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(Photo: Willow Creek Association)Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, addresses thousands of church leaders at the 2007 Leadership Summit in South Barrington, Ill., Aug. 9-11.

Et tu, Bill Hybels? Yet another prominent Christian leaders falls, joining the likes of Ted Haggard, Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, Frank Page, and Dino Rizzo, to name a few.

Without question, all of these people touched the pinnacle of success in their respective fields. They are educated, trained, practiced, and skilled; they diligently prepared for greatness.

But now, they all bear permanent marks on their record, they have lost the trust of many and the ability to influence because of personal failures or alleged personal failures. They all stumbled not because of their gifts or talent, but because of their inability to lead others or to lead themselves well.

At a time when major Christian leaders are failing in record numbers, our focus and assessments of people have to move away from the surface, external preoccupations, and we must return to the biblical standard of good leadership.

This is why Paul admonished Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV) to "Watch your life and your doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourselves and your hearers." Sadly, when it comes to Christian leadership, we find ourselves in a time when saving our hearers has become a greater priority over saving ourselves.

Like you, I have watched while shaking my head over Christian leaders and pastors who were phenomenally talented but lost everything because they made bad leadership choices. As unfortunate as this has been, what Adam & Eve, Saul, Solomon, Asa and a host of other biblical leaders show us is that this trend will continue as long as leaders have the wrong priorities. Successful leaders know the way, go the way and show the way. Going the way is the bridge of integrity that makes a leader's knowing the way and showing the way significant, substantive and lasting.

While today, the markers for success often revolve around building size, Sunday attendance and speaking platforms, real, lasting success for Christian leaders is only found in embodying the same commendation the Apostle Paul gives certain leaders in the Corinthian church. "You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. "You show that you are a letter from Christ sent through us. This letter is not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God. It is not written on stone tablets but on human hearts." 2 Corinthians 3:2-3 (NCV)

The common denominator between all of the people I have named and so many others is that all of them had achieved great status—or were solidly on the path—but they crashed and burned. I believe the reason for this is because they were never challenged to do the real internal work needed to be great leaders, and subsequently they became "starving bakers" instead.

A "starving baker" is someone who is so busy preparing food for others that they never eat their own cooking and subsequently suffer significantly because of it.

This must stop! We don't need any more malnourished or emaciated leaders. We have to stop the sad stories of defeat and help people become the main characters in their own success stories. We have to teach and train current and emerging leaders in such a way that internal struggles ultimately give way to personal victories. We have to help people see beneath the surface of their lives so they can understand it, deal with it, avoid personal disaster, and lead like they are capable.

Van Moody is the founding pastor of The Worship Center Christian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and host of the Advanced Leadership Intensive: Raising up Kingdom Leaders to Influence Society and Culture, on May 4-5 .
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