Tag Archives: Leadership

Judges 16 – Care and Feeding Instructions For a Leader

One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. The people of Gaza were told, “Samson is here!” So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, “At dawn we’ll kill him.” But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron. – Judge 16:1-3

Der geblendete Simson by Lovis Corinth (1912)

25 While they were in high spirits, they shouted, “Bring out Samson to entertain us.” So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, 26 Samson said to the servant who held his hand, “Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.” 27 Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform. 28 Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. – Judges 16:25-30

***

As a kid in Sunday School they probably taught about Samson once a year. It was always a very sanitized version of the story, and I do not recall the teacher ever reading any of it out of the Bible. The lesson always revolved around Samson losing his powers when his hair was cut and then getting his powers back when he asked God. I look back in horror at the teacher who taught that Samson was analogous to Jesus in that he sacrificed himself, and the teacher that taught Samson got his powers back because the Philistines allowed time for his hair to grow back.

Samson was a horrible person who did very bad things, and that is how we should teach him. He was faithless, deceptive, arrogant, self-centered, and hot-headed (to name a few traits).

Many people are called into leadership positions. Frequently leaders use their power and authority to work in the best interest of those around them. However, there will always be leaders, like Samson, who use their position to visit prostitutes (literally or metaphorically), pick fights, and bring about destruction. These leaders may be moving the group in a desired direction; but their failures will ultimately cause harm to the group

As Christians we need to be careful in the selection and maintenance of our leaders.

  1. Follow God’s Leading – Do not pick the person you think should be your leader. Pick the person God is calling to be your leader. God knows more than you know and God knows more than I know. I have seen destructive individuals placed into leadership because people thought they knew what kind of leader they needed when in fact God was calling someone else. If you find yourself playing politics in church, then you are not following God’s leading.
  2. Pray – Pray for your leaders before you know who they are. Pray for your prospective leaders when deciding who should lead. Pray for your leaders while they are leading. Pray for your leaders after they are gone. Your relationship with your leaders does not begin when they show up and does not end when they leave. It is eternal in both directions.
  3. Require Accountability – Many leaders do not like being accountable. Some leaders will even establish policies which give the appearance of holding them accountable, but which truly exist to avoid accountability. Require that your leaders be accountable to someone. A leader either needs to choose a suitable accountability partner or be assigned one.
  4. Do Not Allow Destructive Patterns – One mistake is a data point, two mistakes is a pattern. If a leader repeats the same mistake, they should be removed from leadership.

Samson could have been a great leader. He had the abilities and gifts to be the greatest Judge the Israelites had ever known. But Samson squandered his gifts and abilities. He engaged in sinful behaviors which brought shame and destruction on Israel. Samson had no accountability and he knew it. Samson was a horrible leader and those in leadership today should learn from his example so we do not repeat it.

Application:

  • Work with the leaders in your church to establish a leadership training plan.
  • Write down all of the leaders from your past and present; then pray for each of them.
  • Write down leadership positions in your life and church; pray for the future leaders in those positions.
  • Write down the potential future leaders in your life. Do one thing this week to encourage them.

Queries:

  • Do I regularly pray for my past, present, and future leaders?
  • Do your leaders have an adequate system of accountability?
  • Have your leaders established destructive patterns?
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Judges 8 – Allowing the Lord to rule

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.

Mt Rushmore under construction.

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).

Vladimir Putin

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.

Application:

  • 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.

Queries:

  • 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?
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Judges 6 – Balancing faith and doubt

“Gideon thanks God for the miracle of the dew”, painting by Maarten van Heemskerck

Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, 37 behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.” 38 And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water.

39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground.” 40 God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground. – Judges 6:36-40 (NASB)

***

It is hard to know exactly how to characterize Gideon’s behavior in this chapter. Is he being faithless, shrewd, cautious, unwilling? Is he testing God for his own benefit or for the benefit of others? I am not sure exactly how to read Gideon. But over and over again, God gives Gideon an instruction and Gideon either 1) tests the instruction or 2) follows the instruction but with extreme caution. The passage quoted above is just the last in a long series of Gideon testing God.

