Day 101: Two Leadership Lessons from Saul (1 Samuel 13-14)

13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince[b] over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14)

I struggle a lot with insecurity as a leader, so the story of Saul resonates with me on so many levels. While my own shortcomings give me a lot of empathy for Saul, they also make me aware of the lessons God has for me from this cautionary tale.

In 1 Samuel 13, Saul performs a religious rite that was not his to perform. Rather than wait on Samuel, a Levite, to offer the sacrifice; Saul, a Benjamite, offered it himself. His rationale for this disobedience was that Samuel was late, and the people were scattering (1 Samuel 13:8).

Lesson One: It is not up to me to hold the people together. An insecure leader believes that he or she has to be the one at every event, giving direction, rallying the troops, keeping the ball rolling. In truth, God is the one who holds everything and everyone together. Hebrews 1:3 tells us that He “upholds the Universe by the word of His power.” Beloved, do you really think it’s up to you to be the glue?

So Samuel tells Saul that the kingdom will be taken away from him. From that point on, Saul tries to perform at a level that will make God change His mind. He leads well. He fights valiantly. He takes the ark–the visible, tangible symbol of God’s presence, into battle with him.

And he makes an impressive sounding vow that none of his men will eat or drink until the enemy has been defeated. It sounds pretty righteous– as though he is saying “God will sustain us, and cursed is any man who trusts in food instead of God for strength.”

Saul’s son Jonathan wasn’t around to hear Saul’s vow, so he eats some honey that falls on the ground. Later, after the enemy has been defeated, the starving soldiers of Israel tear into the plundered sheep and cattle, devouring the meat with the blood still in it, and sinning against the Lord because of Saul’s dumb vow (1 Samuel 14:31-34). Once again, Saul tries to do retroactive damage control. He builds an altar to the Lord for the first time in his life (verse 35), and inquires of God what they should do next.

But when God doesn’t answer him, Saul looks for anyone to blame other than himself. He seems to have forgotten that Samuel has already told him God would take the kingdom away from him. He’s forgotten that it was his disobedience that started this downward slide. Instead, he nearly puts his own son to death for breaking a vow he never should have made in the first place.

Lesson Two: When God seems silent, the first question for to ask is, “Where is my own heart? Are there areas of disobedience in my own life?” Before I blame the deacons, or other staff members, or sin in the congregation, or any other outside factor, I need to check myself.

What about you? What lessons does God have for you in the cautionary tale of King Saul?

Day 070: The Grace of Repeating Yourself (Deuteronomy 1-2)

3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the Lord had given him in commandment to them, (Deuteronomy 1:3)

The very fact that Deuteronomy exists is a testimony to the grace of God. The word “Deuteronomy” means “second law.” And as we heard in the Bible Recap podcast this morning, there’s a lot of repetition in the book. It’s Moses’ farewell speech, his own Bible Recap, in which he stands on the edge of the Promised Land and lays down the law for a new generation.

Some people might think it’s unnecessary. The people had the law. Why did Moses need to repeat it? Some of us might have groaned a little when we heard Tara-Leigh introduce the book we are starting today. We’ve just slogged through two books of nothing but law. Can’t we skip “second law” and get back to the action?

And there are some people who think having to repeat yourself is a sign of bad leadership. “I told you once, and I don’t stutter” is their mantra. And if their instructions aren’t followed to a T the first time, they lose it.

For several years, I was a coordinator for a Christian summer camp. At the beginning of the summer, I helped train the young adults who would be running the camp for the rest of the summer. Then I would come back to the camp midsummer to evaluate how they were doing.

I will never forget coming back to one of my locations and talking with the Recreation Director, the staffer who was in charge of teaching the Bible study leaders the games and activities they would use to reinforce the Bible study. He was struggling. His team wasn’t following his leadership well.

I rode with him in his truck one day during recreation. The rec field was kind of a big bowl, with a road running around the rim. We stopped at a couple of places, and he would call out corrections to the Bible study leaders with his megaphone.

“This is the worst rec staff I’ve ever worked with,” he complained. “They don’t listen. They make up their own rules. They’ve forgotten everything I told them at training week.”

I looked at his truck. I looked at where we were up on the hill, compared to where the staff were, down on the rec field. I looked at the megaphone. I said, “Man, if that’s the case, what are we doing up here?”

“I stay up here so I can keep an eye on everything they’re doing wrong.” he said.

“Why aren’t you down there with them?” I asked. “You know, helping them remember?”

“Why should I have to?” he defended. “We’ve been through these games. Everything is written down. They just don’t read it.”

I told them once. And I don’t stutter.

Oh, the grace of Deuteronomy. The grace of hearing the Law a second time, and a third, a fourth, and a ten millionth. The grace of God giving the Israelites a leader who literally did stutter (Exodus 4:10). Moses probably had to repeat himself a lot. And that’s a good thing, because for forty years, the people needed to be told the same things, over and over.

