Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

2 SAMUEL 5:1-5, 9-10

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inward. 10 And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.

If we should try to generalize the significant difference between David and his predecessor on the throne, King Saul, we might see this contrast in the relative depth of each man’s moral and spiritual center. Saul had time and again followed the trajectory of his own impulses and personal ambition, a habit that landed him time and again in troubles of various sorts.

David, on the other hand, although not a perfect man by any means, made it a devotional practice to regularly consult the will of God for the direction of his life. This stereotypical opposition between personal ambition and prayerful discernment in leadership is very evident and relevant to our lives even today. And in addition to looking outward to the social fields of politics, religion, and corporate business for examples of both kinds, we can and should also look within ourselves, for these two poles are present in us as well.

The Israelites saw in David a leader who was deeply grounded in a reality larger than his own ego, and who had an obvious and genuine concern for both their present needs and future destiny as a nation. Saul had been a mere “king” while David was their “shepherd,” with the welfare of his community and obedience to his calling foremost on his mind. David’s popularity was not the outcome of his personal efforts to cultivate the admiration of his people. Rather he was loved because he really and clearly cared.

1 THESSALONIANS 2:1-8

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain,but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery,but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

Leaders are sometimes schizophrenic individuals whose orientation is split (hence the term) between the ideals they feel passionate about and the reputation they are trying to manage. If a leader is not able to play well into the affections, anxieties, or aspirations of others, there likely won’t be any followers to lead. And a leader without followers isn’t a leader at all.

For his part, the apostle Paul felt called to a mission of spreading the gospel across the Gentile world, which was an ideal and purpose that carried significant risk. The Jewish center of the Christian movement, located in Jerusalem, was not entirely sympathetic to his mission, since he tended to downplay traditional Jewish customs and convictions in the interest of adapting Christianity to the Graeco-Roman worldview and way of life. Not a few times, Paul had to defend his platform to the other apostles, claiming that his version of the gospel was every bit as valid as theirs on authority of his special appointment by the risen Jesus himself.

With success came notoriety, and in the wake of notoriety gathered the fans, sycophants, and stalkers that are typically drawn to celebrity leaders. Such followers aren’t necessarily the best thing for a leader, and for two reasons. First, the only thing that many of them want is the rub-off of charisma and popularity that comes with celebrity contact. They don’t really understand or care to contribute to the leader’s cause, only to bask in his or her glory (and maybe photo-bomb the paparazzi).

Secondly, an enthusiastic fan base can actually interfere with a leader’s genuine attempts at clarifying the deeper truth of his or her cause. Because they are more interested in sensation than sacrifice, such followers are more like adherents than disciples, content with just a bowl of warm milk set before them. When the harder edge of truth is presented and a real demand is made, they will quickly distract themselves with some irrelevancy or quietly exit the back door.

1 SAMUEL 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2 Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4 Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5 He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

After the Israelites settled the Promised Land but before they were united under a single monarchy, social order was managed by a tag-team of charismatic leaders known as the Judges. Samuel is an interesting transitional figure, being the last Judge and the one who anointed the first kings. There were many who felt that a monarchy amounted to a defiance of the theocracy (more or less direct rule by God) that had been in effect during the period of the Judges.

The loose federation of tribes that had left Egypt for Palestine were struggling with this transition from an “ad hoc” government where issues could be addressed spontaneously on the basis of what god commanded in the moment, to one that had to work through multiple channels and by means of an all-too-human administration. This added element of mediation (magistrates, secretaries, and officials) is what caused the feeling of many that their nation was sliding irrevocably into a secular age.

Of course, just because “God” is calling the shots doesn’t automatically mean that a nation will be godly. We put the word in quotes to remind ourselves that our concepts of God will always reflect our general needs and aspirations as a species, as well as our more peculiar quirks, hangups, and ambitions as individuals. In other words, “Thus saith the Lord” doesn’t mean we should simply accept what follows on blind faith.

So there are dangers on both sides – a more secular (this-worldly) government that might easily lose its moral footing and get too self-involved to do any good for its people, or a theocracy where “God” might be little more than an unimpeachable (and conveniently transcendent) warrant for bigotry, dogmatism, oppression and violence.

King Saul, Israel’s first, did not fare so well. By going off on his own course and not listening to God, he had pulled his nation into some dangerous religious compromises. So “God got rid of him” – at least that’s how the rankled golden-age folks were reading history.

Back to the theocracy of charismatic leadership, then? Not so fast.

                                                                                                 

Truth is, charismatic forms of government just can’t manage the expanding concerns of a growing population – not to mention that they are inherently unstable. However much the Bible story of Israel’s emergence is actual history and how much of it is more like many other national myths, including the United States of America, social order and politics inevitably moved in the direction of monarchy.

Samuel’s task now was to follow God’s direction and anoint Saul’s successor. He was sent to Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse who had eight sons. At a special ceremony Jesse sent his sons out to Samuel, one at a time beginning with the eldest. 

Samuel naturally had his own assumptions and preferences, and after God said “pass” on each boy that he regarded as qualified for the job – down through the list of seven sons that Jesse had summoned to attend – the prophet looked around quizzically, perhaps a little embarrassed. “Is that it? No more boys?”

“Oh, well” answered the father, “there is my youngest, but I didn’t think to have him here. He’s young, inexperienced, and tends to daydream and scribble poems while supposedly watching my sheep.”

“Bring him to me.” When the young lad arrived, God confirmed: “This is my man!” And so that day, Samuel anointed David the new king of Israel.

It makes you wonder just how many blessings, opportunities, and even miracles might never make it to your eyes because your mind isn’t looking out for them.