When I am standing out at morning duty, I see him, the little 5th grade boy with the long curls and every time I see him I think to myself, this is what David looked like when he was a shepherd boy. I love the journey of David, well except the Bathsheba fiasco, and yet there are lessons to be gleaned there too.
But these days it is his nemesis and tormentor that I ponder more often. The ways of Saul have become a constant in the church in the last couple of decades. How can I say that? Look around at the people who Love God but do not go to church, at the people who go to church but do not serve in any capacity in the church, all the small churches who have defaulted to control and manipulation so they will not be controlled and manipulated and the most heart breaking yet gifted, anointed, called Pastor Shepherds who work at Starbucks or in other secular markets because they are broken in ways they never could have imagined.
In my life I have experienced 3 different types of Saul. And as everyone in my generation the first time I encountered a Saul I read The Tale of Three King’s and of course let the refiner’s fire do its work. Yes, I learned “To not touch the Lord’s anointed” and I learned the there is no place for revenge in the heart of a true Christ follower. But I think with time comes perspective and, combined with discernment it is imperative to tell the truth about what this kind of behavior has garnished us.
When Taylor was a little guy he had a book based on the parable of the rich man in Luke who kept building bigger barns to store his wealth and then had no opportunity to enjoy it. In Taylor’s book it repeatedly used the phrase “bigger, better barns.” We have used this phrase in our home to explain when one is acting out of selfish ambition in contrast to obedience to God.
As churches began to care more about numerical growth and as pastors who were multi-talented and blessed with magnetic personalities grew in popularity, the temptation of the bigger, better barn began. And the integrity of how you do, what you do was no longer as important as getting the next big growth mechanism in place. This is the breeding ground for Saulish behavior. When personal ambitious desire in the part of a leader is more important than doing things God’s way. Bigger, better barns create the environment for the David’s who will not wear Saul’s amour to become the chased and the hunted.
My first Saul was a senior pastor who came to the church where Tim and I were on staff as teachers. We had been there 3 years when he came, this man was incredibly threatened by our influence in the school and so he brought us on the church staff to eventually try and discredit us. We were the only staff members to that point in his ministry life that he had not utterly destroyed. He was eventually dismissed from our organization due to his indiscretion with finances. His selfish ambition was money; he used the church as his personal ATM machine.
My second Saul was a very successful pastor, he had taken a small neighborhood church and grew it to a size they had only dreamed about and moved it to a hill next to a highway for all to see. But he ruled with an iron fist, and could reduce anyone to nothingness in minutes including his wife, which he did in public on occasion. But he had built a bigger, better barn and so his behavior was rationalized. We felt called to serve there even though we felt ready to senior pastor and he said to us “that if someone came here and worked really hard they could be considered for the senior pastor position when I retire.” My husband had tremendous spiritual success in this place but he was a very different pastor than this leader. So when the time came for us to be considered this Saul refused to allow us that consideration and manipulated every part of the process.
Why? His legacy was at stake. Never get in the way of a Saul when his legacy is at stake…you will find yourself in the desert. And even there he will try and destroy you by telling a search committee lies about you. And even though you went in peace and did no one any harm he will circulate rumors about you that you laugh at when people call to tell you about them until the 3rd person in as many days calls to say the exact same thing.
The third Saul in my life was a District Superintendent. There are too many lessons to teach and insight to be given on this Saul to limit it to a blog, the truths about an Ambitious Saul will require a book to be written.
Sauls always start with spears aimed at your person. Gossip, innuendo and a discrediting of your contribution is the tip of the modern day spear. And when it pierces, it hurts and it is hard to understand let alone explain. The other more subtle ways of Saul are apparent in his interaction with David in I Samuel 24. After Saul realizes David could have taken his life and didn’t. He responds to David’s question and in his response we see the tools of the Saulish trade:
Flattery and Contrived Emotion
“David, you are more righteous than I.”
Tears and over the top appreciation for David’s choice, not to take vengeance on his life.
Promises they have no intention of keeping
“Surely you will be King someday, even I know that.”
Manipulation to gain access to your heart or spirit.
“Now swear to me that you will not cut off my descendants”
If you wanted to believe the best about a leader, who wouldn’t respond to these things? But just 2 chapters later, Saul is chasing him again. This is where cynicism and doubt take root in a heart and the desire to worship and serve begins to sour.
There is a very significant scripture at the end of this passage one we often overlook, “Then Saul returned home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold.” David literally LEAVES the way of Saul behind him. This is where I have hope because in a younger generation of first time, 40 something, lead pastors there are a few that are refusing the ways of Saul and are choosing like David to be men after God’s own heart.
There is a first time lead pastor that has followed a Saul of gigantic financial proportions. He ran from the spear and survived the lies of Saul, and now is trying to lead this once impactful church back to a divine destiny. After many months of difficult battles in the beginning of his service, weary and worn, he was encouraged to go to the home of an Aging Warrior Prophet for prayer. This pastor could have chosen to contact other men of power and position but he responded to this invitation instead.
When he arrived the Prophet asked him what he wanted…A church filled with the spirit of God and built on the ways of God? Or just another bigger, better barn? He looked in the Prophet’s eyes and said I want the real thing, the God thing. And a powerful prayer meeting ensued that ministered greatly to this young pastor.
This same pastor meets regularly with an accountability group so that he doesn’t revert to the ways of Saul and he follows the example of David by regularly spending time in significant prayer while walking the property. This Pastor Warrior keeping watch over the sheep and resisting the attack of the enemy on this precious body he has been given to help facilitate healing and restoration.
Occasionally he seeks the wise counsel of the Shepherd Worshipper who resides on his campus, not too proud to share his heart and be encouraged by this precious gift he has been given. All of these practices are Davidic in nature…these choices strengthen this Pastor Warrior. He is building something of eternal value that will withstand the winds and storms that he has yet to face and the legacy will be one that points to The Savior, The Prophet, The Priest, The King and where His presence will be welcomed and not controlled.
Is this way harder? Yes! But is it better? Yes!
It takes courage to throw the church growth mailers in the garbage and follow the ways of God.
To wait for His empowerment, To long for His touch, To invite His spirit to control the direction of your church and to not be distracted by the ways of those building the bigger, better barns.