Gideon is certainly not boldly doing the work of the Lord. He is proceeding with caution and testing the Lord. Is Gideon acting properly or improperly? Are we to follow the leading of God or are we to test God?

Is there a universal application we can take away from this story? In a word: no.

There are times when I need to follow God’s leading and follow without question. There are times when I need test God’s leading and gain confirmation that it truly is the will of God.

As a parent there are times when my children need to follow my instruction with out question: there’s a fire, get out of the road, eat your green beans. There are also times when it is appropriate for my children to test my words and confirm that it is what I want them to do: when I say or they hear the wrong thing, when they have more information than I do, when their mom and I are not on the same page.

God acts in a similar way. As God’s child there are times when I need to obey and times for me to seek confirmation. Unfortunately, there is no rigid rule dictating which time is which and my communication with God is not always as direct as my communication with my children.

Doubt can be healthy (if we do not let it consume us). A healthy sense of doubt keeps us from being the crazy guy with a messiah complex. It is okay to doubt if God is speaking to you. However, you need to you use that doubt as motivation to confirm God’s leading. There is no shame in acting like Gideon and putting out a fleece. But do not become dependent upon the fleece. As we grow in our relationship with God we will become more confident, but there will always be a little bit of doubt.

Gideon confirmed the will of God, and then he followed the will of God. That seems like a pretty good plan. Do not let doubt render you actionless, but at the same time, do not assume that every thought that enters your head is the will of God. If you are uncomfortable with your doubt, lay down a fleece. But, as you grow in your relationship with God, be sure to learn how to act even if you have a little bit of doubt.

It may be that spiritual maturity is knowing how to balance faith and doubt.

Application:

  • Write down the thing God is calling you to do that scares you.
  • Write down the “fleece” you are going to lay out to test if it is God’s will.
    • Make it time specific and share it with a spiritual mentor.
  • Write down the one thing you are being called to do, but a little bit of doubt is holding you back. Do that thing this week.

Queries:

  • Can I have a strong faith in God and still doubt?
  • Am I able to balance my testing and trusting of God?
  • Do I tend to act too hastily or too slowly? Does God want me to change?
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Judges 4 – Jael and the tent peg

Deborah said to Barak, “Arise! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the LORD has gone out before you.” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15 The LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left.

17 Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.” And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him. 20 He said to her, “Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.’”

21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” And he entered with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple. 23 So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the sons of Israel. (Judges 4:14-23 NASB)

Yael Killing Sisera, by Palma the Younger

This is another story I usually go to in youth group at Halloween. It has more of a “girl-power” element to it, and the teenage girls usually appreciate it; after they get over the whole spike to forehead thing.

Deborah is the Judge of Israel. The Judges were leaders who God had raised up to bring Israel back into a right relationship with God. There is a general theme in the book of Judges of each Judge having more and greater faults than the ones who came before. Deborah creates a problem in understanding this theme. It is difficult for a contemporary reader of Judges to pick up how this is true of Deborah. Deborah appears to be a wise leader who focuses on following the will of God. What was Deborah’s fault?

Well, Deborah was a woman.

The Israelites were a patriarchal society living in a region flooded with patriarchal societies. To be led by a woman would carry a social stigma that would be difficult for many within the nation of Israel to accept, and would encourage other nations to view Israel as being weak. There is an implied rebuke in her leadership that would resonate with a patriarchal society: “Look, you had to have a woman save you.”

The story of Jael amplifies this rebuke of Israel’s patriarchy. Deborah prophesied that the Lord would give Sisera into the hands of Israel. But this does not happen in battle; it does not happen through the power of warriors, or the strategy of men. Sisera is brought into the hands of Israel by another woman; and a foreigner at that. God used the trickery of Jael to accomplish what the army/men of Israel could not.

The contemporary take aways from this story have little to do with gender or patriarchy. Rather, the first take away is that God raises up leaders we would not expect. Sometimes the leader we need to follow is not the person who looks like a leader; the leader we need to follow is the person that God has established as leader. It can be very difficult to follow someone who you believe is not worthy of leadership; but, at some point in your life, that is exactly what God will ask you to do. Let God choose your leaders.

