The Gift of Weak Leaders image

The Gift of Weak Leaders

Last Sunday I played hooky from both the church I’m a member of and the church I work for, and visited a young church plant in central London. Its leader, Andrew Haslam, sometime contributor to this blog, preached one of those ‘rare treasure’ sermons that has given me much to ponder ever since, from what at first seemed a fairly unpromising passage, 1 Chronicles 29:1-5.

It’s one of those sections I’ve read a dozen times but never really seen. David is handing all his plans for the temple over to Solomon (including listing all the assets he has gathered in one of those excruciatingly dull lists: “gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze, iron for the iron…”), and casting vision to the priests and leaders of the people. But look at what he says as he commissions his son, in 1 Chronicles 29:1:

Then King David said to the whole assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God.”

How humiliating that must have been, Andrew pointed out. The word ‘inexperienced’, he said, is the adjective rakh which literally means ‘weak, soft, tender, delicate’. Can you imagine your father standing you up in front of the assembled leaders of the nation he’s handing over to your control, and announcing, “This man is weak and soft”?

But skip back a couple of verses into the end of the previous chapter (one of those places where the chapter break really isn’t helpful):

David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished. The divisions of the priests and Levites are ready for all the work on the temple of God, and every willing person skilled in any craft will help you in all the work. The officials and all the people will obey your every command.” (1 Chron 28:20-21, my emphasis)

David knows Solomon is not capable of completing the task at hand, but he also knows he doesn’t need to be – it’s not supposed to be done by Solomon, but by God and the church and the people and Solomon.

God gives us weak leaders, but our response as followers should be not to moan and criticise, but to pull together to fill the gaps. The Christian life was always meant to be a team effort. We’re supposed to be a body, all playing our role. Weak leaders, therefore, are a gift to us from God! Think about it – we already have a tendency to leave even the weakest church leaders to struggle on doing far too much, spreading themselves far too thinly. If they actually were omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient too, what motivation would we have for ever getting up and doing our bit?

Incidentally, Andrew went on to explain that that list of ‘gold for the gold work’ etc had the effect of a modern-day Kickstarter campaign – fundraising is often slow to begin with, but then it reaches a tipping point where it becomes clear that ‘this thing is going to succeed’, and money begins flooding in, because people enjoy being part of a success story. David was showing the priests and leaders that there were ample provisions laid up for the task – it was going to succeed, and they were invited to be a part of it. The same is true for us today – through the Holy Spirit, God has given us ample provision for the task in hand, the task of accomplishing His will and building His kingdom. “There is nothing more certain,” Andrew said, “than that God’s purpose on earth will succeed.” We’re invited to be part of a success story, and there are plenty of resources available.

But that’s really an aside to my main point: weak leaders are a gift because they create space for followers to participate in the success story.

Leaders find it hard to admit they’re weak, though. They find it hard to ask for help - not least because we place such a burden on leaders in our society. We expect them to be great. I expect them to be great. I love a strong leader – in church, in the workplace or on the dance floor, give me a strong, competent leader and I’m in my element. But just as in a dance the leader needs a follower, so in the church the idea isn’t that the leader does it all, but that he is just one of a partnership working together in harmony.

Towards the beginning of Celebration of Discipline (yes, that again!) Richard Foster writes: “The history of religion is the story of an almost desperate scramble to have a king, a mediator, a priest, a pastor, a go-between” (p. 28), yet that was never God’s plan – the plan is for us to be a body. The life of faith is meant to be a corporate experience, a sharing of the burden and the blessing. On p. 222 Foster says:

[Paul] saw that the gifts of the Spirit were given by the Spirit to the body in such a way that interdependence was ensured. No one person possessed everything. Even the most mature needed the help of others. The most insignificant had something to contribute. No one could hear the whole counsel of God in isolation.

God gives weak men and women to lead his people. If they are wise, like Solomon, they admit their weakness, lean heavily on God (2 Chron 1.10), and invite the priests (ie all of us), leaders and those skilled in various different ‘crafts’ to join in this great task. If we followers want to do the will of God, we will accept the gift that these weak leaders are to us, and will step up, giving wholeheartedly of our resources and talents, and so becoming part of the greatest success story ever.

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