The Heart and Hands of Leadership

The Heart and Hands of Leadership

“He chose David also his servant and took him from the sheepfolds: from following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people and Israel his inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.” Psalm 78:70-72

Leadership is a subject of intense scrutiny today. In every sphere and at every level of our society it seems there is a great crisis in leadership. Leadership is a critical subject in any organization but nowhere is it more critical than in the local assembly of believers. It is a fact that cannot be dismissed; the spiritual health and success of any assembly is directly proportional, to the quality and spirituality of its leadership. The concluding verses of Psalm 78 give wonderful insight into the essence of David’s leadership and lessons for today’s leaders of God’s people.

Israel’ History from Zoan to Zion

Psalm 78 is the first and longest of the Historical Psalms. According to the superscription, Psalm 78 is a “Maschil” poem, that is, a contemplative poem written to direct the meditations of faithful hearts. Its author, Asaph was, according to 1 Chronicles 6, 9, 15, 16, a minister of sacred music during King David’s reign. It was Asaph’s intention to inspire each subsequent generation to set its hope in God and not forget His works (78:6, 7). The psalm provides a panoramic view of God’s dealings with Israel from her deliverance out of the Egyptian fields of Zoan (78:12, 43) to God’s choice of Zion as the place for His sanctuary on earth (78:68, 69)

God “Awoke” and Made Three Choices

After its opening verses (78:1-8), Psalm 78 develops with a cyclical series of recitations about Israel’s wickedness and rebellion (78:17, 32, 40, 56). As a result of the nation’s repeated transgressions, the Lord stepped back and gave His people over to the sword in judgement (78:62-64). Asaph then writes, “The Lord awaked as one out of sleep” (v.65) and used this as a poetic description for the end of God’s inactivity on Israel’s behalf. In his “reawakening”, the Psalmist identifies three things that God chooses, a tribe (Judah – 78:67, 68), a city (Zion – 78:68, 69) and a leader (David – 78:65-72).

God blessed His people with a leader, a shepherd-king to shepherd and lead them though they did not deserve the gift.

The Davidic Leadership Model

The presentation of David’s leadership is the climax of Psalm 78. In spite of Israel’s repeated rebellion against God, He was faithful. His crowning grace to His people was the gift of a leader under whose reign the people would realize the hopes that God had for them, hopes of holy living and respite from their enemies. David was the one appointed to execute the will of Israel’s Rock and Redeemer (78:35). A godly leader is a gift to the local assembly who inspires those to whom God has given charge to godly living and gives them a vision of everything they can be in Christ.

After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C., Judah no longer had a Davidic king but the hearts of the faithful were, through God’s Word, pointed to the future messianic age when a descendant of David would reign in perfect righteousness, “a rod out of the stem of Jesse and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1-9). Of the many lessons that can be gleaned from David’s example, it is that David’s leadership is a type of future messianic leadership. By application, the summary of his leadership found in the closing verses of Psalm 78 provides a paradigm for all would be shepherds of God’s flock, the church.

Leadership Development

God ‘chose’ David His servant and “took him from the sheepfolds” (78:70). The word chose is from the Greek, “hairetizo” which means to take, the implication being that what is taken is eligible or suitable. This indicates that God Himself raises up qualified men to lead His people and the responsibility of the assembly is to recognize those amongst them who meet the scriptural qualifications for leadership.

One of the most common images in the Bible is that of the shepherd and his sheep. It figures prominently in leadership career of David. Shepherding is an image that pertains to governance, to a leader exercising authority over a group of people, His flock. The biblical image of a shepherd caring for his flock, standing long hours ensuring its safety, guiding it to fresh pasture and clean water, carrying the weak, seeking the lost and straying, healing the wounded and sick is a precious picture of a church elder. The image is characterized by intimacy, tenderness, care, skill, hard work, suffering and love. This image is so incredibly rich that it is used repeatedly in the Bible to describe God and His care of His people (Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34).

David’s leadership training took place within the sheepcote where he learned these characteristics and developed patience, compassion, courage and responsibility. David spent time in the royal courts, on the battlefield as a part time armour bearer and as a court musician for King Saul but from Scripture’s perspective God’s primary preparation of David to rule took place in the sheep pastures outside Bethlehem. The place of training was surprising even to David’s father Jesse and to the prophet Samuel (1Samuel 16:1-13). It is important to remember that leadership in the assembly is not developed in the business world but within the assembly and in the family home (1Timothy: 4-5). When David volunteered to fight Goliath, King Saul doubted David’s ability to prevail since he was only a teenager and the giant was a seasoned warrior. David did not remind Saul that he was an armour bearer but responded by rehearsing a time when he rescued his father’s flocks from a lion and a bear with his bare hands! (1 Samuel 17:36) While serving in the pastures, David leaned on the deliverance of the Lord and it emboldened him for the challenges of kingship.

Leadership Lessons

From David’s leadership career we can glean three significant lessons for elders:

1. Acknowledge your people belong to God

That the people belonged to God and not David is made clear in Psalm 78:71 as they are declared “His people”. Elders must remember that those they have responsibility for belong to God, that they are His people, His inheritance (1Peter 5:2, 3) thus the elder must view his leadership as a sacred trust and that he is the steward of a precious treasure. In a future day the elder must give account to the Chief Shepherd as to the faithfulness in care for His precious flock.

2. Demonstrate Integrity

Asaph concludes Psalm 78 by summarizing David’s reign in terms of the “integrity of his heart” and the “skilfulness of his hands”: Integrity – speaks of completeness or wholeness. It is often associated with honesty, maturity and reliability. It is a heart that is oriented and fixed on God and as such fosters trust in the people led. It is also courage, the courage to face and meet the demands of truth and reality, a courage that upholds doctrinal and ethical standards regardless of the intensity of the opposition. To discipline sin, confront internal strife and stand against false teaching requires integrity of the highest order.

3. Practice Discernment (Skilfulness of Hands)

“Skill” is an inner moral compass that directs one’s actions (hands). Discernment comes from a disposition that is in tune with God’s will and seeks to accomplish His purposes. Discernment cannot be developed or practiced apart from God’s Word and speaks to the primary function of an elder to “feed the flock” (2 Samuel 5:2). Everything depends on the proper feeding of the flock. Unless wisely fed the sheep become emaciated, sick and stray. Elders protect, guide, manage, nourish, comfort, educate, battle for and heal the flock by teaching and preaching the Word of God. Failure of elders to do so is the chief reason doctrinal error floods the church today. David exercised “skilfulness of hands” and Israel loved him for it. He led them to battle, got them back home and made the right decisions by the Word of the Lord.

Leadership God’s Way

God’s gracious gift to his people was a leader who was shaped and moulded in the sheep pastures and who ruled with “integrity of heart and skilfulness of hands”. He was not perfect. David’s leadership however points to One who will reign perfectly in a future day – the Lord Jesus. In Him is the perfect example and model for the elder today. “I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:15). Before the Good Shepherd ascended to heaven He provided for the ongoing care of His flock by raising up men as undershepherds (John 21:15-17, 1 Peter 5:14). May God bless His church with elders of this character and may He soon send His Son, King David’s descendant who will inaugurate the future kingdom with perfect leadership.

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Dennis Purcell

Dennis and his family live in Cambridge Ontario. He is an elder at the Bethel assembly in Waterloo.