We have all been encouraged to be strong leaders; to focus on our strengths and build on them. What part does weakness play in good leadership? Chuck Lawless addressed the question very well.
Originally posted by Chuck Lawless in July of 2014
“Learning To Be a Weak Leader”
I know the title of this post sounds strange. The concept of “weak” leaders is contradictory to the world’s thinking. Nevertheless, that’s where the Bible takes us: Christian leaders lead best when they, in their weakness, rely on the power of God to guide others.
1. God sometimes takes leaders into impossible situations to remind us that He alone is our warrior. I could write several posts to show numerous biblical texts that make this point, but here are a few:
Exodus 14:1-31 – God led His people to the Red Sea and then challenged them through Moses, their leader, “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation He will provide for you today. . . The Lord will fight for you” (14:13, HCSB). When the Hebrews then trusted God to be their warrior, even the Egyptians knew they were defeated: “Let’s get away from Israel . . . because Yahweh is fighting for them against Egypt!” (14:25).
Judges 7:1-25– God reduced Gideon’s army from 32,000 warriors to 300, lest the strength and size of their larger forces cause them to take credit for any victory. “I will deliver you with the 300 men,” God said (7:7).
1 Samuel 17:1-51 – God did not use mighty military weapons to defeat the Philistine giant; instead, he used a shepherd boy who would remind us, “and this whole assembly will know that it is not by sword or by spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s” (17:47).
2 Chronicles 20:1-30 – King Jehoshaphat, facing three armies against his troops, heard the prophet Jahaziel remind him of this truth: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast number, for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (15:20).
The world tells leaders to depend on their knowledge, their training, their experience, and their charisma – but the Bible tells us to depend on the name of the Lord (Psa. 20:6-7). Sometimes God must remind us of that truth by leading us into the impossible.
2. God sometimes leaves us in spiritual battles to keep us weak. The apostle Paul is the primary example here (2 Cor. 12:1-10). He wrestled with “a thorn in the flesh,” a messenger from Satan that tormented him. Three times Paul pleaded with God to take the thorn away, but God refused to release Paul from the battle. He had a greater lesson to teach the apostle: it would be in his weakness that Paul would most experience God’s power. He would lead best when he could “boast” not about his heritage or his training, but about his weakness and dependence on God.
Paul’s story reminds us that even called, faithful, obedient leaders are tempted with ego and self-dependence. Indeed, we’re probably most tempted when our ministries are going well and the battles are few. God, though, so loves us that He allows the enemy to aim his arrows at us – and we, in our resulting weakness, learn again that we can really lead only in His power.
3. God seeks giant-slaying shepherd boys more than census-taking mighty kings. In 1 Samuel 17, David the shepherd boy rejected human armor and took on a giant in the power of God. Only a youth with no battle training, David in all his weakness brought down a well-armed giant who had been a warrior from his youth. Goliath’s might was no match for David’s weakness overshadowed by the power of his God.
Fast forward, though, to 1 Chronicles 21, where David the king ordered a census of his people. We don’t know for certain the purpose of the census, but it appears David wanted to know how powerful his military was. Apparently, he was putting his trust in his forces rather than the One who was to be his warrior. Such a sin brought the judgment of God on the king and his people.
If we’re honest, most of us have walked in David’s steps. As young, inexperienced, needy leaders taking on giants, we sought God and followed Him in His might. When we gained knowledge, experience, and power, however, we too often depended on our own strength instead. It’s then we needed to be taken back to our shepherd boy days.
It’s then we needed to be broken to be the most effective leaders.
The equation is a simple one, really. If we want to be great, we must serve (Mark 10:43). If we want to be first, we must be last (Mark 9:35). If we want to live, we must die (John 12:24-25).
The problem is that few of us lean toward serving, being last, and dying—and that’s precisely the point. Only in God’s grace can we be—and must we be—weak leaders.
Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.