On Finishing Well (Part Two)

“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
(Jesus, Luke 13:24)

“I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
(Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:27)

“Run in such a way that you may win.”
(Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:24)

…That being said (see previous post), I’m prompted to ask: what are the chances of our finishing well? If you’re tallying from the Bible, not very well, according to a study by Fuller seminary professor of leadership, J. Robert Clinton. From his study done in the early 90s*, Mr. Clinton identified 800 or so leaders in Scripture, for whom there is sufficient data on 100 of these to help us interpret their leadership. He found of the 100 prominent leaders mentioned in the Bible, each faced one of five possible finishes:

  1. They were cut off early (Samson, Josiah, John the Baptist)
  2. They finished poorly (Gideon, Saul, Solomon)
  3. They finished “so-so” (Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah)–he even puts David here
  4. They finished well (Abraham, Job, Joshua)
  5. We’re not sure (not enough data to determine how they finished)

In short, Mr. Clinton found that barely 30% of all leaders in the pages of the Bible finished well. Thirty percent, beloved. More than two-thirds were sidetracked or shipwrecked by abuse of power, pride, ego, illicit sexual affairs, or improper use of finances. “Two thirds of biblical leaders,” Mr. Clinton reports, “failed to leave behind the legacy of a life well lived.”

This study bears out contemporary leadership woes as well. Some estimate that only 20% of modern leaders in our spiritual community finish well. Most will never reach their full spiritual potential and be able to say at the end of their lives, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”**

Mr. Clinton also identified five common factors among those leaders who finish well, both in the Bible and in contemporary churchdom:

  1. Lifelong Learner–throughout life these pursue both formal and informal learning opportunities
  2. Mentoring–continually seek out people to mentor, and being mentored themselves
  3. Dynamic Ministry Philosophy–they pay close attention to and make decisions according to God’s “driving purpose” for them
  4. Repeated Renewal–they take time each day, week, month and year to develop personal intimacy with God, reflect and dream His dreams for them
  5. Lifetime Perspective–they increasingly make decisions based upon a long view of life

I know these numbers have more to do with leadership in the family of God but are they far off the pace of what is found in the Christian community at large? I wonder. I mentioned a few posts ago (click here) that pastors in our modern era have a ballooned hope in what they think is the percentage of parishioners who live a committed life. Turns out, their balloon is full of hot air. While they assume 70% of their flock count their personal faith walk in Christ as everything to them, that number is woefully overreaching. Barna puts the percentage closer to fifteen percent.


Enough stats already! (I hear you.) Bottom line: the likelihood of the person sitting next to you where you worship on Sunday finishing well is between a 1-in-3 to 1-in-5 shot. And the person they sit next to (care to guess who?) is left with the same odds. Which begs the question: what is finishing well? Making it to heaven? Or living a life without regret?

Could it be that Jesus would say they are both one in the same?

*from the Clinton Biblical Leadership Commentary CD, Volume 1, 1999; you may find this and other resources at www.bobbyclinton.com

**1 Corinthians 11:1


2 thoughts on “On Finishing Well (Part Two)

  1. Heather says:

    Just reading your ‘green pastures’ title and wanted to pass on a little gem my husband found – “The grass isn’t greener on this side or that; It’s greener where you water and feed it”


  2. pasturescott says:

    That’s beautiful, Heather! That may just end up on the banner someday. Please thank your husband for sharing it; it really is quite good–and true.


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