Seven Things Leaders can Learn from Michael Jackson's Tragedy

Note: for a view of this tragedy from someone close to Jackson, read  The Tragic End of Michael Jackson By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

As the tragic events surrounding Michael Jackson’s death on June 25 unfold, we find that it was more related to the tragic events of his life, starting with his childhood.

As we look back we can see that many child stars eventually led tragic adult lives and/or had careers that began to go downhill as they grew older. (For example, Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame, the Olsen twins, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan to name a few.) In these instances I blame their parents for pursuing fame and fortune for their children at the expense of their emotional health.

Regarding the church, often people launch out into public ministry platforms while they are still emotional infants and not ready for “prime-time.” It is obvious from the recent autopsy report that Michael Jackson died (emotionally) years ago, using drugs to deaden the pain of his miserable existence.

Following is what ministers can learn from the emotional dysfunction of Michael Jackson.

I. He lived a duplicitous life

Jackson attempted to carry a public persona of happiness, power, and having his life together while at the same time battling with inner demons that resulted in him paying millions to the parents of a child that accused him of molestation. During one trial it was reported that he actually went to bed regularly with little boys who were staying at his Neverland Ranch.

Because of his money and power, men like Jackson think they can live any way they desire because of an entitlement mentality. There are also many ministers and others with public acclaim and esteem who develop this entitlement mentality which mitigates against them seeing the need to fully deal with their inner demons.

II. He had the need to perform to feel loved and accepted

Jackson had the need to constantly entertain to fill a vast vacuum regarding the need to feel loved and accepted. He made the mistake of equating the adulation and applause of fans for love and acceptance.

Many ministers with a vacuous condition in their emotional lives also attempt to perform at high levels, in regards to building large churches and great ministries, because of the drive to feel good about themselves and accepted by others more than a leading of the Lord. Thus, they are driven by emotional need, not led by the Holy Spirit. Often what they have in common with Jackson is a lack of parental affirmation, especially from their fathers.

III. He centered his life on his gifts and abilities instead of solid core values

The Jackson parents started a trend early in his life that continued as a habit-pattern in Jackson’s life, in which everything in his life was driven by his incredible talents and abilities.

Ministers, athletes, political leaders, and anyone who centers their lives in this manner will not leave a healthy legacy, even if their careers start off with a bang! If Jackson’s parents would have centered their family life on spiritual values and principles, then they would have made sure their children’s exposure to the public was only commensurate to their emotional maturity and ability to stay grounded in their core values.

Often we see great preachers with amazing ministries have terrible falls because of this same reason. They attempt to get by with oratorical ability and/or leadership skills that are not grounded in the fear of the Lord, brokenness, humility, and a lifestyle of seeking God.

IV. He ran from his pain instead of dealing with it

Jackson, like so many others who have experienced child trauma, had to train himself to run from pain instead of deal with it, since while experiencing it he was too young to understand how to process it. In instances like this, when traumatized youth get older, they become more aware of unresolved issues as their pain surfaces. This triggers a response with two options: get to the root cause of the pain by facing it, or run from it by medicating yourself with mind-altering substances, superficial relational encounters, entertainment, or a centering of your life on tasks and performance since it makes you feel good about yourself because of your great abilities.

The recent autopsy of Jackson showed that he had nothing in his stomach except pain-killing pills. Also, his body was filled with needle marks from shooting these drugs. Ministers can also attempt to run from their pain by attempting to utilize the false elixir of superficial relationships, high achievement in work, as well as entertaining the dark side of adultery, pornography, and lavish living.

V. He constantly lived in the past to recapture what he thought he lost

Often those who have had to grow up faster than their emotional ability to cope regret the loss of their innocence and childhood. Jackson created a fantasy world with his Neverland Ranch, replete with an amusement park and a constant influx of young children so he could make up for what he couldn’t have as a child. He probably had close relationships with so many children both because of his compassion for them and also because his emotional immaturity made it difficult to relate maturely with other adults.

Many ministers and leaders also attempt to move forward with their lives without dealing with the many regrets and pain they have tucked deep into their hearts. Sooner or later it will catch up with you, in the same way you cannot successfully drive a car while looking at the rear-view mirror.

VI. He didn’t keep close friends who held him accountable

Jackson had a close friend who was a Jewish rabbi who distanced himself from Jackson because he saw that Jackson really wasn’t taking his advice and wasn’t willing to change.

Oftentimes leaders will only have around them people who placate them. Those who are serious about growth are those who surround themselves with people who are willing to tell them the truth and confront them. Only those willing to listen to wise counsel will ever be able to maximize their full potential in life.

VII. He lived with self-hatred

When Jackson was young he looked like a black person. As he got older his skin color and face looked whiter and whiter, to the point that he barely resembled an African-American anymore! All of that cosmetic surgery showed he was trying to be someone he was not. In the process his appearance became more and more bizarre! Perhaps the greatest pain Jackson felt was the pain of self-deprecation. For some reason, it seems like he hated himself and, especially after being accused of child molestation, he probably had a hard time really facing who he was.

Any person, including those serving in the ministry, need to face who they are and, when confronted with our sinfulness, need to go to the cross and allow Christ’s blood to cleanse us. Ultimately, we have to accept God’s forgiveness for ourselves in spite of our momentous failures in life. No doing so will lead to our premature demise--in life, relationships, and in ministry.

Joseph Mattera