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Category Archives: Church
Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” – Judges 8:22-23 (NASB)
It is a difficult thing to refuse power when it is freely offered. It is often the case that the decision to defer supreme power is what characterizes a truly great leader, and the decision to grasp supreme power is what destroys a great leader.
There are numerous examples throughout history of leaders who have had the opportunity to increase their power, but instead choose to decline, and build up other leaders around him or her. George Washington is an excellent example. Washington declined the opportunity to seek out a third term as president, even though he almost certainly would have won (and kept winning for life). The decision to allow others to succeed him laid the groundwork for the peaceful turnover of power between differing factions in the United States for the next 220 years (and hopefully longer).
On the other side of the coin is the leader who will not give up power. A modern day example of this leader would be Vladamir Putin, current President of Russia. When Putin was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term as President in 2008, he worked to have a place holder serve a term while Putin became Prime Minister for four years. Putin returned to the Presidency in 2012 in an election which featured many documented irregularities.
The church is infamous for becoming an institution through which individuals with authority can rule mini-kingdoms. This can be just as true for the head trustee, the treasurer, a Sunday School teacher, or a pastor. It is important that the church put in positions of authority, those people who constantly remember that God is in control and “the Lord shall rule over you.”
When a Church allows an individual or group of individuals to rule, in the place of God, then it is no longer a Church.
- List the areas in your life in which you exert authority of another person or institution. Pick one of those areas and empower someone else to take over your authority.
- Examine your Church governmental structure and determine if it has adequate controls on individuals taking advantage of authority.
- Hand one area of your life, which is causing you stress, entirely over to God.
- When was the last time you refused power?
- Look at the leaders in your church; have they sought to increase their power or empower others?
- Does God rule over your life, your family, and your church?
- Are you willing to let others be in control? Are you willing to accept their decisions even when you think they are wrong?
But when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. And the sons of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. 16 Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak. 17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. 18 It came about when he had finished presenting the tribute, that he sent away the people who had carried the tribute. 19 But he himself turned back from the idols which were at Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he said, “Keep silence.” And all who attended him left him. 20 Ehud came to him while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. 21 Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly. 22 The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out. 23 Then Ehud went out into the vestibule and shut the doors of the roof chamber behind him, and locked them. 24 When he had gone out, his servants came and looked, and behold, the doors of the roof chamber were locked; and they said, “He is only relieving himself in the cool room.” 25 They waited until they became anxious; but behold, he did not open the doors of the roof chamber. Therefore they took the key and opened them, and behold, their master had fallen to the floor dead. 26 Now Ehud escaped while they were delaying, and he passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah. – Judges 3:15-26 (NASB)
When I have led youth groups I tell this story at Halloween; teenage boys love it.
There are some interesting things going on in this story. Ehud is the second judge which God raises up in an effort to bring the Israelites back to God. This is the beginning of the running motif in Judges by which Israel does evil, bad things happen to Israel, Israel cries out to God, God raises up a Judge to deliver Israel, Israel repents, the judge dies, Israel does evil, rinse and repeat.
A secondary motif is that each judge is flawed in someway. Ehud’s flaw is relatively minor, he is left-handed; however, the flaws of the Judges become progressively more severe. Why is left-handedness a flaw? Two reasons. First Ehud fails to live up to his family name as Benjamite means “son of my right [hand]”. The second reason is that the left hand was commonly the “impure” hand as it was commonly used for bodily functions. Really this whole story is layer upon layer of bathroom-humor (which is, again, why teenage boys like it). However, being left-handed was one of the reasons why Ehud was able to smuggle a weapon in to the King’s private room.
My grandmother was left-handed. I heard her tell stories of how, when she was growing up, adults tried to force her to be right handed. They would tie her left hand down and do all kinds of awful things. How many times was Ehud rejected by his family or tribe? How many times was he passed over because he was different or flawed? Yet, God used Ehud’s flaws and differences to deliver Israel from the Moabites.
There are people in your church, your family, and your community that are considered unclean or flawed. They are looked down on and refused positions of leadership or honor. They are rejected, not because they are incapable; but, because they are considered to be unacceptable. They are the outcasts, they are other. God uses the outcasts and the other to deliver his people.
We are very bad at judging other people flaws. Often, a perceived flaw can be a remarkable strength. Ehud’s flaw delivered Israel, and he was only left handed. Imagine what the flaws of the people in your church are capable of delivering.
- Create a penalty for when you catch yourself judging people who are different (e.g. a “swear-jar”).
- Serve a group that is different from you every week for the next year.
- Create an opportunity for someone who is less privileged than you.
- Who do I consider to be flawed, or “other”? Who do I not want to associate with?
- How has God used my flaws to deliver the people around me?
- Does it cause me internal discomfort to think that someone with one of the following labels could be a leader in my church: quadriplegic, veteran, mentally ill, woman, high school dropout, bi-polar, gay, drug addict, alcoholic, ethnic, wealthy, young, old, stutterer, liberal, autistic, conservative?
All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. 11 Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, 12 and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger. 13 So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. 14 The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. 15 Wherever they went, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had spoken and as the LORD had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed. – Judges 2:10-15 (NASB)
One of the difficulties of leadership is that it requires you to look in three directions all at once.
