Technology has made many things possible. You can talk to someone from any place in the world. You can listen to someone on the other side of the globe. With your laptop and wireless connection you can do your office work from anywhere on the face of the earth (almost). There are many things you can accomplish at a distance. One thing, however, that you cannot do from a distance is lead. Someone has said, “You can pretend to listen; you can pretend to care; but you cannot pretend to be there.”
There is something about leadership which demands on-site involvement. Like the generals in the Israeli wars, you do not order believers into battle; you must lead them into the fray.
The Psalmist valued the wondrous truth that he had a Shepherd Who “leads me beside still waters.” Shepherding is serving and leading. It is feeding and leading. It is caring and leading. You cannot escape from the need for involvement with the sheep.
The personalities of some men are people-oriented. Even if not saved they would be the outgoing people-oriented person in the office, family, community, or social gathering. But that is not a spiritual quality. It is a natural trait. There are men as well who find it difficult to be among people; they fear they will not say the right thing. They do not know how to “make conversation” without some strain. They frequently have said the wrong thing at the wrong time and inadvertently injured someone. They find safety in isolation and skirting the edge of the throng, moving through life without making deep connections with others. In the event that a man finds himself in leadership but recognizes that he does not like to connect, he must submit himself to God’s curriculum and learn the need to be among the sheep.
David is an excellent illustration of a man who connected with others.
He warred with them
He is first seen in 1 Samuel 17 when he steps out from a paralyzed army and, putting his life in jeopardy for them, advances to meet the giant in the valley. Bonds were almost immediate as a nation recognized a leader who would serve them and place their welfare above his own.
Peter reminds us that the essence of leadership is serving those who are led (1 Pet 5:1-5). Being among the sheep and going out with them “to battle” is essential for mutual confidence and deepening relationship.
He walked before them
In 1 Samuel 18, David is appointed to Saul’s elite military unit. Three times over we are told that he walked or behaved himself wisely (vv 5, 14, 30) with the inevitable result that he was accepted and his name became very precious (vv 5, 16, 30) to the people. He was not a reclusive leader whose comings and goings were shrouded in mystery. He lived his life in the fishbowl of public scrutiny; his life was marked by transparency and his leadership was marked by dignity.
This highlights the need for men to move among the people of God and for them to live in the real world where the saints do. David faced animosity, jealousy, hostility, duplicity, and dishonesty in 1 Samuel 18. The eyes of the nation watched how he would respond. Yet in each case, David so behaved as to gain the increasing respect of all. Others realized he was not immune from their day-to-day struggles; his, if anything, were actually on a larger scale.
He waited with them
The wrath of Saul and the exile and trials of David are known to all. In 1 Samuel 22, a band of men make David their captain and leader. The exile stretches into years as he waits God’s time for him. Together with his band, he learns and relearns the lesson of waiting for God (1 Sam 24, 25, 26). Despite temptation and opportunity to seize the throne by rebellion and assassination, he will wait God’s time. Together they endured the cold nights on the Judean hills. Together they knew the rain and the frost, the damp caves and pits in which they hid. He suffered with them and waited with them. He was not kept in a place of comfort while they manned the front lines. He was with them in their trials.
He wept with them
Discouragement took David and his men to the land of the Philistines. Ziklag must have been a welcome retreat to the harried band. All seemed to go well. But the chastening hand of God became active. The Amalekites invade the land and destroy Ziklag, capturing David’s family and the families of his soldiers. Together they wept to the point of exhaustion.
No finger pointing, no attempt to avoid the responsibility for the error in his leadership, no self-pity or aloofness marks David. Amidst the grief of the hour, David rises to the challenge of leadership. Assuming responsibility for the problem, he also assumes responsibility for the road back. He calls upon God both for encouragement (30:6) and enlightenment (vv 7, 8).
He was willing to be wounded for them
David experienced what the people of God experienced. He felt what they felt. He knew their grief. He had a deep care for the people of God. Fast-forwarding to the end of his life, his tragic error in numbering the people served to reveal his deep and genuine love for the people of God. As the chastening hand of God fell upon the nation, his words were, “I have sinned … but these sheep, what have they done?” (2 Sam 24:17). Unlike modern leaders who hide from consequences, David requested that God’s hand be on him and not on the people of God. They were sheep and his was the heart of the shepherd.
He was with them in all their afflictions; he wept with them, waited with them, worked with them, and wandered through deserts with them.
“The elders who are among you I exhort … the flock of God which is among you” (1 Pet 5:1-3).