What happens when a leader makes a big mistake

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This week I was reminded about the the responsibility and burden of leadership, especially church leadership. Someone very sweet and courageous reminded me to use my reputation and position in leadership with care.

There was a time in my life where I didn’t do that, and it had some serious ramifications that I didn’t even know about until a few years later. I didn’t intend to hurt the other person, but I was not tactful and the other person felt that I had abused my power. We had a conversation about it and I thought it was all solved, but last year I discovered that my actions had a significant impact on her leaving the church.

When I heard this, I felt broken. We were in the middle of summer intern interviews at the time and I was almost unraveling. I had always heard about “those church people” that were hypocritical and gave the church a bad name, but had never thought I’d be one!

I was reminded of this burden of leadership this week as I was listening to 1/2 Kings and encountered anew the story of Jeroboam son of Nebat.

(isn’t it amazing how you can read the Bible over and over and still get fresh inspiration from it?)

To give you a little context, King Solomon wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. His incredible lust for women led him to marry 700 wives, in addition to his 300 hundred concubines. Gotta wonder how he had time for pontificating! Those illustrious and vivacious wives led him astray, just like God predicted. Because of this, God decided to take most of the kingdom away from Solomon’s descendants and give it to Jeroboam instead. One day, a prophet met Jeroboam on the road and told him about God’s plans.

I will take the kingdom from [Solomon’s] son’s hands and give you ten tribes. I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name. However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you.

1 Kings 11:35-38

That’s quite a promise! Wow. So it all happened – the people rebelled against Rehoboam and Israel became two nations – Judah under Rehoboam and Israel under Jeroboam. (There’s a goofy poem in those names somewhere, I know it!)

But here’s the kicker. The first thing Jeroboam did with his new kingship was build a spiritual centre in his own kingdom, out of fear that his people will go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and end up pledging their allegiance back to Rehoboam (who was a major loser so I doubt there was much to worry about).

He created two golden calves and told the people that they were the gods that brought them out of Egypt. He also built shrines on high places, encouraged the people to worship God wherever they wanted, instituted festivals based on the ones in Judah, and hired his own priests.


Seriously, after that amazing promise from God?!

It’s amazing what fear will make people do. Have you ever made a decision based on fear? Looking back, I know that I made the decision that hurt this girl out of fear and a lack of faith in God’s goodness.

But this is not the end of Jeroboam’s story. As I listened to 1 and 2 Kings, I realized how often this general phrase came up: “but they did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat.” I’m sure my list isn’t exhaustive, but I found 11 references to this in 1/2 Kings alone, and it always refers to one of the kings and how he leads Israel.

Jeroboam’s moment of fear and mistrust in God’s good plans caused generational sins that echoed down through centuries of kings, and culminated in the exile of Israel.

Did I mention that leadership is both responsibility and burden?

Jeroboam’s name almost becomes a curse word in the Bible. A name that could have been as respected as David’s became a synonym for evil. And I almost don’t need to mention that God completely wiped out Jeroboam’s family because of this great sin.

So back to my story. My decision to do things the easy way instead of the right way caused ripples of pain through this girl’s family and friends. Last Christmas I found myself sitting in front of her at the Christmas Day service, and at the end of the service I knew I couldn’t leave until I had fully apologized. So I did. I know that an apology doesn’t fix things or turn back time, but I suppose that since I don’t have a time machine at my disposal, I will have to allow God to work through what I was able to offer, and hope that He will bring healing.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a bad decision made by a Christian? Or maybe you’ve been in a situation like mine where you realized later that you were wrong? Feel free to comment or send me a message if you have something that needs saying!

May our mutual pain cause us to turn toward Christ, 
may we learn to be honest with each other,
and may his grace be apparent in us as we learn to be more like him. 

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Photo by Mathieu Nicolet on Unsplash