobeyed (Josh 23:12-16; 24:20-24). And Joshua was a godly example to others, saying, “as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh 24:15).
 Biblically, we know God is gracious, compassionate, and slow to anger (Neh 9:17; Psa 86:15; 103:8); however, His gentle qualities do not last forever, and when people persist in their sin and there is no hope of them turning to Him, His judgment falls (Psa 9:7-8; 96:13; Acts 17:31).