Learning to Be a Weak Leader

I know the title of this post sounds strange. The concept of “weak” leaders is contradictory to the world’s thinking. Nevertheless, that’s where the Bible takes us: Christian leaders lead best when they, in their weakness, rely on the power of God to guide others.

  1. God sometimes takes leaders into impossible situations to remind us that He alone is our warrior. I could write several posts to show numerous biblical texts that make this point, but here are a few:

Exodus 14:1-31 – God led His people to the Red Sea and then challenged them through Moses, their leader, “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation He will provide for you today. . .  The Lord will fight for you” (14:13, HCSB). When the Hebrews then trusted God to be their warrior, even the Egyptians knew they were defeated: “Let’s get away from Israel . . . because Yahweh is fighting for them against Egypt!” (14:25).

Judges 7:1-25– God reduced Gideon’s army from 32,000 warriors to 300, lest the strength and size of their larger forces cause them to take credit for any victory. “I will deliver you with the 300 men,” God said (7:7).

1 Samuel 17:1-51 – God did not use mighty military weapons to defeat the Philistine giant; instead, he used a shepherd boy who would remind us, “and this whole assembly will know that it is not by sword or by spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s” (17:47).

2 Chronicles 20:1-30 – King Jehoshaphat, facing three armies against his troops, heard the prophet Jahaziel remind him of this truth: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast number, for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (15:20).

The world tells leaders to depend on their knowledge, their training, their experience, and their charisma – but the Bible tells us to depend on the name of the Lord (Psa. 20:6-7). Sometimes God must remind us of that truth by leading us into the impossible.

  1. God sometimes leaves us in spiritual battles to keep us weak. The apostle Paul is the primary example here (2 Cor. 12:1-10). He wrestled with “a thorn in the flesh,” a messenger from Satan that tormented him. Three times Paul pleaded with God to take the thorn away, but God refused to release Paul from the battle. He had a greater lesson to teach the apostle: it would be in his weakness that Paul would most experience God’s power. He would lead best when he could “boast” not about his heritage or his training, but about his weakness and dependence on God.

Paul’s story reminds us that even called, faithful, obedient leaders are tempted with ego and self-dependence. Indeed, we’re probably most tempted when our ministries are going well and the battles are few. God, though, so loves us that He allows the enemy to aim his arrows at us – and we, in our resulting weakness, learn again that we can really lead only in His power.

  1. God seeks giant-slaying shepherd boys more than census-taking mighty kings. In 1 Samuel 17, David the shepherd boy rejected human armor and took on a giant in the power of God. Only a youth with no battle training, David in all his weakness brought down a well-armed giant who had been a warrior from his youth. Goliath’s might was no match for David’s weakness overshadowed by the power of his God.

Fast forward, though, to 1 Chronicles 21, where David the king ordered a census of his people. We don’t know for certain the purpose of the census, but it appears David wanted to know how powerful his military was. Apparently, he was putting his trust in his forces rather than the One who was to be his warrior. Such a sin brought the judgment of God on the king and his people.

If we’re honest, most of us have walked in David’s steps. As young, inexperienced, needy leaders taking on giants, we sought God and followed Him in His might. When we gained knowledge, experience, and power, however, we too often depended on our own strength instead. It’s then we needed to be taken back to our shepherd boy days.

It’s then we needed to be broken to be the most effective leaders.

The equation is a simple one, really. If we want to be great, we must serve (Mark 10:43). If we want to be first, we must be last (Mark 9:35). If we want to live, we must die (John 12:24-25).

The problem is that few of us lean toward serving, being last, and dying—and that’s precisely the point. Only in God’s grace can we be—and must we be—weak leaders.

29 Comments

  • Mark Dance says:

    I didn’t really like this blog, which is why I read it twice. I am the chief of census-takers.

    Thank you for speaking the truth in love.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks for your honesty, Mark. I didn’t really like writing it, either. The Word really does cut us sometimes, doesn’t it?

  • David says:

    Great reminders, Chuck. As a weak leader, I needed to be reminded of God’s power, and not to give in to discouragement. Thank you sharing vital leadership principles with us so faithfully.

  • Johnny Spray says:

    I really enjoyed the article. I need to be reminded that I am an ambassador of a King and not in charge. Good reminder. I twitted/FB it an will sent it to our staff. Thanks Chuck.
    Johnny Spray

  • Bill Hilley says:

    Thanks for the reminder. It may be the most pertinent article we Pastor’s will read this year. God Bless You For Boldly Declaring The Truth!

  • Doug Miller says:

    WOW! The world teaches just the opposite, that being a good leader is being strong. Surprise, surprise, surprise! God teaches us the opposite. And Satan uses it. David above implied it, Satan uses what God teaches and twists it into discouragement. Chuck, you are still my teacher. Thank you for this great reminder and sermon to be preached some day soon.

  • Paul Farrell says:

    As a leader, my weakness is my greatest weakness when I only consider “(me)” fighting the battle (failing to give God my full allegiance and submission). My weakness becomes my greatest strength when I humbly and dutifully submit to the context of “(me serving God, allowing Him to act and receive the Glory)” Another example might be King Asa of Judah who got it right at the start of his reign, and then tried to do things his own way. Sad end to the story was his unwillingness to repent of his hardheartedness when Hanani came with the reminder that “…the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” Your blog article is a great message to leaders who start trusting in their own abilities instead of the One who granted and nurtured those abilities for His purposes/plans. Thank you for sharing this message today.

  • Russ says:

    Thanks! Very encouraging article. I feel that I have the “weak” part down pretty good! I’m working on that, but I also need to be reminded that the power is of God, not us, so he gets all the glory.

  • Kye says:

    Having felt so weak & mundane in my leadership, and feeling so surrounded by strong & cutting-edge leaders, this post strengthened my resolve greatly. I want my church to see the strength of Christ in my weakness. Thank You for writing it.

  • James Callender says:

    So very true. We can relate to others so much more effectively through our weaknesses than through our strengths. Good too, because I have many weaknesses. Once again you hit the nail on the head. Your articles are always my best reads.

  • Lynn McIntosh says:

    Thank you for this article. We need to be followers first! Humility is a beautiful thing!

  • Andrew Thornley says:

    Spot-on article, Dr Lawless. We in the military are inundated with models of leadership. Conspicuous by its absence is the biblical model you’ve just examined. Of course, we have many leaders who are nominal in their faith (if they have an at all), so they have no Savior upon which to lean. But we also have many dedicated believers whose hope is in Christ. I would be a great blessing for them (and those they lead) if they would embrace these truths. Solo Christo.

  • Mark Marshall says:

    Chuck,

    This is great stuff. In fact, I would say you have the nucleus of a great book here.

    Mark Marshall

  • Quote “impossible situations to remind us”

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