The Deborah School of Leadership
Who here is a leader? Would it surprise you if I said that all of us are leaders? You do not need to be a pastor or a deacon to be a leader. Leaders are not about titles, they are about influence. I would suggest that anyone who has influence is a leader. That influence doesn’t have to be about ordering someone to do something from a position of authority.
Let me give you an example. Many years ago, our daughter Abby insisted on bringing her knitted blanket with her to school. There was no way she was going without a blanket. Her educational assistant, acknowledged both Abby’s need and the fact it was not really appropriate for her to be bringing a blanket to school at her age. So the EA knitted a poncho that felt very much like her blanket. Abby loved that poncho. She took to wearing it on top of her winter coat. Some of the girls in her class saw it and liked it and asked their parents for ponchos. Abby started a fashion trend. Both the EA and Abby were leaders since their actions were influencing others.
We are all leaders. The question is whether we are good or bad leaders. What is the result of our influence on people around us? Are we making people better or worse?
There are many models for leadership out there, some better than others. There are politicians and celebrities who are influencers and not in a good way. There is even a mix of quality when it comes to leadership in the Bible. Not every example of leadership in the Bible is there for us to emulate.
One of the leaders that I’m drawn to is Deborah. This is not because she is one of the few female leaders in a patriarchal age. Rather it is because she was just a solid leader who has much to teach us. Let’s take a look at her story.
Story of Deborah
We have been following the story of Israel. They escaped slavery in Egypt, wandered in the wilderness for forty years and entered the Promised Land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. At this point in our story, Joshua is dead, the people are in the land, but they have not been entirely successful in defeating their enemies. Whereas once the Israelites had been feared, they were now the ones who feared. The Canaanites were prepared to either wipe out the Israelites or drive them from the land.
The people of Israel were not yet led by kings but they were led by judges. These were not like modern judges. While they did judge cases, they also were political and military leaders. Generally what happened is that God would raise up judges in times of need. Some of the more famous were Gideon and Samson but far more impressive was Deborah.
God instructed Deborah of his plans for the Canaanite army under the general Sisera. She told Barak, to gather the army and make plans for their attack. Despite being armed with the latest military equipment, the Canaanites were soundly defeated by the Israelites. Sisera escaped on foot and made his way to the tent of a woman named Jael. Sisera, exhausted from the battle, fell asleep on the floor. It was at this point that Jael hammered a tent peg into his head. Not only had one woman been in charge of the overall operation, another woman was responsible for killing Israel’s enemy.
What We learn
I will tell you that the point of this story is NOT that the answer to conflict is a strong hammer and a sharp tent peg. But there are principles found in this passage that are very applicable to all of us, especially in the area of leadership. We are going to look at four lessons from the leadership of Deborah.
- I mentioned that Deborah was a judge. She was also a prophetess. We see in this passage that her leadership was based in her relationship with God. She led, not according to her own preferences, but according to God’s will. I have noticed that there is ongoing pressure for political leaders to not allow their faith to inform their leadership. This is wrong. It is true that people of faith shouldn’t use their authority to impose their beliefs on others. But to say that leaders shouldn’t allow their faith to inform is like saying they shouldn’t let their ethics inform their leadership. The question we have to ask is how does our faith inform the influence we have on others. We can’t nor should force people to become followers of Jesus. But our influence should look like the values that Jesus taught, especially that of loving our neighbour as ourself.
- In the case of Deborah, there was a specific need facing her people and that was the Canaanite threat. Being aware of the need is the first step but it can’t end there. Deborah moved from being aware of the need to acting on the need. Leadership is not a passive experience. The same is true. Our world is filled with people who firmly believe “Somebody ought to do something” but they never do anything. Twenty years ago people in this community were aware of the needs of the homeless and then acted on that need by opening our church building for Out of the Cold. Our leadership doesn’t need to be on such a grand scale. What needs do you see around you and how can you use your influence to affect things for the positive.
- This is what I love most about Deborah, she was someone who didn’t need the spotlight. There is something attractive about having a platform by which everyone can see you lead. Unfortunately we have seen pastors fall, not from having affairs, but from loving power too much. That was not Deborah. She assigned the leadership of the army to Barak. Yes that meant that it was likely that the troops would cheer Barak and not Deborah. But that didn’t mean that Deborah handed over all responsibility. Deborah gave encouragement to Barak right when he needed so that they could be victorious. Deborah’s focus was to accomplish the mission and not to just look good doing it. The more aware we become of our leadership, the more we long for recognition. We must avoid that trap. There is work to be done behind the scenes that will make more of a difference than those in the spotlight.
- To see the final principle, we have to look at the next chapter. All of Judges 5 is a song of praise by Deborah and Barak. They gave the glory to God. They understood that they could never have achieved what they did without God. This doesn’t mean we should embrace “worm theology” where we constantly diminish our achievements. It simply means that we give thanks to God for the ways he has working in and through us.
You are all leaders. You are all influencing people. You are influencing people in your family, your work, your school and your church. There are some very bad leadership models to help shape your influence. Deborah, however, provides a positive and healthy leadership model. Build your influence on the foundation of faith in Jesus Christ. Discover the needs that around you and then move from awareness to action. Give up the spotlight and be willing to work behind the scenes. The goal is to accomplish the mission not have people cheering you for your effort. Finally, give glory to God for what he has done. This is what Deborah did and this how we should approach our own leadership influence.