Originally created 09/30/00

Leaders are in need of God's help



Church members are often asked to serve on the official boards of their congregations around this time of year.

Wow! How well I remember those days, having devoted the better part of my parish ministry to serving churches as only the pastor. When a congregation is new, it has a large number of members who, for the first time, are assuming adult responsibility in a local congregation. These members are not ready to serve as church officers, yet they are asked to serve before their time and expected to perform as veterans. So, I am familiar with "overcoming reluctance to serve" via arm-twisting and other means of persuasion.

It's not a new problem. Look at Saul in 1 Samuel 9-10.

It's rare for a church member to eagerly say, "Yes, I feel honored to be asked" when approached to serve as a church officer or church school leader. I must admit that I was always a bit skeptical when a member accepted without any hesitation to serve as a leader, and my intuition was often right.

When reluctance arises from humility, it can be a positive sign. However, when reluctance comes from a strong unwillingness to serve and from a feeling of incompetence, as was the case with Saul, then we are asking for trouble.

The story of Saul's being chosen the first king of the united Israel emphasizes his size, good looks and wealth. His father was "a man of wealth" and "Saul a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; from his shoulders upward, he was taller than any of the people."

Although there is a certain magnetism to extremely attractive, statuesque people, physical appearance alone does not make the leader, for leaders are made not born. They are developed via good mentoring and training.

I believe one reason God chose Saul, however, was because he had physical charisma. This gift helped rally the forces needed to deal with the Philistine threat and other border problems with Israel's neighbors.

We have to believe that in all other ways that characterize a good leader, Saul innately had the potential ability to lead well. What led to his downfall was his tendency to listen to and fear the people more than he listened to and feared God. In the end he did what would please people rather than God.

As nominating committees of congregations seek members to serve, what can we learn from the way Saul revealed his reluctance to serve?

Saul tried to escape serving by hiding in the baggage. He stood out head and shoulders above all the baggage. How stupid can you get?

What about you and me? How do we first respond when asked to serve? What leadership positions have we agreed to take knowing that we can never do the ministry without God's help?"

Dr. Gene Norris is a Presbyterian minister who serves as a hospital chaplain and family therapist.