The Growing Leader
David is identified in our text as the growing leader. He had to lead through a lot of different obstacles personally and publicly. The Peter Principle is the theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent. A growing leader defeats the Peter Principle because they continue to grow as different tasks and challenges are overcome. David became a leader as the result of effectively managing a conflict. His opportunities for influence continued to grow to the point that he was installed as the King of Israel. David is one of the most well known leaders in the Bible and is known as a “man after God’s own heart.”
Growing leaders aren’t necessarily young. They may be older leaders who are looking for a new challenge or a new opportunity to develop some skills. Many of today’s church planters and small business owners would be identified as growing leaders. They have many challenges ahead, but that isn’t enough to scare them away from the task that God has placed before them.
David is a favorite of many Christians because we had a chance to watch him grow up before our eyes. In I Samuel, we see that Samuel had his own ideas for who God should choose as the king. God responded to Samuel in I Samuel 16:7 “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” In that very next moment, Samuel asked Jesse to bring his youngest son. Jesse said that his youngest was out tending sheep and Samuel responded that they would wait for him to get there. Upon David’s arrival, God confirmed to Samuel that he was the one and told Samuel to anoint him. I Samuel 16:13 says, “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.” When others saw a shepherd boy, God saw a king!
It is ironic that David’s lack of position is what made him most qualified for the position of king. David modeled growing leadership because he had never been a leader before. God had gifted him in this area, but he had never before had a chance to refine those skills. The Bible records David’s life in over eighty chapters laying out what might be the most concise review of what it really takes to be a leader.
The first quality of growing leadership is the hunger for a close relationship with God. That was the very thing that caused the Lord to select David in the first place. He wasn’t the strongest or the smartest, but his heart hungered and thirsted for the things of God. Even when he was tending the sheep, he was developing his relationship with the Lord. This first quality is the one that tends to get left out the most. In the excitement of what it takes to get things done, many leaders build their schedules in such a way that leaves out time to spend with the Lord in favor of other things. They know how critical it is to build relationships in order to ensure the success of their new venture and they often neglect their time with God, when in fact, that is the most important appointment of any day.
The next quality we see is David’s heart for service. In I Samuel 16:21 it says, “David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers. Then Saul sent word to Jesse, saying, “Allow David to remain in my service, for I am pleased with him.” The very king that would lose his throne to David recognized his heart for service. Many leaders forget that leadership is ultimately about serving. In order to lead, you must be willing to work.
Not only was David willing to serve, he was also the first to volunteer to step up in a dangerous situation. When the Philistines threatened the Israelites, they were in danger of being defeated and made subjects of the Philistines. For forty days, the Israelites stood in fear of Goliath and his threats towards them. David returned from watching his sheep and asked who was going to take on Goliath. He found out that all the Israelites were terrified and not willing to challenge Goliath. In 1 Samuel 17:32, David said “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” Saul tried to talk David out of it, but David would hear nothing of it. He talked about what he had to do to protect his sheep in the fields and knew that God was calling him to stand up for Israel. Saul lent him his armor and David went to take on the giant. In I Samuel 17:50, David killed Goliath with a sling and a stone. David gave all the credit to God because he knew the battle belonged to the Lord.
Defeating Goliath was just the beginning. From that point on, David continued to serve Saul. Saul’s eldest son Jonathan came alongside David and became a great friend to him. This relationship was a big sacrifice to Jonathan and could cost him his life. David’s reputation continued to grow as he accomplished more and more military conquests. It finally got to the point that Saul became very jealous of David. Saul’s people began to question his leadership as they became more and more enamored with David. Leaders must work hard to expand their influence. David grew as a leader because he continued to work hard and didn’t let up. He didn’t try and take over Saul’s position, he just worked hard and stayed true to the calling that God had placed on his life.
David knew the benefit of relationships and worked very hard to strengthen those bonds with the men he was serving with. His character caused many to notice him. They knew he was a hard worker and a great leader. Every leader needs to be reminded that the spotlight is often the hottest when you are not in charge, but are following someone else. One day you will be a leader, how do you want those under you to follow? David didn’t waste his time campaigning to be the king. He knew if he was faithful in the task God had placed before him, his time would come.
Saul didn’t support David. He knew that he would eventually lose his position to David and therefore spent a good bit of time making things difficult for David. David had to learn how to serve a leader that didn’t even like him. Most leaders will encounter this situation at some point along the road. This comes up a lot when someone is getting near the end of his or her career and a successor has already been named. You would like to think that this would be a smooth transition phase, but that isn’t always the case. Saul’s focus wasn’t necessarily to “leave well.” David modeled the strengths of a growing leader by staying focused on the task at hand. He didn’t spend all of his time trying to leverage his position. He knew his time would come.
As David continued to work hard, he experienced more success and earned the trust of those around him. His following grew as more and more people saw the kind of leader that he was. Many of them were willing to lay down their lives in order to serve alongside David.
In the first chapter of 2 Samuel, we read the account of Saul and Jonathan’s death at Mount Gilboa. David was obviously distressed to hear of Saul’s death and particularly the death of his good friend Jonathan. Immediately after David spent time mourning the loss of his friend and the king, the men of Judah came to anoint David as the new King of Judah. God had honored his faithfulness. David waited patiently, and now the time had come for him to lead.
David served faithfully as the king of Judah for seven and a half years. He continued to seek God and to build relationships with those around him. He served them as their king. At the end of seven and a half years, David’s kingdom was expanded to include Israel.
David’s kingdom and the descendants of Saul battled for a long time. There was a great civil war between Judah and Israel that David eventually won. The war was another chance for David to grow as a leader. Taking over or starting a new ministry or new business is not always the smoothest process. It can get ugly and bitter when people divide into different teams. David had to learn how to deal with this adversity as he grew into the leader that God created him to be.
David was a wise leader because he recognized that his longevity as king would be directly affected by the influence of those in Saul’s house. He reached out to Abner and Ishbosheth. He knew that an alliance with those loyal to Saul would be of great benefit to the people of Israel. This is a great demonstration of the fact that we have to put our personal agendas aside in favor of God’s much greater plan.
This alliance gave David a chance to build a bridge to the people of Israel. His efforts were rewarded in 2 Samuel 1:1-5, “All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’ “When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a compact with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.”
David set a wonderful example of what a growing leader should look like. Through all of the trials and tribulations, David continued to seek God. He wanted to become all that God had created him to be. As we read on through 2 Samuel, we know that David still faced many obstacles. He wasn’t perfect. He made poor choices, but he grew through them. He was also smart to build relationships with people like Nathan and Jonathan throughout his life that could hold him accountable to living a life that would honor God. As a result of his faithfulness to God’s call on his life, David is a man that many model their leadership style after even today.