When Older Leaders Make Mistakes

What do you do when an older leader makes a mistake?

Everyone’s seen this. Maybe it’s one major mistake that you can’t get out of your mind. Or maybe it’s a series of mistakes. Maybe it’s a lifestyle of doing the wrong thing.

For many people, it’s a parent. Few people have had a bigger impact on our lives, for better for worse. What do we do when we see them mess up?

I’m currently in Japan at a conference where a few Every Nation pastors, including Carla and I, are speakers. In last night’s message, Pastor Steve Murrell brought up this very question and gave two options:

When young leaders see an older leader make a mistake they have two choices: humbly learn or arrogantly judge.

Which one do we do?

Arrogantly Judge: This is the most dangerous and most tempting option. Arrogance is thinking of ourselves more highly than we should. When Noah got drunk, his son, Ham, took advantage of his dad’s weakness. It didn’t damage Noah’s legacy of saving the world. But Ham reaped a whopper of a curse.

When children judge their parents, when young believers judge older spiritual mentors, when campus missionaries judge their senior pastor, it’s often accompanied by thinking of ourselves more highly than we should.

It’s a classic young person mistake. And very easy to do. Here’s the process:

  • Take today’s topical technological breakthrough: social media, skinny jeans, man braids, Christ-centered preaching, neo-Calvinism, whatever the latest worship style is. These things aren’t bad. But what we do with them can be.
  • Immediately fault the older generation for not knowing the latest, greatest, God-pleasingest thing.
  • Arrogantly assume that God is pleased with this.
  • Reap the results of such an attitude. The smallest consequence is to reap what we’ve sown and to watch ourselves fade into obscurity when the next big thing comes around. The greatest consequence is to have God against us since He opposes the proud.

I’m not saying older leaders untouchable. But we must have the right attitude when we bring up the mistake. Even the Apostle Paul was very careful not to disrespect the high priest, though he was clearly wrong. David refused to lift his hand against Saul, even though Saul sure earned it. He spoke his mind to Saul, but let God deal with him.

I’ve made this mistake several times. I get so irritated with my dad or other older people for not knowing what I know. Not realizing that they’ve forgotten far more than what I know right now.

Thankfully, there are always opportunities to repent.

Humbly Learn: One of the keys to being humble is to place ourselves correctly. Where exactly are we in this relationship? Some Christians adults talk vehemently about their parents’ inability to grasp the finer points of theology, even as they continue to financially depend on their parents to sustain their lifestyle.

Secondly, let’s use this opportunity to learn. Don’t repeat their mistakes. But see how we can do things differently. And the great news is God gives so much grace for the humble.

Join the discussion

  • Good insights, Joseph. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 It’s certainly always easier to “arrogantly judge” rather than to “humbly learn.” I’ve made that mistake many times myself. I think we are particularly succeptible to this danger in our high tech age where information is everywhere. Many of us young people are far more advanced in knowledge of information that we are in true wisdom.

  • These are great points you’ve presented. It was overall a good read.

    1. I agree that young people should not arrogantly judge.

    2. “humbly learn” is the only presented “other option” here. While I still agree that young people not make the same mistake the elder does, this might not suffice. Since without correction, then erring elder might do the same mistake repeatedly.

    I propose a third option:

    3. Respectfully correct. I believe that there is a way to discuss things privately and respectfully. Romans 12 discusses this well.

    verse 3 says:

    “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

    since Paul is addressing the Romans in this verse, irrespective if one is an elder or young person, this works both ways. It (the verse) should affect both the “young people” as well as the “elder” or “older leaders”.

    In that light, if a young person hears an elder preaching a doctrine that is not biblically sound, or maybe caught the elder in the act of sin, or just plain hear an error in grammar. then it is his (young person’s) responsibility or “sober judgement” to let the erring elder know about it, respectfully. I’d like to drive the word “respectfully” one more time. That doesn’t mean that one is arrogantly judging. This means that the young person, as young has he is, has the intention to restore or make things better for the elder. A young person can maybe let the elder know by form of a question in private depending on how close their relationship is. The elder may discuss with the young person and that’s the time the young person can “humbly learn”

    Galatians 6:1 says this as well:

    “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

    You are correct that we must have the right attitude when we bring up the mistake. My point is, we still should not let errors fly by in the church by just learning from their mistake. We are also called to correct each other in accordance to the fruit of the Spirit.


    Thank you for writing this article. It has spurred me to research and read the bible today. Please keep on writing.

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