The South Atlantic and Carolina Conference’s teamed up together this week for an Intern Academy the last few days in Orangeburg, SC (awesome idea, by the way). It was great catching up with friends who I hadn’t seen in a while and making many new ones. The food there was CRAZY GOOD! Speaking of which, we may have a great health message, but I believe that God is looking for FAT leaders.
What am I talking about? It’s three simple leadership lessons that we get from studying the early ministry of the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 2-3.
God’s leaders are FAITHFUL
There is an interesting juxtaposition between Eli’s wicked sons, Hophni and Phineas, and young Samuel.
12 Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the LORD…Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt. -1 Samuel 2:12, 17
The sons of Eli were really terrible ministers and even worse leaders. I’m sure they started off trying to do the right thing but by the time that Samuel starts coming of age, we see that they were treating their sacred calling with extreme disrespect (cutting corners, sleeping with deaconesses, etc.). Eventually God told Eli that his son’s would be “fired” (killed, to be more precise) the same day and He would raise up a leader that had a key component: FAITHFULNESS.
34 And this that shall come upon your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you: both of them shall die on the same day. 35 And I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. – 1 Samuel 2:34-35
Pastors, you and I must be faithful to the calling we’ve been given and the mission of the church. As hard as this job may be at times, I remember being in undergrad and praying that I’d get a job in ministry. I remember being in Seminary and hoping that I’d still have a job after graduation because of tight finances in the conference. I realized this week that I need to remember that this is what we signed up for! May the Lord have mercy on us the day we treat this sacred office with the contempt and disrespect that pride and familiarity breeds.
Remember, there are many young men and women who would give their left arm to be where you are; don’t take your calling lightly. But more important than your calling and mission, be faithful to your family.
The church already has a Husband and it isn’t you. If you find yourself spending more time praying and attending to God’s spouse than your own, you’re committing spiritual adultery and need to re-examine your priorities. The same goes for children. Get the order right: God, Family, Church.
God’s leaders are AVAILABLE
We must be available to God’s leading and available to those we are seeking to lead. Notice that Eli’s sons didn’t even have direct contact with the people they were supposed to be ministering to and, what’s more, they instructed their servants to swindle and extort the worshipers who were at the temple.
The custom of the priests with the people was that when any man offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan or kettle or cauldron or pot. All that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast, for he will not accept boiled meat from you but only raw.” And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take as much as you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now, and if not, I will take it by force.” -1 Samuel 2:12-16
There was a disconnect between these priests and God and with the people they were supposed to serve. In contrast, Samuel even as a child was available to his family who would visit him once a year (1 Sam 2:19), to Eli (1 Samuel 3:1), and to God:
10 And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” – 1 Samuel 3:10.
Leaders as accessible to others and are open to move/act when and where God tells them. Now, it is tempting to move somewhere just because it looks like a good fit but just because something is a good opportunity doesn’t mean it’s part of God’s will you. Hophni and Phinehas were unavailable and unaccountable, what about you?
God’s leaders are TEACHABLE
Eli’s children were not willing to be taught by those who had less experience than them (1 Sam 2:16), nor more experience than them (1 Sam 2:25); in their minds, they thought that they knew it all. We talk about wanting God to fill our cup with wisdom but It’s hard to fill a cup that’s already full.
In contrast, Samuel was humble and teachable to instruction from Eli and the Lord (1 Samuel 3:9). One of the best parts of the intern academy was having the ability to learn from each others experience and from the experience of seasoned pastors in ministry (some of whom are on the verge of retirement and have lifetime of wisdom to impart). Leaders never stop learning and they are able to recognize a teachable moment for themselves and others (they can even learn from people from other walks of life, viewpoints, etc.)
Notice that even though Samuel literally grew up in the temple, he didn’t recognize the voice of God when He was calling (1 Samuel 3). This tells me that Samuel had been serving for years but didn’t personally know the voice of the one whom he was serving but, was willing to learn HOW to follow. Didn’t Jesus say something about being little children before we enter the kingdom of Heaven?
You see, spiritual leadership has never been limited to circumstantial factors like age or experience; Moses led the children of Israel at 80; Josiah was 8 when he became King of Israel. God is looking for FAT leaders. Faithful. Available. Teachable.
The choice is ours; we can either have a childish ministry like Eli’s sons who enjoyed only the benefits, position and power that their roles provided.
Or we can choose to have a childlike ministry like Samuel, where a character-oriented approach to leadership development based on faith, trust and mission is what produces leadership competency with time (1 Samuel 2:26).
I pray that, in the words of one of my friends in South Atlantic, “That’ll Preach!”