I minister as a teacher and writer to leaders. Through my roles as a professor, author and speaker, I work with business owners, non-profit directors, school principals, pastors, and government workers. In recent months, my message and mission to leaders has revolved around the Old Testament character, King Saul, specifically, how to avoid the pitfalls of King Saul.
It is best to begin with God’s call, “Appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5) was the cry that rose from the tribes of Israel. Out from behind a lost herd of donkey’s Saul stood and questioned, “Who me?” And, Saul was in over his head. It was a difficult time to lead. Challenging patterns of immigration, the rise of the Philistines, the technology of iron chariots, and the squabbles of the backward tribes of God’s nation combined to create a lingering, persistent crisis. After a successful beginning, the crises deepened, a rival (David) appeared, and the politics of the palace settled in on the King. He was not ready. He was overwhelmed.
Today, many leaders feel overwhelmed, in over their heads. Perpetual crisis is the norm in many industries and organizations. Vacillating markets, government intervention, new forms of competition, technology demands, predictions of uncertainty, and a new generation of workers, bring a sense of consistent emergency. When I speak with leaders, one-on-one, if the conversation is safe and the invitation genuine, they say in their own words, “I am tired. I am confused. I am afraid. I am overwhelmed.”
Continual crisis wears down a leader, body, mind, soul, and spirit. At this point, a set of seductive and dangerous dynamics evolve:
- The leader envisions the situation as a persistent personal crisis. The leader perceives the crisis is “all about me” rather than advancing the mission of the organization, advancing the Kingdom of God.
- By perceiving the crisis as personal, the leader attempts to manage the crisis with a pattern of thinking and behaving that is dysfunctional. The dysfunctional patterns show up in relationships, character decisions, and a lost sense of purpose.
- At the same time and in conjunction with the dysfunctional behaviors, a whirlpool of emotions haunts the leader’s mind day and night. The inner and emotional vortex holds a theater of angst in the soul.
- At the bottom of this set of dynamics, resides a fitful sense of alienation, of spiritual separation.
That is pretty much what happened to King Saul. And, his way ended badly: the incantation of a witch, the rebuke of a ghost, the loss of the battle, and an ignoble death (1 Samuel 28, 31).
So, how does one avoid the pitfalls of King Saul? The trouble was born in the wrong call to leadership, “…a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5). However, as a Christian, you cannot take your model from other nations, organizations, or leaders. Christ calls, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to great among you must be your servant…”(Mark 10:43-44).
Richard Leslie Parrott, Professor of Education, Travecca Nazarene University, Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Parrott is co-author of the book, Leadership Challenges: Avoid the Pitfalls of King Saul, published by Thomas Nelson, April, 2013.
Copyright © Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.