From 1981 to 1989, a man dubbed “the Great Communicator” resided in the White House of the USA. Ronald Reagan was not the most eloquent of speakers; he was not the most articulate of men to reside in the Oval Office; nor was he the most intelligent or intellectual of leaders. But he could communicate with ordinary people.
One of the traits of every leader has been the ability to communicate. Most would think that the skill of communication is limited to the ability to articulate positions and views, to be able to impress others with cogent logic and faultless arguments. Some even feel that communication skill is directly related to the decibel level. Yet, communication is primarily a listening skill: the ability to listen to another, understand them, and convey that understanding. It may not always agree, but it always respects and seeks to understand another’s viewpoint. When it replies, it is not the finesse of diplomacy nor the ploy of shrewdness. Honest communication is the ability to respond in a sincere and meaningful way to others.
Many of the leaders of the Old Testament would qualify as excellent communicators. Some, such as Nehemiah, primarily held counsel with themselves until sure of their path. Others led by consensus. Each, however, was able to appreciate the views of others and to forge a plan that met the needs of the people of God, consistent with the will of God.
Gideon’s first recorded communication was with the angel who confronted him by the oak in Ophrah. The angel’s pronouncement, “The Lord is with thee,” was met by Gideon’s reply in which the “me” became “us” (Ju 6:12, 13).
His reply to the angel is not one of doubt and questioning. Here is a man who has steeped himself in the history of the nation. His longing is to see the God Who delivered Israel from Egypt working in his own day amidst the oppression from Midian. Here is a man who has known communion with God – communication at its highest level.
The details of Gideon’s army, its mustering and its winnowing, are well known to all. It must have taken great skill to address the army of 32,000 and instruct those who were fearful to depart and return home. To allow men to depart and yet save face would have taxed the skill of any leader.
But Gideon was a man who preferred God’s will to his own sense of security. The task became even greater when he needed to dismiss 9,700 who wanted to go to the battle but who disqualified themselves at the water’s edge by their bowing down to drink. We are not told how Gideon communicated this to the 9,700, but he was able to do so without bruised egos or inciting rancor in the ranks.
Leaders have to make difficult decisions and communicate those choices to others. To do so in fellowship with God and with a deep consciousness of the will of God is vital. But assurance of the will of God concerning a decision does not give warrant to a leader to disregard the feelings of those with whom he must deal. Insensitivity and its offspring, arrogance, have no place in a leader’s armamentarium.
Another error made in seeking to communicate is simply supplying information with the idea that this is sufficient. Another has said, “Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”
Later, in Judges 8:22, 23, Gideon faced another test. Would he prefer to have God reign or be installed as a king over the people of God. His communication revealed his preference. Sadly, however, he did falter in the matter of the ephod.
As the army approached the Midianites, Gideon gave instructions, clear and detailed, to those who followed him. But as a true leader, he did not “send” men into battle; he led his men into battle. “Look on me and do likewise” (ch 7:17). He becomes a point of reference, an example, to his own people.
Every leader must lead. The point seems obvious. But it means to be in the forefront and to be exemplary in life and activities.
The greatest test of a man often is the ability to show deference to others when they are seeking glory or insisting on their rights.
In Judges 8, the men of Ephraim attacked Gideon verbally. Having been called to the battle later than others (ch 6:34, 35), they expressed their anger at not being given the main role in the drama. We are told that they did “chide with him sharply.” But the man who had dealt with strife (Midian) from an external foe, knew how to deal with strife from an internal foe as well.
He listens and understands the pride and bruised egos of the men of Ephraim. His response, “What have I done in comparison of you,” exhibited humility, wisdom, compassion, and skill. He continued to speak with them and to give them the major credit for the victory. It did not matter to Gideon who received the credit as long as victory was won for the people of God. We read that “their anger was abated toward him” as a result of his answer. His soft answer turned away wrath.
In a similar manner, Phinehas wisely spoke with Ephraim, Manasseh, and Gad on the banks of the Jordan years earlier. In response to the building of the altar, Ed, Phinehas and the ten princes confronted the two and a half tribes. But Phinehas’ suggestion that if the land was not enough for them and that if needed, the ten tribes would sacrifice land for them for the sake of peace, was a gesture of magnanimity and grace. How wise to display a sacrificing and humble spirit when faced with possible contention and strife! An attitude which bespeaks a willingness to lose what is personal (not principles) to preserve unity is a tremendous power. To not stand on one’s dignity or to insist on personal rights conveys a powerful message to others. To defer to another is a sign, not of weakness, but of strength and confidence in God.
In an assembly, leaders must communicate with each other and with all in the fellowship. They must communicate vision, truth, agendas, and decisions in a manner which enables each individual to feel a valued and considered member of that fellowship.