The Pitfalls of Spiritual Leadership:Part 1
For the last few months, we have been exploring insights on leadership in the lives of biblical leaders. The next person we are going to look at is Saul entitled ‘The Pitfalls of Spiritual Leadership’. We will divide it up into a three part series and Lord willing discover how to avoid, by the grace of God, those pitfalls that can and will destroy us as spiritual leaders. Hope you enjoy.
‘The Pitfalls of Spiritual Leadership’: Part 1
It is very easy to see the glory and benefits of leadership without seeing the struggles and problems that accompany it: especially if you are only a spectator. The pressures of expectations, the vulnerability to misunderstanding, and the struggle to stay focused and sharp are all realities leaders must address.
But there are dangers and pitfalls in leadership that, while a reality for any Christian, are enhanced for the leader. Perhaps few men, if any, in biblical history, illustrate these pitfalls more clearly and more tragically than Israel’s first King. Saul was ostensibly a man of promise and potential for God’s glory, but it all crumbled because he failed to avoid the pitfalls of spiritual leadership. What were these pitfalls, and how can we avoid them?
1. The first danger illustrated by Saul is attractiveness. It should not be difficult for the modern Christian and leaders to identify with this danger. Our media-soaked culture seems to promote people based almost solely on their physical beauty or charisma. What chance would an Abraham Lincoln have in such a setting, and how often have you heard names brought up in conversation as possible candidates for public office only to have someone say, “He’ll never make it. He’s not good looking enough. He’s not charismatic enough.” Saul illustrates the danger these qualities can present. But attractiveness does not have to come by way of physical appearance or charisma. It can come in what seem to be inward qualities.
Saul possessed some obvious physical qualities. He stood out in a crowd because of his height and handsomeness (1 Sam. 9:2). In modern terms, he was “tall, dark, and handsome.” To many in that day, and in ours, he would have seemed a natural choice for leadership. Even the Prophet Samuel seemed taken with Saul’s stature saying; “there is no one like him… (1 Sam. 10:23, 24).
Along with Saul’s obvious physical qualities, he also possessed some apparent spiritual qualities. Saul’s initial response to being chosen as King of Israel is interesting and will be recalled later by Samuel (1 Sam. 15:16-18). If it is true, as some say, that leadership should seek the person and not the other way around, then Saul exemplified that philosophy. He was reluctant, if not resistant to accept the call to leadership (1 Sam. 10:21, 22) and seemingly incredulous that someone of his background would be considered for such an honor (10:20, 21). At least at this stage of his life, Saul appeared to be a humble man.
Saul also seemed wise in his response to both success and adverse circumstances. After the announcement that he would rule, some rebels showed disrespect and an unwillingness to follow his leadership. Later, Saul led Israel to its first military victory under his new leadership and “proved his mettle” so to speak. The people wanted to execute those who had earlier rejected Saul. But Saul graciously and wisely downplayed such ideas and encouraged the people to rejoice together in the goodness of God’s blessing in battle.
The obvious question is; what is wrong with such qualities? Is it wrong to be outwardly attractive? And certainly no one could argue against Saul’s apparent character displayed in the above instances. The truth is that outward attractiveness is not in itself a disqualification for leadership, and good character is certainly not to be discouraged. The problem for the leader, and for any of us, comes when these become a mask covering serious character deficiencies. Often leaders are chosen on the basis of these alone. Outward impressiveness and surface character qualities are no substitute for genuine integrity; a truth which Saul will illustrate for us later.