Yes, you’ve probably read a lot of books, heard a lot of talks and attended a lot of conferences on leadership, leadership development, how to be a leader, how to become a leader and how to raise and train leaders. Ministry is about leadership. Pastors need to lead, deacons need to lead, small group leaders need to lead, and by the way, we never have enough leaders to do all this so-called leading, do we? None of you are going to raise your hand and complain that you have so many leaders you don’t know what to do with them all. And just in case you’re ever tempted to be this smug, we will smack you.
What seems to get talked about much less than the skills of a leader is the character of a leader. We want men and women who can teach, who can counsel, who can organize, who can develop, who can manage, who can strategize, etc., etc. All good things, but think about the stories you’ve heard about people being picked for their leadership “skills,” only to find out later that they lacked the kind of character that made them worth following?
I’m going to key in on the one quality that I believe all other character qualities need to stem from—and that’s humility. Psalm 51:17 tells us that "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." It doesn’t say the sacrifices of God are an organizational heart, a strategic heart, or even a heart that loves to serve, because humility can be lacking in everything I just listed. But God will not despise a heart that mimics the heart of his Son, who emptied himself in humility to serve us, people who were born without any humility to speak of.
The story of Gideon clues us into this type of leader God loves, one who doesn’t lead out of the weakness of their own strength. God happened to come to Gideon at a time when there was a leadership crisis in Israel, when men and women were afraid to step up, to take a risk, and to trust God for the courage to lead in the obedience God had called them to lead. You remember the story, right? The Midianites are literally punking Israel, stealing their food, and oppressing them into fear and hiding. Israel had refused to obey God’s voice and had been brought low as a result. Disobedience had driven them to ruin as a nation.
So God visits a dude named Gideon. A literal nobody who thought nothing about himself. A guy who gets a visit from God who had no idea God would ever visit him and call him to the task that was always in him but didn’t know was in him it until God equipped him for it. So I’m going to briefly take us through this story because you don’t need any more leadership principles. You need to know the lengths God goes to call weak leaders out of the weakness of their own strength. So I’m going to take us through five characteristics that flow from the text that we need to cultivate as we strive to have humble hearts of leadership.
1. Always be honest about where you are.
When God arrived on the scene in the form of an angel visiting Gideon, Gideon was under no illusion of what his life had become. He’s beating wheat in a winepress. It’s like someone walking in a room and catching you lip-synching to your favorite song. You’re CLEARLY NOT a rockstar. Gideon is honest with God about the state he and his people are in. Not only that, but he’s honest about his frustrations with God, even though God can’t be blamed for the predicament he finds himself in.
We are very destination prone as leaders. Where are we going? How do we get there? When will we get there? But a humble leader isn’t always looking for answers as much as they are looking to ask better questions. A humble leader is observing what God is doing. Gideon wanted to know why God had let this calamity befall his people. It was the classic "If God is so good, why do bad things happen?" His question was slightly misinformed, but God is ok with Gideon asking it.
Gideon is honest about where he’s at and God casts a vision for where he’s taking him. Be honest about where you are because it’s where you’re at...wherever you are. To be honest before God is acknowledging your inability to change. The most important thing for a leader isn’t leadership, it’s sanctification. And that requires honesty and repentance.
2. Locate your idols and destroy them.
The first place God leads Gideon is to the village idol that had been erected in the middle of town. God doesn’t say, cool, I just wanted to make you were aware that it’s there. He says, "Destroy it, because you have a worship problem." So Gideon destroys it, the people become furious, but it causes them to be called on the effectiveness of their idol.
It’s interesting that through all of this Gideon doesn’t argue with God. He knows tearing down the town idol is going to potentially cost him. It’s going to make people unhappy. It would be easier to avoid that and get to the battle that God originally called him to engage in. But there is no battle to be won while an idol is being worshipped. You’ll never be a humble leader with the heart of Jesus when your heart is divided between Jesus and an idol. Locate it. But don’t stop there. Gideon knew where the idol was. It wasn’t enough to say, look there it is, IT’S BAD. He had to destroy it. What’s in your life that’s become a hindrance? For some of you, it might be subtle, it might be secret or it might be a statue in your front yard, but it needs to come down. Be ruthless with it.
3. Trust where God is leading you.
Gideon was literally flooded with doubt. God told him he wanted him to lead the nation, but he gave Gideon information on a need to know basis, which is exactly what he does with us. If anyone of you could place an order with christianbook.com for a Christian crystal ball, you would’ve probably done it ages ago. Gideon asked for signs to alleviate his doubt of God’s promises, but eventually he had to trust God where he was being led. It takes a humble heart to do that. Because your default will be creating a life and ministry in which that doesn’t have to happen, but the problem with that is it leads to never taking any risks. The Christian life is a life of risk. God unravels your life and then says THERE, NOW GO RISK EVERYTHING because now you have nothing to lose.
After reciting two signs, you think Gideon wasn’t up for asking God for a THIRD SIGN? I’m guessing he was. Just like us. I don’t feel a peace about it so I’m going to wait. Not necessarily a bad thing, but what if God wants you to make a move while your heart is in agony? I’m not sure that Moses felt a peace about leading the Israelites. I’m not sure Abraham felt a peace when God said "Pack up the family and go...and at some point, I might tell you where I want you to go." It’s not, "Where am I going," it’s, "Will I obey no matter where he sends me?"
