That the leaders led in Israel, that the people volunteered, O bless the Lord. (Judges 5:2)
Scripture gems show up in the unlikeliest of places.
Deborah became a hero by default. She describes herself as “a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7). Earlier, she was identified as “a prophetess” and one who “judged Israel at that time” (4:4). She was thus a woman of great spirituality, excellent understanding, and keen insight. People trusted her.
Deborah summoned Barak to her location. She had a disturbing question for this leader of Israel. “Hasn’t God called you to lead His army against these oppressive Canaanites?”
For over two decades, the murderous Canaanites had run over Israel and God’s people had been praying for Him to intervene.
Now the Lord told Deborah that He had called Barak, but he was reluctant to obey. He was not the first and certainly not the last to need prodding to obey God’s instruction, to answer His call.
The sheepish Barak told the woman of God, “I’ll go – but only if you’ll go with me” (4:8). Is he saying “I’ll go if you will hold my hand?” Like the great warrior needs his mama along? It appears that way.
We are tempted to blast the guy for his cowardice, but not having been in his situation, we should go easy on him.
Deborah responded, “All right, I’ll go with you. But when this is all over, a woman will get the glory and not you” (4:9). Barak had no problem with that. He just wanted to get this done!
When the day of battle arrived, once again Deborah had to prod her general. “Up! This is the day!” (4:14). And, leading his army of ten thousand Israeli troops, Barak marched out to meet the fearsome Sisera, commander of the Canaanites, with his 900 charioteers aboard their chariots of steel (see 4:3). (We’re not told that Deborah did any actual fighting; perhaps Barak just needed her on the scene, advising.)
The battle went well and the bad guys were routed (4:15). General Sisera ran for his life and ended up being nailed to the floor by Jael, identified only as “the wife of Heber the Kenite” (4:17). She became the hero of the day, along with Deborah.
We think of Israel in Canaan-land as a male-dominated society, and it was in a hundred ways. But Deborah was a prophetess and a judge, and clearly a songwriter, too, since Judges 5 is called “The Song of Deborah.” She was somebody.
Modern church people must exercise caution in judging cultures foreign to ours when we have little idea of all the factors involved or limiting God as to whom He cannot call, will not use, and dare not bless.
How did you do it, Deborah? What was your secret? What advice do you have for the rest of us? (Imagine the reporters interviewing her.)
We imagine she would have answered, “When the leaders lead in Israel and when the people volunteer, nothing is impossible.”
That’s true of your church too.
I want to pastor a church where leaders are leading and members are willingly stepping up and volunteering. That’s an unbeatable plan.
All of this suggests four possible scenarios….
- There are times when no one is volunteering.
We’ve all seen churches (and organizations, schools, clubs, work crews) where leaders are trying to lead, but no one is following. The old line goes, “If you are leading and no one is following, you’re just taking a walk.”
The people “willingly offered themselves,” according to the NIV. They were ready, and had the prayers to prove it (Judges 4:3).
We think of Nehemiah rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. The project was completed in record time while enduring great hostility. Scripture says “the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6).
Give me a church where the people have a mind to work, and stand back and watch!
The sad thing is that in the typical church, 20 percent of the membership give the money and do all the work. The other four-fifths are along for the ride.
- There are times when the people are willing but no one is leading.
We’ve all seen churches (and other groups) where the people were volunteering and clamoring to get something done, but no one was willing to lead.
Leadership can be scary. The target is on your back. The enemy puts you in his crosshairs.
In the case of Deborah and Barak, Israel was ready to “step up and volunteer.” The problem was with the leadership. Barak was reluctant. God had called him, so presumably he had the gifts and abilities. What he lacked was courage.
Often the problem is not with a complacent membership but a reluctant leadership. God give us men and women of courage! (The pastor who refuses to do anything except with a huge majority vote is giving the will of the congregation more weight than the pleasure of the Lord. Such a people-pleaser is never going to do much in the Kingdom.)
- Sometimes no one is doing anything.
Worst of all are those groups where no one is leading and no one is volunteering. Neither group – leaders or members – is willing to give up its creature comforts, change its routine, and be found faithful for Christ. We call those churches dead.
My observation is that such do-nothing churches blame the world, blame society, blame the denomination, blame everyone except themselves. They would do well to notice that the well-known 2 Chronicles 7:14 begins, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven….”
The onus is (ahem) on us. Not on the other guys. If God does not send revival, we are at fault.
- Treasure those rare times when leaders are leading and people are volunteering.
Best of all is the Sunday School class or church or work crew where leaders have a clear vision and are blazing the path and the team is right behind them. That’s the church I want to pastor.
Strong, visionary leaders. Faithful, willing workers. An unbeatable combination.
Where do strong visionary leaders come from?
What is the source for faithful willing workers?
Answer to both: The call of God.
Our Lord Jesus said, “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest that He would thrust forth workers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:38)
What a fascinating idea–asking the Lord! What if our churches and denominations starting doing this? What if we took that command at face value and stayed on our knees until the group had a consensus that X is God’s choice … to teach the 9th grade boys, to lead the worship service, to pastor our church.
The best worker in any enterprise is one whom God has called and His Spirit has sent. They are there, not for a paycheck (although that is often necessary) and not for recognition (although they would not mind a pat on the back occasionally), but because “the Lord sent me.”
Amos explained why he was up in the north preaching to a hostile audience. “I was no prophet,” he said, “nor the son of a prophet. I was a sheepherder and a tender of sycamore fruit. But the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said to me, Go, prophesy to My people Israel….’ (Amos 7:14-15). He said, “The lion roars and you will fear. God calls and you will prophesy!” (3:8)
A God-called and Spirit-sent worker is the best kind, always.
Until the Lord raises up workers or leaders for a particular slot, until that time, you should have a holy vacancy.
A holy vacancy is merely an unfilled position for which you are waiting upon the Lord.
The church that cannot abide an unfilled vacancy will be continually in trouble. If the leadership caves in to the clamor of the multitude that “we want someone in this position – now!” nothing good will occur as a result.
This is why leaders should teach such principles to the Lord’s people, principles of patience and prayer (and more patience), of waiting upon the Lord while praying and fasting, and not yielding to the impatient among them.
This is why the leader must be courageous. Sometimes he/she will have to stand up against the Lord’s people who demand that “something be done now!” To the clamoring impatient, the leader responds, “We are doing something. We’re asking God and waiting upon Him. I hope you are doing this also.”
Seven times the Lord and Moses and Israel told Joshua, who was about to replace Moses as God’s leader, “be strong and courageous.” (That would be Deuteronomy 31:6,7,22 and Joshua 1:6,7,9,18.)
It all comes down to the leadership.