Finishing Well

small__3752524532Recently, I was part of an energizing time of leader development with all of the staff of our church here in Austin. While I was upfront making a brief presentation on the framework that we would be using for development, a critical question was asked by one of the participants. I had made the comment that I think it is difficult to finish well as a spiritual leader. The question was asked, “How does one finish well?” It was a very genuine question from a 30 something leader who doesn’t want to blow it. I have been thinking about that question ever since. In that spirit, I want to offer three enemies to finishing well and two imperatives to finishing well:

Enemies to Finishing Well as a Spiritual Leader

1. Isolation  This may be the biggest enemy I see of well intentioned leaders who fail to finish well. Leaders must seek out and remain in community. I would actually suggest finding community on more than one level. It can be difficult for a leader to find safe, honest community. One level must be among peers who are committed to each other to honesty and safety. Another profitable level, if that leader is married, could be to develop community with other couples that love and serve one another. You may need community both inside and outside the organization. As leaders move up the organizational ladder there is a always a pull towards isolation, and isolation is deadly. We must know and be known to end well.

To live in isolation is ultimately the posture of the secluded and deceived.

2. Anger and Cynicism  It is easy as a leader, especially for older leaders, to become angry and cynical about their organization or the people around them. This can be especially true if the leader’s envisioned path does not work out just as they thought it would. There is no such thing as an unwounded leader. We all go through organizational bumps and bruises, but how we respond to them can make all the difference. If we turn towards anger, bitterness and cynicism we will shorten our effective leadership lives and finish poorly.

This is the posture of a cynic.

3. Power Hoarding  I know of a leader today that seemingly can’t let go of their position and power. A friend once told me that an occasional “clean white board” is necessary for staying fresh and finishing well. It’s not that I am against continuity or longevity, but we should regularly ask if we have outlived our usefulness in whatever role we find ourselves. A “clean whiteboard” forces us to fresh learning and new dependence, which can be a great friend in helping us to finish well. To hoard power and not be able to relinquish position may serve to shorten our effective leadership lives.

This is the posture of an oligarch.

Imperatives to Finishing Well as a Spiritual Leader                              

1. A Surrendered Life  As spiritual leaders we must always be conscious of our broken, flawed lives. There are no omni-competent leaders. A spiritual leader is meant to live his or her life in full voluntary surrender to Jesus Christ. He must be our wisdom, our power, our compassion, our courage-our center. It is only as we live continually surrendered to him that we experience these necessary leadership qualities in gracious stewardship towards his glory and kingdom.

This is the posture of a bond servant.

2. A Commitment to Being a Lifetime Learner  The other imperative is that we remain humble learners for a lifetime. There will come a day when all of us will report to someone younger and must be able to learn from someone younger. If we can’t do that we will begin to see our leadership platform begin to erode. Remaining fresh as a humble learner allows us to maintain our platform for influence wherever we lead. Remaining a humble learner helps to assure that we will not see ourselves as the center of the leadership universe. It helps us to be followers as well as leaders. It helps us empower others-to raise up the next generation of leaders.

This is the posture of a sage.

Finish well that you might agree with the Apostle Paul when he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

(photo credit)

15 replies
  1. Steve Morgan
    Steve Morgan says:

    All really good, Gary. Right now, especially liked the point on power hoarding. That is one big reason we step down from national leadership team. I think there is great health in term limits and rotating leadership. What do you think about that?

    • garunn
      garunn says:

      Steve-thanks for the comments. Yea, I agree-I think a ministry leader in particular needs to begin to have a succession plan the day they take the role. They need to continually asses, with others in regular open and honest dialogue, about when they should pass the torch.

  2. Robert Bruneau
    Robert Bruneau says:

    Excellent! I really appreciate your input on this topic because we live in a world with a constant pressure on short planning without long term vision because “we never know” what could happen. I agree with you that we can/should plan and organize our daily routine in a strong relationship with God to guarantee our “finishing well” life. Thanks!

  3. John Deacon
    John Deacon says:

    Saw your article on the Global Pastors LinkedIn network. Well said!
    I would add to all your remedies the insistence that one live in community with the poor whom Jesus calls blessed and of whom: ‘theirs is the kingdom of God.’
    Perspective is vital to finishing well and among those suffering lack, or despising, or persecution or misunderstanding or abuse or oppression – we not only gain true perspective but the real treasure of Jesus among the least.

  4. Rick Adler
    Rick Adler says:

    I’d add under surrendered life the willingness to know when it is time to walk away. Our society often preaches “continuance” where we keep something on life support long after it has wilted.

    If I live a surrendered life I hold things more loosely. Then the results are up to God and I can walk away in obedence before CPR becomes some metaphorical way of life.

    • Gary Runn
      Gary Runn says:

      Thanks Rick for your comments. I agree–we must hold all things loosely and know when to walk away, especially if there is leader in the wings that we can empower.

  5. Karen Valencic
    Karen Valencic says:


    Thank you for sharing these insights! As I reflect on my path, both professionally and personally, I don’t think of ‘finishing’ I think of ‘evolving’. This is reflected in your ‘being a life long learner’ and ‘surrender points’. I use the analogy of a spiral from my aikido practice. The more I ask questions and surrender the more peace and impact I have…If one lives these principles I hope there isn’t a thought of finish until one dies!

  6. Gil Albelo
    Gil Albelo says:

    You hit the nail on the head with respect to the enemies to finishing well. We need mentors as well peers we whom we are vulnerable about our struggles and ever alert to the whispers of the Holy Spirit.

  7. Terry Powell
    Terry Powell says:

    Thanks…..few leaders finish well, it seems I think of autumn leaves: when do they look most beautiful, with eye-popping gold, red, yellow hues? Late in their lifespan….not long before the die. I yearn to be like that, now that I am in my 60s. I want to be more attractive, less prone to complaining and irritability that often accompanies the symptoms of aging. But becoming more attractive late in life is not automatic…..just as the rich color of autumn leaves depends on soil conditions, how much rain fell during the summer, etc. so what I do in earlier year and from day to day helps determine how much beauty I have very late in life. How am I treating my soil (my soul) right now? Terry Powell, CIU Author, Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement To Sustain God’s Servants


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *