By Eric Geiger
There’s a restaurant in downtown Nashville I used to enjoy. But not anymore. It’s not because the food has changed or the service has gone downhill. I stopped going because of the memories it brings back.
The last time I was there, I sat in the same booth where, on an earlier visit, I had prayed and planned projects with a pastor friend. I remember watching him interact with the server and thinking, This guy loves Jesus more than I do.
I watched him share the gospel with much more ease than I can. I knew he must have spent time with the Lord that morning.
Today, both my friends are no longer in ministry. Moral failures have disqualified them—causing great harm to their families and leaving their churches without a shepherd.
As I’ve watched these men and other friends in ministry fall, I feel fragile. If it could happen to people who I believe love Jesus more than I do, then it could easily happen to me.
And it can happen to you. People are fragile. Leaders are fragile.
The Bible reminds us of this in 2 Samuel 11:1-4. This passage shows us a picture of King David’s fragility. He was “a man after God’s own heart,” but he still failed—big time. If we pay close attention to this passage, we can see he put himself into a position to fail as a leader. His story shows us three surefire ways to fail into succession.
It’s spring, and David is supposed to be at war (verse 1). Instead, he has remained in Jerusalem. He isolated himself from people in his life who would have spoken truth to him, like Joab.
How do we know Joab would have stopped him from asking about a married woman? When you read other places in the narrative, we see Joab confronting David over the census. He was willing to speak truth to power. But Joab was sent away to war and David stayed behind.
Leaders, we must be cautious to not isolate ourselves. The temptation is there, because leading is painful. People cause pain; they tell us everything that’s wrong with our ministries. So often, the default for us is to pull away and to isolate ourselves.
The beauty of the Christian faith is the opposite of isolation. As Christians, we rejoice in the fact we are weak and Jesus did all the work for us. We are part of a community of believers who hold one another up and encourage one another.
A word of caution about the community with which we surround ourselves: It’s possible for you, as a leader, to be isolated in the midst of people. David had people around him who brought Bathsheba upon his request.
When you’re rising in leadership, it’s tempting and easy to surround yourself with people who tell you what you want to hear. If everyone around you is impressed with you, then you are still in dangerous isolation.
Ignore your boredom
I used to think it was no big deal when people said they were bored. But being bored will lead to disaster. Why? It indicates you aren’t looking at Jesus. If you’re looking at Jesus you aren’t bored, because Jesus is never boring.
In verse 2, we see David was bored. This is the same David in Psalm 57 who woke up singing. He was in awe of the Lord—but not on this particular night in 2 Samuel 11. Verse 2 tells us he was looking for something else. His heart was not in awe of the Lord. He was bored and he was looking for something.
Like David’s, our hearts are restless. We long to experience something new and exciting. We have a hard time just meditating on the goodness and the grace of God.
Submit to pride
Believe you are above falling—that this will never happen to you. Be filled with pride. Attempt to stand in your own strength. Do these things, and you will surely fail.
Verses 3 and 4 show us that David was filled with pride.
Here David was thinking, I’m the king. Anything I ask for, I get. Look at my approval ratings. Look at all my accomplishments. If I want to bring a woman into my bedroom tonight, I have the right to do that. I can do anything I want.
Pride led to his destruction.
How can we tell our hearts are drifting in pride?
If we have a sense of entitlement—if we feel we are owed something because of our positions or our accomplishments—we are fueled by pride. Whenever we are entitled, we aren’t grateful.
Everything we have is only what we’ve received by His grace. Our salvation, our identity, the role we’re in—all of these things are only by His grace. When we live with gratitude for what He’s done, we won’t be filled with pride. But if we live with a sense of entitlement, we’re headed for destruction.
The only One who can keep us from falling
David was the first person to write the popular phrase, “How the mighty have fallen.” He wrote this in 2 Samuel 1 after King Saul fell and killed himself on the battlefield.
This is terrifying to me: This means I can watch the mighty fall, and I can speak about the mighty falling, but I am unable to keep myself from falling. We can write blogs, read articles, and talk about fallen pastors and fallen ministries. But we, in our own goodness, are unable to keep ourselves from falling.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end for David. There is healing and forgiveness for him—and for all leaders who fail. We can’t escape the consequences of our actions—David left behind a legacy of family and national conflict, including a rebellion led by his son Absalom.
But we can find forgiveness and restoration.
In Psalm 51, we see David prays when he is confronted in his sin. In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan confronts him. Here’s how you know you really belong to God: your response when someone confronts you with the truth. Saul was confronted by a prophet and made excuses; David was confronted by a prophet and yelled, “I have sinned!”
If we finish our ministries well, it’s not because of our goodness; it’s only because of His grace. He is the One who keeps us from falling.
ERIC GEIGER (@EricGeiger) is senior vice president of Lifeway Christian Resources.