The second take away is that God uses everyday people to fulfill prophecy. God can use anyone God chooses to fulfill God’s plans. God used Jael, a foreign woman, to destroy an enemy of Israel. God is bigger than my family, my church, my tribe, my nation, my world. God is bigger than my opinions, my prejudices, and my theology. God can, and will, use all kinds of people to accomplish God’s will on earth.

It is an amazing experience to open our minds to the fact that God can use anyone, and open our eyes to see the amazing things God is doing. For too long the church has been focused on excluding people. When we recognize that everyone is an agent through whom God may work a miracle, it becomes far more difficult to exclude those who may be different from you or me.

Application:

  • Look for how God is using the people around you (e.g. the strangers, the enemies, the non-Christians).
  • Look for how God is using you to speak to the lives of others.
  • Write a list of people you would never follow; then look for the leadership qualities those people possess.

Queries:

  • Are there people I would exclude from leadership based on a personal trait or characteristic (e.g. ethnicity, age, gender)?
  • What are my faults? How can God use those faults?
  • Do I allow God to work, or do I try to force God’s hand?
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Judges 2 – The past, the present, and the future

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)

Ancient Ugarit Ba’al – 14-12th Centuries BCE

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.

Application:

  • Make a list outlining:
    • Your anchors to the past.
    • Your activities in the present.
    • Your vision for the future.

Queries:

  • 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?
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Judges 1 – Church leadership

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.

Application:

  • 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.

Queries:

  • 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?
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Sermon: The Expert, the Leader, & the Assistant

I truly appreciate every opportunity to preach that I am given. It is always an honor and a blessing to me. Below is the outline of a sermon I gave last week.

***

Scripture: Exodus 31:1-11

Big Idea: At different times in life we will all take on the roles of expert craftsman, leader, and skilled assistant. At any given time, know which role you are called to, and within that role use your skills to share the love of Jesus with your community.

 

I.                   Introduction

a.       Setting – between the exodus and the exile

                                                              i.      Practically the last of God’s instructions on Mt Sinai

                                                            ii.      Exodus 32 tells of the Golden Calf

b.      Purpose – to create a throne room for God

c.       Scripture: Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of testimony, and the mercy seat upon it, and all the furniture of the tent, the table also and its utensils, and the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering also with all its utensils, and the laver and its stand, 10 the woven garments as well, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, with which to carry on their priesthood; 11 the anointing oil also, and the fragrant incense for the holy place, they are to make them according to all that I have commanded you.”

d.      In this passage are three different roles:

                                                              i.      Bezalel

1.      the expert craftsman

2.      filled by God with the spirit of God

                                                            ii.      Moses

1.      the leader

2.      Listens to God

3.      Points others in the direction God is going

                                                          iii.      Oholiab

1.      the skilled assistant

2.      Appointed by God & given skill by God

3.      But the expert responsible for completing the work

4.      A helper

5.      Just as responsible for accomplishing God’s will; but not in charge

e.       These three characters are excellent examples for us because: At different times in life we will all take on the roles of expert craftsman, leader, and skilled assistant. At any given time, know which role you are called to, and within that role use your skills to share the love of Jesus with your community.

 

II.                When we are Bezalel, the expert craftsman…

a.       Who was Bezalel

                                                              i.      Name

1.      “In the shadow of God”

2.      As if to say even the most skilled craftsman is a step behind God

                                                            ii.      Beginnings as a slave & training in Egypt

1.      Imagine humble beginnings first stone carvings

2.      Developing his skills making idols in Egypt

3.      Years in slavery and finally able to use his talents

                                                          iii.      Calling by Moses

1.      Spent his early life getting ready

2.      Only after being called by God through Moses was he unleashed (ch35-40)

                                                          iv.      Legendary candlesticks – particularly blessed

1.      Legend: The candlestick of the sanctuary was of so complicated a nature that Moses could not comprehend it, although God twice showed him a heavenly model; but when he described it to Bezalel, the latter understood immediately, and made it at once

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