What Leadership Isn't

by Toby Manolis

Would you ever build a statue of yourself or a monument in your own honor?

The thought of that is silly, right?  I mean it’s one thing when someone else does something that honors you.  However, can you imagine taking the initiative to build your own monument?  When I read the part in 1 Samuel 15, where King Saul sets up a monument in his own honor, I laugh at how ridiculous that is.  However, should I laugh? Maybe not, because it’s tragic and Saul’s pride had devastating effects.  The fact is, I’m capable of that. I’m moved by humility, I want to be humble, but I also must recognize that I can be like Saul.  It took time and a lot of bad decisions for Saul to get to that degree of pride, but boy, did he level up.

King Saul’s example should be sobering for any current or aspiring leader.  Leadership is a big deal and it can be scary. I’m not trying to frighten anyone off because being a leader in God’s Kingdom is something worthy to desire. However, having a healthy fear of God, and a healthy fear of any measure of authority over God’s people, is necessary.  Authority is a powerful thing. When properly used, it brings to fruition the will of God and all the blessings that come with it. When used improperly, it destroys and rends.

We likely all have our own definition of what leadership is, but this blog post addresses what I believe leadership is notLeadership is not when the leader gets to do things their way or “pulls rank” to have things the way they want.  Have you ever been in a situation, and thought to yourself, “When I get to do this / have my own __________, I’m gonna do it this way.”? I think we’ve all thought that at some point.  It’s normal, but it is right to actually do that as a leader?  Not always.  We have to be careful.  Depending on the situation, how and why a leader uses their authority can define them as either an immature leader (Saul), or a mature leader (David).

Let’s look at Saul and David.  I don’t think for a second that God chose David over Saul because David was a poor shepherd boy who was never given his chance to shine.  God, with all His mystery, doesn’t mince words. He’s very direct when He informs Saul, through Samuel, of why David was chosen over him. “But now your (Saul) kingship will not last. Adonai has sought for Himself a man after His own heart. So Adonai will appoint him as ruler over His people—because you (Saul) have not guarded what Adonai commanded you.” (1 Sam. 13:14; TLV) 

God said this in direct response to Saul’s open disobedience.  Saul had a bad habit of doing what Saul wanted. It was leadership alright, but it wasn’t the leadership that God wanted. God had found a man in David that would do His will, and guard His vision.  If God wanted a leader to make decisions based on what they wanted, then He already had the right man for the job in Saul.  The fact is, it’s not like Saul had NO success. He won every Biblically recorded military engagement he commanded until his last one, Mt. Gilboa, the one where he fell on his own sword.  Saul had visible success, but his heart was in terrible spiritual condition, which leads us to David. Why David? It’s not that David didn’t sin, nor was it that God loved David more than Saul. God doesn’t choose leaders because he loves them more than their followers.  In fact, those who are appointed to lead should (still) be the best followers.  Leadership isn’t a promotion from being a follower. Servanthood is key to being an effective and able leader in God’s Kingdom.  At some point, Saul stopped serving as a leader.  At some point, Saul no longer regarded his personal relationship with God.  It’s safe to say that David loved God more than Saul loved God. When we look at David, we see a flawed man whose personal relationship with God was both persistent and consistent in nature.  That is what made David the better man. David’s will was doing God’s will.

One example of David’s model leadership was during the processional of the Ark of God into Jerusalem (1 Chron. 15).  During the celebration, he puts on a linen robe like the priests were wearing. David was the King of Israel, yet, he was now in the presence of the Ark, which encased the manifest presence of God on earth.  In the presence of God, the Great King, there are no other kings. David put on a linen robe, moving from a royal position to a ministerial servant position. David didn’t hesitate to set aside royalty to be a servant.

Just because a leader can, doesn’t mean a leader should. David’s desire to build The Temple was a good thing. David had the authority to do this, but it wasn’t God’s will for him.  In 1 Chronicles 17, David shared his desire to build God a house with the prophet Nathan.  Nathan responded, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.” (v.2), which is basically saying, “David, you have God’s favor, and the authority.  Go for it!” Yet, it was Nathan who said that, not the Lord. How do we know? The very next verse.  “But that same night the word of God came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell David My servant, thus says Adonai, ‘You are not to build Me a house in which to dwell….’” (v. 3-5) David wanted to do it, a legitimate prophet approved, but then God came in later than night to run interference. The visions, the plans, are God’s.

Again, just because a leader can, doesn’t mean a leader should.

This is such a powerful lesson for us.  Authority is not a blank check from God to a leader.  Rather, it’s an opportunity for a leader to further a magnificent Plan already designed.  It was done before the foundations of the earth.  It’s by God’s grace and His mercy and love for us that He uses us to do His will, and make no mistake, it’s all about Him.  As Paul says, “we have this treasure in jars of clay, so that the surpassing greatness of the power may be from God and not from ourselves.” (2 Cor. 4:7; TLV) 

David knew where his position came from and to Whom it belonged and because of that, he never lost that position even though he made mistakes and committed grave sins along the way (which he repented for and dealt with the fallout from).  The Ark would become an issue again later in David’s life when his own son, Absalom, ran him out of Jerusalem in an attempted overthrow. During his escape, David, rightfully the king, defended the Ark remaining in Jerusalem even with a false king.  Why? It was a matter of honor, God’s honor. “Return the ark of God to the city. If I find favor in Adonai’s eyes, He will bring me back, and let me see it and His dwelling.” (2 Sam. 15: 25-26; TLV)  Simply put, David loved God, and was more concerned with the Ark remaining where God commanded it, rather than taking the Ark to save face or make a political statement about his legitimacy as king.

This is a leader that God wants.  A servant. Not a perfect leader, but a leader that serves the interests of God’s honor, desires, and reputation before their own, even when it hurts.  I exhort you worship leaders, ministry heads, anyone whom God uses as a channel of authority in the Kingdom, know that the good work you do is pre-designed.  God has a plan laid out for you and those you lead. Seek His way first, always, especially when those decisions are weighty, or have to do with others you serve with or who are in your charge.  I’m not telling you to hyper-spiritualize everything. There are certainly matters of personal preference that leaders make decisions on. However, ultimately, God chooses leaders who will do things His way.  He doesn’t leave the room after He grants authority. He is with you, in order to see to it that you do His will, for your sake, for the Kingdom’s sake, and above all, for the sake of His glory.

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Toby Manolis is the Media Director at Meuchad. He has worn a variety of hats since being called to the Messianic Movement in 2005 including bass player, videographer, school teacher, worship leader, cantor, husband, youth leader, and dad. He’s a proud 90s kid with a growing collection of desk toys in his office.