The Humble Leader

By Rob Shoaff

Christian leadership has become a hot topic among Evangelical professionals and congregations alike. From our bookstores to our pulpits, from our colleges and seminaries to our pulpit committees, Christian leadership is in the forefront of our minds.

We ask many questions about leaders. Are we properly training future generations of Christian leaders? What type of leader does our congregation need? Do we have the right leader in place at this time?

Ministers are constantly being evaluated for their leadership abilities and performance. Colleges are making leadership a major field of study. The local Christian bookstore has books categorized by topic, and now Leadership can be found as one of them.

So, what is this phenomena we call leadership and how can we learn about it?

Heart Issues

We need to look at the heart issues of the leader. I believe a primary question to consider is: Are we leading for our own benefit or for the benefit of others? Let’s face it, leaders are tempted to use their positions for personal gain. If we’re not careful, our egos can become so inflated we believe we have become infallible, even invincible. We begin to tell ourselves God is lucky to have us on his side because we are such wonderful leaders.

Arrogantly we march forward, often without regard for the Lord or his plans for our lives. We go forward with our plans and later ask God to bless them. When it doesn’t work out, we rely on the “it wasn’t God’s timing” excuse instead of looking inwardly at our own mistakes. “After all,” we say, “we are working for him and leading his church, so he’d obviously have to bless us, right?”

David’s Lessons

We can see this same attitude in King David. David is anointed king as a young man, replacing Saul. But David does not assume full kingship of Israel until he is anointed by Israel’s elders at Hebron when he is about 30 (see 2 Samuel 5). From Hebron, David begins a military campaign against all of Israel’s enemies. He begins by attacking the Jebusites who are in control of Jerusalem, the city David desires to make his capital.

In 2 Samuel 5:10, we are told that after David’s great successes as king, “[David] became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.” The high point for David must be when he finally defeats the Philistines, striking them down “all the way from Gibeon to Gezer” (2 Samuel 5:25).

David’s fame and popularity continues to grow within the hearts of his people. I suspect David becomes quite fond of himself as well. It is David, and not Saul, who finally conquers the Philistines. God shows his favor to David, not Saul, in his conquests against his enemies. It is David, not Saul, the Lord chooses to rule his people Israel. Life is good for David, and I think David lets it get to his head.

We do the same thing. We begin to believe that our churches grow, souls are saved, programs flourish, and life is good because of something we have done. Like David, we forget that it is because God is with us that we are able to do anything in life. It is not because we are so gifted that these things happen. It is because the giver of the gifts chooses to bless us at a particular moment in time so his glory and power can be made known. How sad is it when God reveals himself and we take the credit?

Killer Pride

One aspect of leadership we don’t hear enough about is humility. When we do hear about it, it is mixed in as an afterthought or brought about as a subtopic under another “law or principle of leadership.”

Humility is a spontaneous and grateful awareness that life is a gift from God. This gift is manifested in us as a satisfied acknowledgment of absolute dependence on God. The opposite of this is pride. The Bible calls pride by another name, sin. As we read on in 2 Samuel 6, David’s pride gets Uzzah killed.

After the Philistines are defeated, we see David seeking to bring the ark of the Lord into the City of David. First Chronicles 13:1-3 records that David himself inquires of the ark of the Lord. It was in the city of Kiriath Jearim, in the house of Abinadab (1 Samuel 6:13–7:1). It had been there in obscurity throughout the Philistine domination of Israel and the entire reign of Saul.

When David learns the ark is at the house of Abinadab, he and his men go there to bring the ark into David’s new capital. In bringing the ark into the city, David makes a critical error. Second Samuel 6:3 tells us, “They set the ark of God on a new cart.” God had been specific about the construction and treatment of the ark (Exodus 25:10-16 and Numbers 4:5, 15). The ark was to be transported on poles borne on the shoulders of the priests.

In his haste and arrogance, David chooses to forgo the prescribed treatment of the ark and instead places the ark on a cart as the Philistines had earlier. David is punished for this error by the sudden death of Uzzah, son of Abinadab, which is a great terror to David. The death of Uzzah puts a stop to the proceedings, and David has the ark carried aside to the home of Obed-Edom the Gittite.

At this point in Scripture, David assuredly feels anger and fear toward God, yet the Bible describes David as “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). In David’s anger, he remains a man after God’s own heart because of his unwillingness to turn from God. David allows his fear and anger to motivate him to seek more insight into the heart of God. Instead of turning against God for his judgment on Uzzah, David turns toward God in humble repentance for what he himself has caused.

In 2 Samuel 6:12, David again goes down to get the ark, but with changed attitude and method. David’s humility pleases the Lord and the ark is brought into Jerusalem with singing, musical instruments, shouts of praise and dancing. During the procession, David strips off his kingly robes and dances before the ark wearing only a linen ephod, the garment of a priest. Verse 14 tells us David “danced before the Lord with all his might.”

Learning the Hard Way

David realizes the covenant gift God has given to him. David’s response is recorded as one of the most beautiful prayers of humility found in the Old Testament. Second Samuel 7:18 records David “went in and sat before the Lord” and poured out his heart to God. David’s intense attitude of humility before the Lord came only after an intense attitude of pride within himself.

Isn’t that the usual model we follow today? Wouldn’t it be much easier to go into a leadership position with the attitude of humility instead of having to learn humility the hard way?

Remember this the next time you’re discussing the topic of Christian leadership or perusing the Leadership aisle in a Christian bookstore, or preparing a lesson or sermon: Christian leadership originates with the giver of the gifts and not with the gifted.




Rob Shoaff is senior minister with Little Prairie Christian Church, Albion, Illinois.

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