A leader must look to the past. The past has tremendous lessons to teach and we must learn from those who have gone before us. The past is also full of heroes and champions of the faith on whom we can rest during times of struggle. If every generation was forced to figure everything out for themselves we would never get anywhere; the past is the foundation upon which we build. As leaders we must be students of history and not be so arrogant that we refuse to learn from our mothers and fathers.
A leader must look to the present. A leader must be aware of what is going on in the here and now. What needs must be attended to immediately. Who is hurting? Who is in danger? Who needs to be celebrated? The present is what we are building and creating. The present is influenced by the past, but we can turn the present to anything we choose (both good and bad). If we spend all of our time focused on the past or the future, we will miss the good and bad things going on around us right now. The danger of missing the good is that we may fail to notice a new leader. The danger of missing the bad is that we may allow destructive forces to become enmeshed into our organization.
A leader must look to the future. Where are we going? How do we get there? If we want to build something that will last longer than we will it will take a great deal of planning in the present. Creating a vision and developing a plan to accomplish that vision is necessary. We must also understand human nature and outline how the organization will avoid common pitfalls. Setting concrete plans in place is a task which is commonly ignored by leaders in the church.
Too often churches look to the past and the present, but ignore the future. They fail to set future generations up for success. Then as a generation ages, it wonders why their children have turned away from God. A church must plan for next year, and next decade, and the next generation, and three or four generations after that. When looking to the future there must be a very long view.
In your role as a leader keep your eyes always focused on the past, the present, and the future. It can be tough, but it is absolutely necessary. If any one of these three time periods is neglected, or over-emphasized, it can cause problems in the church for multiple generations to come. Be sure to set a solid foundation for your grandchildren and your grandchildren’s grandchildren. We are all interconnected. We are still recovering from the problems of our ancestors (slavery, patriarchalism, church schisms); to the best of our ability we need to clean up our messes now, and not leave them to our descendents.
- Make a list outlining:
- Your anchors to the past.
- Your activities in the present.
- Your vision for the future.
- Who are your heroes? What ancestral baggage are you struggling with?
- Do you hold the past, present, and future all up in prayer?
- Which time period do you neglect? Which do you spend too much time thinking about?
Now it came about after the death of Joshua that the sons of Israel inquired of the LORD, saying, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” 2 The LORD said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” 3 Then Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted me, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I in turn will go with you into the territory allotted you.” So Simeon went with him. – Judges 1:1-3 (NASB)
Joshua’s Tomb – 2007
For the first time in over a generation Israel has found itself leaderless. Moses brought the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and led them as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses raised up Joshua as the leader who would bring the Israelites to the promised land. However, Joshua did not prepare a successor. Israel has gone from slave, to follower of Moses, to follower of Joshua; but, now there is no one to follow. So the Israelites do the smart thing; they ask God.
God instructs the Israelites to send Judah into the land first to drive the enemy out of the land’s promised to his tribe. Judah asks Simeon to go with him and promises to help Simeon clear his land as soon as Judah’s land is cleared. It is important to note, however, that God does not appoint a new leader to replace Joshua as Joshua had replaced Moses. It seems clear from this, and other passages, that God’s plan was for Israel to have no primary leader except for God. Of course there would be secondary leaders (priests, judges, and tribal chiefs); but, there would be no single human who would rule over all the peoples of Israel, only God.
The book of Judges is the story of how this plan failed. The story of how the Israelite people moved further and further away from God’s ideal and chose to follow their own desires.
It would be good for our churches today to look to the book of Judges as they are developing their organizational structure and selecting leaders. God’s ideal for Israel was that God be the primary leader who worked with a small group of secondary human leaders. These secondary human leaders took on differing roles and responsibilities. Some were accountable for military campaigns; some for religious ceremony; and some for maintaining civil matters. Is it possible that our churches should be structured in a similar manner?
As humans we seem to be drawn to pyramid shaped leadership structures in which one person is the ultimate authority for our organization. This structure is easy to understand and it allows us to put all the blame or praise on the one person at the top. If things are going well we reward that person; if things are going poorly, we find a new person.
As Christians, however, we may be called to develop a church without a single human perched at the top of our structure. I think all Christians would agree that God is our ultimate leader and authority; but, what if there was no single human leader at the top our church structures? What if there was a group of secondary leaders who each took responsibility for a different aspect of the church? Would that be a better way of organizing our church?
Regardless of whether there is a single leader or a group of leaders, whenever a church seeks to replace a leader the most important thing to do is to seek out God’s counsel. Time spent in prayer, seeking guidance, and inquiring about God’s opinion, is never a waste.
This is true whether a church is looking to replace a pastor, an elder, a Sunday school teacher, or a custodian. Every position within the church is a position of leadership and God cares about all leaders. We must always ask God, “Who is it you have prepared for this role?”
A church should never rush the replacement of a leader. A church should only move forward, once they have discerned a clear direction from God.
- Pray for the leadership of your church.
- Ask God to speak to the hearts and minds of the church regarding both the organizational structure, and the people to fit into the structure.
- Take the time to be a blessing to the leaders in your church.
- What organizational structure is best for your church?
- Do you take time to pray over who should be called to each leadership position (from custodian to elder)?
- Is God calling you to a certain leadership role?