The fact of Deuteronomy is a testimony to God’s patience and long-suffering. His slow-to-angerness. His abounding in steadfast love to a thousand generations. The fact of Deuteronomy points to the Incarnation itself: when God knew He couldn’t just stay at the top of the hill, keeping an eye on everything we were doing wrong, shouting His corrections to us with a megaphone.

He came down to the field and walked alongside us. Teaching. Correcting.

Reminding.

Day 041: Moses’ Choice (Exodus 33-35)

15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16)

At the beginning of Exodus 33, God makes a horrifying statement to Moses: “You’ll lead these people into a land flowing with milk and honey, but I’m not going to go with you. Otherwise, I might destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 33:3).

The people rightly mourned when they heard “this disastrous word.” And later Moses dug in, boldly telling God, “If you don’t go with me, I don’t want to go at all” (verse 15).

I admire his boldness. I admire the humility of the Israelites, who for once seem to appreciate the absolute necessity of God’s presence. Because it hasn’t always been that way. Only one chapter before, they had forgotten God completely, turning to a golden calf and proclaiming it as “the gods who brought you out of Egypt (Exodus 32:4).

At the same time, I can appreciate the temptation of the choice Moses was given:

“I can go without God, and make a name for myself. I will be the leader who brought the people of Israel into this land flowing with milk and honey. My name will be great among the people.”

Or, I can beg God to stay with us. I can refuse to go if He is not with us. But that will mean that He gets the glory, not me.

It will mean that people will look to Him for leadership, guidance, provision, and deliverance. I will be in the background.

And for Moses and the Israelites, it would also mean that an entire generation would die in the desert because they refused to trust God.

Is it possible that Moses could have gotten the people to the Promised Land within a couple of weeks if he had just been okay with God not being a part of it? That’s what God seems to imply in 33:2-3:

2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

You have a choice Moses. Go without me, and I’ll make the way easy for you. I’ll send the angel ahead of you. You’ll still get to your Promised Land. I just won’t be part of the story.

Or, you can beg for Me to remain with you. And I will. But you will need to do things My way. I will make demands of you. I will require your obedience. And you’re going to fail. You are going to lose heart. You will face My judgment. You will tack on another forty years to your journey when you fail to trust Me. And in the end, not even you, My beloved servant, with whom I speak face to face (see Exodus 33:11), will make it to the Promised Land.

And dear Lord, in my heart of hearts I wonder how many churches, how many pastors, if given the same choice, would say, “So, let me get this straight:

“I could have a megachurch. A successful TV ministry. Book deals. Thousands of adoring followers. I would be the go-to whenever Fox News wanted commentary from a man of faith. Presidents would even seek me out for advice. The only catch is, You wouldn’t be with me.”

OR…

“I could struggle to lead a stubborn, self-centered little church for the rest of my life, and have them fight me every step of the way, and at the end of my career, I would die without seeing any of my dreams for the church fulfilled. But You would never leave me. You would never forsake me.”

How many would make the right choice? Would I?

Moses made the right choice. Oh Lord, would I? Please Lord, let me be the type of pastor who would rather struggle with You than succeed without You.

Four Speedometers to Watch as a Groups Pastor

This past Sunday was a great Sunday for Small Group Bible Study at the church I serve. Let me give you a few reasons why:
  • We had over 1,000 people in small group Bible study. That’s good!
  • We had 58 more people in small group Bible study than we did on the first Sunday of May last year. That’s really good!
  • We only had 100 fewer people in small group Bible study than we had in worship attendance. That’s spectacular!! 
Why am I so excited about that last number? Every week, I keep track of how many people are in Sunday school relative to the number of people in worship. Why? Because our strategy is to move people from Worship to Grow (Small Groups) to Serve (Missions and Service opportunities). Getting bigger in any one of those areas isn’t a bad thing. But when we see the gap between those three begin to shrink, it tells me that we are doing a better job of moving people from one step to the next. It tells me we are growing in a balanced way.
May 1 was the smallest gap from worship attendance to small group attendance we’ve had since I got here. By a lot. Just to give you a frame of reference, in April we had an average of 204 more people in worship than in small groups. So, whatever you guys are doing to encourage people in your class to go to worship, keep it up! And whatever our worship leadership is doing to encourage people to go to Sunday school, keep it up!
As an education minister, I try to keep in mind four speedometers:
  1. Enrollment: The number of people we can potentially influence with our small group ministry
  2. Attendance: The number of people who are in a small group Bible study on a given week
  3. Engagement: The number of weeks per month someone attends a small group Bible study
  4. Movement: The number of people in small groups relative to the number of people in worship, and the number involved in serving relative to the number in small groups.

It’s that fourth speedometer that has me most excited today. The closer that number gets to zero, the more indication that our strategy is effective.

Please remember that every single person in your small group is more than a number. They are a person with needs, hurts, challenges, and victories. Every Sunday you teach, you are not standing before a “group.” You are standing before individuals who are sitting together. But we keep track of numbers so we can have some indication of how we are doing in meeting those needs, mending those hurts, facing those challenges, and celebrating those victories. To borrow the old cliche, we count people because people count!  

If you are in education ministry, how do you measure the effectiveness of your ministry? 

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