Do you think you’re going to take a turn that’s going to take God by surprise? Don’t worry, you don’t have that kind of power. He’s a sovereign Lord. We make wise decisions, we seek counsel, we pray...and then we execute. As long as we’re not in direct disobedience, we can trust where God is leading us. Your people will learn from that kind of decisive humility, too.
4. Trust God with what he’s given you.
Gideon was stunned that God was using him, but a humble leader usually is. We can’t see what God sees and when we do, it should cause humility, not haughtiness. If Gideon didn’t have much confidence before he entered the battle, his courage was about to take a massive hit. Whatever Gideon had before the fight, God snatched it from his hand.
First off, he strips his army from 10k to 300. What’s crazy, is that 10k wasn’t even a lot of manpower compared to the Midianite and Amalekite armies which the text says were without number. Well...okay, 300 men is a little on the minimalist side, but he probably gave them some heavy artillery. WRONGO. He gives them torches and trumpets. To keep it current, translate that to this: flashlights and kazoos. Gideon was left with no option but to trust the tools God had given him. And to be reminded that God needs NOTHING, including us, to prevail. And to remember God always prevails because he’s God and everything and everybody else is NOT.
Someday, Gideon would have more than flashlights and kazoos to fight with, but he used what God gave him in the moment and defeated nations. Maybe you’re in a place where you think, this is all I have. I’m a solo pastor. I’m a team of one. I have the worst staff in church staff history. Remember that this is the only moment you have, too. You don’t have your future yet, but God does. And we rarely operate better out of abundance. God wasn’t absent-minded when he gave you what he gave you.
5. Learn to work from weakness.
God weakens us so that we stop working from the weakness of our own strength.
Three Truths About Weakness
1. We can still obey when our faith is weak.
Gideon thought the Lord had weakened his grip on His people. He asks, where are all the wonderful deeds I keep hearing about like when God delivered us from Egypt? Like, all that’s great, but what have you done for me lately, God? If you’re still with us, you have a funny way of showing it. Notice that God is perfectly fine with Gideon’s line of questioning.
God brings us to these moments of questioning so that we finally have an ear to hear his answer. When our needs are being met, chances are we’re not wondering where God is. It’s only when we start feeling a distinct lack of something do we start thinking God doesn’t provide very well for us.
God weakens us so we stop seeing God as weak. When we neglect God it’s usually because we’ve gotten comfortable living off the fat of his blessings. When those things don’t nourish us anymore we blame him. Maturity is the knowledge of how much our sin weakens our closeness to God.
All of this goes back to what we refuse to give up. We feel stuck, but we don’t see that it’s the rope of an idol around our necks that has brought us low and made us small because we’re not obeying God’s voice. God’s desire for us is the same one he had for Gideon, and that’s for our desires to be for him.
God strengthens our faith through our obedience. Gideon never became good enough to obey, God was good enough to call Gideon to obedience. Our obedience isn’t perfect. Our obedience is offered to God because he is good, not us. You don’t earn your right to obey. Gideon’s faith was so weak. So is ours. God strengthens our faith as we obey. Faith in God is the understanding that nothing will happen today that is unknown by God and you will reflect that truth by obeying him.
Here’s what Hebrews 11 says about faith and Gideon.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
2. Our weakness is God’s canvas.
Gideon was a weakling when God found him. He didn’t remove 90% of Gideon’s army to further his fear and inadequacies, but to make sure that Gideon would know what strength is and where it actually comes from. God could’ve used Gideon’s bigger army, but the record books would’ve mentioned that bigger army, too. God doesn’t want us operating from the weakness of our own manufactured strength.
God likes to reduce things to the point that he receives all the glory and when that happens we boast and brag on him. When we boast in our own strength, the question always is, "Can we do it again? And can we keep it going?"
Real strength is the humility to come before the Lord, trust that he will act and then wait for him to do it.
Pastor, if you’re weak, if you’ve gotten to the end, if you’re tired and exhausted and can’t maintain whatever you’ve been trying to maintain for even one more second, REJOICE! You’ve been reduced to a blank canvas that God will use to paint his imprint of glory in your life.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
3. God works in the wake of our dead idols.
What happens when we read stories like this is that we want to get to the victory. We want to see good prevailing over evil. But the main point is usually found in the very thing that prepares us for victory. The main point of this story is not really that Gideon defeated the Midianites. It’s when Gideon took the two bulls and tore down the village idols. Israel always fell into ruin when they worshipped other gods. And it’s not until Gideon destroys those idols that God delivers them from oppression.
Sometimes it’s hard to locate your idols because they’re WHO YOU ARE.
Gideon’s family had kept and cultivated idols that had become a stronghold on the people of their village. What idol remains in your life? Sometimes it’s not even a physical object. Sometimes it’s fear, or pain, and the identity you get from the idol that hinders your faith. At some point, Gideon feared God more than he loved his fears.
Have you become weak enough to see how deeply your idols have weakened your faith and damaged your ability to be a humble, servant? What is your version of beating wheat in a winepress? What things are you afraid to give up? Whatever those are, you’re fearing them more than you fear God, whose name is jealous, by the way.
You know what else he’s called? Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The same God who came to Gideon and showed so much love, patience, mercy and grace is the same God calling you this very moment, out of the weakness of your strength, to the humble heart of Jesus who never despises pastors who’s spirit’s are broken before him.