The story of David and Goliath is proverbial. It has become a classic way of talking about seemingly impossible challenges being taken on by the underdog far beyond the confines of the Christian community. That is because it identifies principles, universally acknowledged, regarding leadership and the catalyst for change.
As I reflected on the story recently five key ideas emerged about the nature of leadership — especially in the context of church ministry:
Recognize the Challenge: Have you seen the giant? (1 Samuel 17:25) The first order of leadership is the recognition that something isn’t right, that something threatens goodness, and impedes ethical progress. Leadership always emerges in the context of the realization that the world exists at the center of conflict between good and evil. This is the fascinating stuff of our lives that occupies our attention in romance and work, in sport and entertainment, in life and in death. Leadership takes this reality seriously and commits itself to affecting change for good. While strictly speaking, the Christian struggle is “not against flesh and blood” as in old time, it recognizes the reality of conflict in a higher sphere that has temporal and eternal consequences. The recognition of this reality is fundamental to leadership.
Possess an Inspiring Ideology: Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God? (Vs.26) Good leadership happens when it is inspired by ideological convictions that are grounded in absolute kinds of reality. David became the leader he did partially because he was well-schooled in his people’s history concerning a very powerful and good God. He knew whereof he spoke both “in theory” and in practice. This is the stuff that produces leaders. Martin Luther King once said that the Christian community should not merely be satisfied to function as a thermometer that reads societal conditions; rather it should be a thermostat that changes the environment!
Overcome the Nay-sayers: I was only asking a question! (Vs. 29) Leaders often have to contend first with the negative attitudes of those who are closest to them. It was David’s older brothers that were the first to try and quell his enthusiasm for change. If leaders are going to be successful to affect change their greatest encouragement will most likely not come from their own kin. But if they persist in these circumstances their initiatives will eventually come to the attention of others who can help to make it work.
Keep it Simple: I can’t go in these. (Vs. 39). As Jim Collins points out in his book, Good to Great, one of the main characteristics of those who lead successful companies is that they know how to do a few things well. That was true of David. He had learned how to function well without a lot of extra baggage. One of the challenges of being successful today is to know how to avoid “helps” that only serve to encumber. I’m sure it is axiomatic that good leaders keep their focus, strategy, and machinery relatively simple.
Exercise Confidence: You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord Almighty—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. (Vs. 45) David was successful against the giant because his confidence was not only strong but rightly placed. And it was strong enough to incite the kind of courage that propelled him into risky action. In the end, David won this great victory supernaturally. Good leaders know they are successful because of a power that is greater than their own. And they courageously move forward for battle in that confidence.
While I’m sure there are many other variables to successful leadership I believe this story helps to identify some of its main features. I think the story is a classic that not only serves to inspire but also to teach about more effective leadership in the church today.