So the women sang as they danced, and said: "Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands. Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him; and he said, " Now what more can he have but the kingdom?" 1 Samuel 18:7-11
No matter who you are or how great your success, there will always come another who seems to be better, smarter, and more talented. But what do you do when that person is one of your own workers? And what do you do when the people in your church or organization praise and admire him or her more than they do you?
Young David had accomplished an incredible feat. He boldly confronted Goliath and rid Israel of a terrible menace. Through this, he demonstrated his loyalty to God and country as well as his own greatness as a leader. It’s not that he made Saul look bad. He simply looked “better” than Saul. He did what Saul could not—or would not do—and all Israel knew it. “Saul has slain his thousands, but David his ten thousands,” the women sang as they praised David in a celebration of dance. It would seem, at least it did to Saul, that the people believed David was a better man than him.
So what is a leader to do? How should one react when a subordinate receives more praise and applause then the one in charge? If you are like Saul, the choice is clear. You simply pick up a spear and throw it at him. You ruin that “usurper” before he or she steals your kingdom from you.
Absurd? Outrageous? Indeed, it sounds extreme but this is exactly what many leaders in the Kingdom of God are doing to the aspiring and talented workers under them. Subordinates who take initiative and succeed, whose special gifts and abilities are praised by fellow workers and church members, are often met by the suspicion and resentment of the leaders they serve. Their fear is that these young “Davids” will not only steal their popularity, but they could steal the “kingdom” that the authority believes is his by right.
THE MANDATE OF LEADERSHIP
A leader throwing spears is an offense to kingdom leadership. Imagine Peter being so envious of Paul’s success that he forbids him from planting a church. Or picture Paul being so threatened by Timothy’s popularity that he spreads rumors about him. Or imagine John the Baptist labeling Jesus a fraud because he is afraid of losing his followers. This is not leadership, it is self-preservation. It is not advancing the church for the glory of God; it is expanding an empire for the glory of self.
In the world, leaders aspire to greatness by achieving positions of power and authority. They measure success by the amount of people under their control and the largeness of their popularity. Unfortunately, many “Christian” leaders have come to define greatness in similar terms. To them it is building big churches, commanding huge crowds, and achieving fame. Their attitude is also the same as the world’s regarding people—especially subordinates. They are seen as objects to manipulate and control for the leader’s own benefit. In fact, followers who show promise or have some better quality than the leader are perceived as threats to be suppressed and are denied opportunity for promotion.
This was a great failure of King Saul just as it is for many church leaders. The mandate of kingdom leadership is to raise others up and release them rather than hold them down and repress them. Ephesians 4:11-12 says apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are to equip the saints for the work of Christ’s ministry, not suppress them for the sake of one’s own popularity. Clearly, scripture requires spiritual authorities to identify and prepare potential leaders for future ministry office. Failure to do this is a serious betrayal of leadership. In fact, it is a betrayal of the very mandate given to leaders through the Word of God.
THOSE WHO LEAD MUST HAVE A VISION GREATER THAN THEMSELVES
Moses is one of the Bible’s greatest leaders whose achievements are still impacting the world today. His success remains, not only because he led Israel to the Promised Land, but because he was a leader who raised up other leaders. In Exodus 18:25-26, Moses “Chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. So they judged the people at all times.” Furthermore, in Numbers 11, Moses rejoiced to learn that seventy of his subordinates had received the same anointing he had and prophesied among the people. When others expected him to be threatened and put a stop to it, Moses declared, “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the LORD’S people were prophets and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!” Why did Moses have such a passion for raising, training, and releasing leaders? Because he had a vision greater than himself.
On the contrary, leaders who are threatened by their apprentices have a weak and limited vision. By suppressing or attacking subordinates they reveal how small-minded and inferior their caliber of leadership truly is. They care only for their specific interests in the here and now and no vision for advancing the Kingdom of God by advancing those He calls.
THOSE WHO LEAD MUST HAVE A HEART TO MENTOR FOLLOWERS
In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul told Timothy, “…the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” The biblical model of leadership is concerned, not only with influencing the masses, but also on mentoring the few.
Almost every great leader in God’s Kingdom was first entrusted to a mentor before released into ministry. Paul had Barnabas and Timothy had Paul. And Timothy, in turn, was instructed to raise up elders in his church. Kingdom leaders must understand the sacred trust they have in recognizing, training, and elevating the aspiring leaders under them. God’s plan for preparing, conditioning, and training future pastors, teachers, and missionaries begins with an established leader who is willing to pour himself or herself into up and coming protégés. Those who fail to do so could be preventing the rise of another David or depriving the world of the next great Joshua.
THOSE WHO LEAD MUST BE WILLING TO LET GO OF STATUS
John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30). The crowds were curious that people were being drawn to Jesus and leaving John behind. John was losing his status and popularity. But to his credit, he did not feel threatened. John realized his purpose was not to establish himself but to prepare the way for another. His purpose was to recognize, raise up, and release the next leader who would bring the next great anointing.
In a very similar way, all leaders carry the mantle of John the Baptist. We all exist to prepare the way for another; to seek and search for the next one to lead, to raise him up, and release him into leadership. Even more, we should realize that part of that preparation is to decrease our own status or importance in order to increase the status and importance of the one we are raising up.
Leaders must be willing to let go of control and give it to others. We must allow them to have authority and make decisions and enjoy the success and praise of those decisions. Kingdom leaders are not to grow in popularity and prestige like kings and heads of state, pulling more power and control to themselves. Instead, they should delegate and diminish. People should become less dependent on us and more dependent on those we are raising up. We should be decentralizing our power, decreasing our influence, and shifting it to others who will grow and learn from it and take it further.
Raising great leaders doesn’t just happen. It happens because one is an intentional mentor. Our role as leaders is not just to promote a vision for an organization and manage its operations efficiently. Our role is also to raise up other potential leaders for that organization so its survival will surpass our own influence. The greatest compliment to your leadership is the legacy of leaders that you have raised up to follow you. Do not limit the scope of your ministry by focusing only on the organization that is here and now. Have a long-term vision that transcends the present by raising up leaders whose influence will extend into the future. Sow into your church, ministry, or organization’s tomorrow by raising up leaders today.