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Why don’t leaders last the distance?

| by Tony Llewellyn

When I was young and a lot less disciplined, I remember attempting to create a built-in wardrobe. I started with a great burst of enthusiasm, measured the space, bought the materials, started the framework, then promptly ran out of steam. A couple of years later, I finally finished the job in time to sell the house!

One thing’s for sure. It’s a lot easier to start something than to finish it. Anyone who’s ever attempted a new project can tell you that.

Not surprisingly, the same is true of pastoral leadership. According to one leadership book, 80 percent of Bible school and seminary graduates who go into ministry will leave the ministry in the first five years.

The same source says that only 10 percent of pastors will actually retire in pastoral ministry in some form.

What happened to the rest?

There’s no doubt there are valid reasons for dropping out of pastoral work, such as illness or recognizing you made a mistake entering it in the first place. However, there’s another reason that’s more foundational.

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there were two men. One was named Rocky and the other was named Sandy. They owned land right next to each other and decided to build.

Rocky immediately started to dig down into the sandy ground, looking for the bedrock. Sandy, on the other hand, looked on and sneered, “What in the world are you doing? If you’re going to build a house, you’re going in the wrong direction. You’re supposed to go up, not down.”

Rocky ignored him, determined to build on a solid foundation. But Sandy started building right away and finished his house well before Rocky did.

Finally, when Rocky had finished his house, both men stood outside their houses admiring their handiwork.

Sandy couldn’t resist another little dig: “Look at that. Our houses are like twins. All that time and effort you wasted only to end up in exactly the same place as me! And you sure took a lot longer to get there.”

A few weeks later, Rocky and Sandy were inside their houses, relaxing at the end of a busy day, when suddenly there was a massive storm. The lightning flashed, the thunder crashed, the winds blew ferociously, and the rain poured in torrents.

Rocky was unperturbed.

But Sandy was terrified. He sat in his lounge and heard a loud snap. He looked around and saw that a large crack had appeared in his wall. Then the floor snapped open. Next, a big hole appeared in his ceiling with water gushing through.

Sandy fled to Rocky’s place just in time to see his house imploding.

OK, so I stole that story. But hey, it’s not copyright! And hopefully you get the point.

Rocky and Sandy were in the same storm. Their houses even looked exactly alike. But the foundations were totally different.

When Jesus told the original version of this story, it was at the end of a sermon. He used this anecdote to illustrate the fact that we can build our lives on a solid rocky foundation or an unstable foundation.

To build on the rock requires obedience to Jesus’ words. Failure to obey is the same as building on sand.

It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard someone say, “What happened to so-and-so? They seemed to be going so well. Then suddenly they just fell away.”

I know some will think it simplistic, but the answer to this oft-repeated question is found in Jesus’ story about Rocky and Sandy. Want your ministry to last the distance? In fact, want your Christian walk to last the distance? There’s lots of advice out there, but there’s no substitute for obedience.

Obedience to Christ’s words guarantees that we will be building on a rock foundation and last the distance. Falling away means that somewhere along the line we failed to obey.

Tony Llewellyn

Tony Llewellyn is an Australian pastor, author, musician and songwriter. He and his beautiful wife Alli have two adult children. Tony authored 11 books on biblical and musical topics, released five CDs and runs two websites: and

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