By David Faust
Do you ever watch the TV show Undercover Boss? In each episode, high-level executives interact anonymously with their rank-and-file employees while disguised as ordinary workers trying to learn the ropes of the job. I wonder, Why don’t the employees recognize it’s their boss wearing a wig and glasses? Isn’t it a giveaway when TV cameras follow them around all day?
In the “reveal” at the end of each episode, the workers discover that without realizing it, they were rubbing shoulders with the boss. Often the boss gives them generous gifts like promotions, vacations, or funds to pay for college costs. Undercover Boss touches a nerve because something in the human heart wants assurance that our leaders empathize with our plight. For over a decade the show has reminded bosses to get in touch with the real-life struggles faced by the ordinary people who work for them.
On a far grander scale, something similar happened in the incarnation of Christ. God went undercover when the King of kings and Lord of lords came to earth in human form—divinity disguised as a baby in a manger. The one who possesses all authority in heaven and earth looked helpless, wrapped in swaddling clothes. In the years that followed, he grew through adolescence, walked on dusty roads, wrestled with temptation, ate at peasant tables, and camped out with rough-edged disciples. Instead of using his position as God’s Son to shield himself from responsibility, “he learned obedience from what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). He revealed himself to his disciples, and they were stunned to realize they had been rubbing shoulders with the Word who became flesh. He bestowed gracious gifts they used for years to come.
ABOVE THE RULES?
It’s inspiring when leaders make the effort to understand the real-world challenges their followers face. And it’s demoralizing when leaders refuse to do so—or worse, when leaders consider themselves above the rules.
In some ways, King Saul appeared to be a natural leader. When God gave the Israelites the green light to appoint a king, Saul seemed the obvious choice. Tall and strong, Saul towered head and shoulders above his peers. Remember, this was a time in history when kings led soldiers into battle in hand-to-hand combat. Unfortunately, Saul struggled with character flaws that have brought down many leaders—a toxic mix of impatience, insecurity, and emotional instability. Worse, Saul was arrogant and sloppy about obeying God—as if he knew better than the Lord.
Saul’s failures as Israel’s first king overshadow his successes. He serves as a cautionary example about leadership, reminding us that
- character matters more than appearance;
- self-will must yield to God’s will;
- obedience to God matters more than religious rituals: “To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22);
- a self-assured, swaggering leader who insists “I’ll do it my way” might look impressive at first, but that leadership style doesn’t receive God’s blessing: “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” (v. 23); and
- eventually God will unseat unjust leaders: “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king” (v. 23).
Leaders aren’t above the rules, and the best leaders don’t see themselves as exceptions. Instead, they are examples of obedience to God and service to others.
Personal Challenge: On a piece of paper or in your personal journal, write a list of qualities you respect and admire in those who lead in the church, government, and the marketplace. Then go back over the list and circle the areas where you personally need to improve.