One of the reasons a leader tends not to finish well is that they plateau. A plateau is when you level off for a long time, too long of a time that you begin to experience a decline in your effectiveness, repeated spiritual defeats and the subtle decaying of one's soul.
In Neil Cole's book Organic Leadership, he addresses 10 Reasons Why Leaders Plateau, each of them serves us well as leaders. They are like warning lights calling attention to the potential trouble that will lead to us being stalled out in the harvest.
1. A spiritually plateaued leader avoids relationships of personal accountability. These leaders are removed from people. They have a degree of separateness that keeps them unaccountable to anyone. Often Christendom has reinforced such a separation and tried to justify it as biblical, to the detriment of the church, the world, and especially the leader.
2. A spiritually plateaued leader rarely applies the truths of God's Word to him or herself personally. Many Christian leaders have pursued education and have become experts on the Bible, thus believing they have no more to learn. These leaders no longer read the Word for insight into their own lives, but rather apply it to the problems others have. They read the Bible only to find solutions to other people's issues rather than with their own needs in mind.
3. A spiritually plateaued leader has replaced his or her joy, peace, and love with envy and resentment.
People cannot simply manufacture godliness by modifying their behavior to conform to Christ's ideals. The fruit of God's Spirit, seen in every aspect of our lives, is evidence of our redeemed character, not the works we force ourselves to perform to demonstrate our religious behavior. Where the Spirit is not in control, the fruit is not evident, and no amount of hard work can make it so. Leaders who are no longer growing in their pursuit of the Lord cannot display the fruit of the Spirit and often exhibit instead sour religious attitudes. It's amazing how these ugly ways of thinking, when enough leaders display them, are accepted as the norm.
4. A spiritually plateaued leader frequently looks for greener pastures in other places. Often Christian leaders blame their church or organization for the lack of fruitfulness in their ministry. They attribute the success others have to the luck of landing in the right place at the right time. Leaders who think like this are always looking to move to a better place where their ministry will be truly appreciated and the success they deserve will finally come. This means that many pastors move frequently from one church to the next looking for success.
5. A spiritually plateaued leader finds faults in others more often than in self. The leaders find introspection difficult and rarely evaluate themselves, though they are often busy evaluating everyone else. They "find the speck in their brother's eye but do not notice the plank protruding from their own" (Matthew 7:3).
6. A spiritually plateaued leader is burned-out from lots of busyness that has been substituted for simple intimacy with Christ. Spiritually plateaued leaders are exhausted because they are usually deceived into thinking that more effort and more activity are ways to gain closer access and blessing from God. This is a devastating lie from hell itself. There is no substitute for intimacy with Christ. More activity will never satisfy our deep need to connect with God and usually prevents us from having the intimacy we so desperately require... While carrying out religious busyness may grant us a sense of importance, it does not renew our hearts with joy and purpose. Instead it robs us of the strength we need.
7. A spiritually plateaued leader compromises on ethical principles once held dear. It is not uncommon to find such leaders have fallen deep into patterns of hidden sin. Using grace and liberty as excuses, they continue to function publicly without regret or remorse, while behind closed doors they carry out sinful practices...
8. A spiritually plateaued leader stays within safe areas of expertise rather than branching out into new learning endeavors. This sort of leader wants to be seen as an expert rather than a learner and therefore has no intention of exploring new fields or gaining new understanding... The idea of learning something new is scary because it implies that the leader does not have the expertise that has been part of his or her identity.
9. A spiritually plateaued leader is unable to acknowledge the wisdom of others. This leader talks more often than listens, is uninterested in what others have to say, and is easily offended if someone contradicts his or her idea. It is almost impossible to tell this person anything new.
10. A spiritually plateaued leader has reduced the Christian life to a routine. The plateaued leader is in a kind of holding pattern and is not moving forward in his or her walk with Christ. For this person life is a routine, trying to live the Christian life in the right Christian way. It is a static existence of maintaining what is, rather than developing anything new. It is a life of a few dos and many don'ts.
- Which one on this list is a flashing warning light in your soul?
- Who in your life would you feel safe in discussing this issue?
- How does the gospel work itself out in this area of your life? (Titus 2:11-14)
- How are you keeping the leaders around you off their own plateau?
- What is happening around you (family, friends, church, organization) because of this plateau?
“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.” Bruce Lee