How God Develops Leaders

Published May 4, 2016 by


Judges 6:11-16; Matthew 4:19


I am a student of leadership, mainly because leadership didn’t come naturally to me.

In the ongoing tussle over whether leaders are born or bread, I fall somewhere in the middle.  Certainly, there are characteristics that are helpful to any leader. The ability to speak in public, self-confidence, and an outgoing personality are useful and give you a step up on the competition. Still, experience has shown me leaders are developed over time.

Recently, as I was looking at the story of Gideon in the Old Testament book of Judges, I was reminded of God’s process for growing leaders.

  1.  He calls to them.

Gideon was not a ready-made leader.  When the Angel of the Lord found him, Gideon was at the bottom of a wine press, not pressing wine but grinding wheat.  The grinding of wheat or the threshing of wheat during Gideon’s time was normally done on a flat shelf near the wheat field in plain sight.  But the Midianites, a neighboring tribe of bullies would use the opportunity to steal the grain from the Israelites.

It is at the bottom of the wine press, as Gideon hid, that the Angel of the Lord identifies Gideon as a “Mighty Warrior.”

God saw something in Gideon that others did not.

Many of the world’s greatest leaders, didn’t start out with the credentials that would make others follow them.  Dwight Eisenhower didn’t rise past the rank of Lieutenant Colonel for the first 25 years of his military career.  Abe Lincoln was a depressed self-taught lawyer.  Harry Truman was a failed businessman.

We need to see the potential.

  1. After God calls, He schools.

The Angel of the Lord uses a combination of activities to teach young Gideon trust and confidence.

On several occasions, He is patient with Gideon’s crazy requests.

Early on, The Angel of the Lord gives “this mighty warrior” a pretty small task to complete. He tells Gideon to tear down his father’s idols and in their place erect an altar to God. Gideon does this, with the help of some servants. However, he is afraid of retribution and completes the family spiritual remodel in the dark of the night.

Not necessarily the actions of what we would consider a strong and mighty warrior!

But God,again, is patient with Gideon.  He doesn’t expect Gideon to be a great leader overnight.  Instead He works with him.

Gideon gains confidence and when the armies of Israel’s enemies come against them, Gideon gathers the people.  Gideon continues to put God to the test. And God continues to develop Gideon.  Gideon puts out a fleece of wool on the ground.  He says to God, if you really want me to lead these people make the fleece wet and the ground around it dry.  God does it.  Then the next night, he asks God to make the ground around it wet, and the fleece around it dry. God does it.

Church people may argue whether fleece laying is an appropriate way to determine God’s will.  For sure, it indicates that God is patience and willing to work with people as they grow.

Gideon was a young leader, with very few role models.  His father, after all, had all these foreign idols.  God endured with him.

God changes the way he works with us as time goes on.  Like a good parent or a good mentor, He adapts his actions base on where we are in our development cycle. There seems to be a progression.

I remember when I was young, how quickly God answered my prayers.   There were times when I prayed and He immediately answered.  I believe God knew I needed that immediate reinforcement at the time. But as my faith grew, it seemed that the answers told a little while longer and sometimes they were not as evident.

God is going to be patient with us as He grows us.

As such, we need to be patient as we grow young leaders.  Mistakes and lame brain requests are sometimes part of the process.

One time as a young Captain, I made a terrible ego-driven decision.  I remember the exact words, my commander said, when he called me on the phone soon after.

“Bob, I want you to put this in receive mode.” For the next 5 minutes (it seemed like an hour as I thought how my career was over), he chewed me up one side and down the other.   Then he said, “that’s that” and we never spoke of it again.   He was patient with me.

  1. After God schools, He challenges

God inevitably challenges his leaders with a task outside their comfort zone.

As God develops Gideon, there comes a point where God challenges him to truly step out and do business in an unconventional way.

General Gideon develops a great army of thirty two thousand men.  God directs him to whittle it down.   First, God instructs Gideon to tell anyone who has fear to go home.  22,000 men left!  But God wasn’t done.  Next, God tells Gideon, he still has too many men and he pares the remaining ten thousand to a svelte 300.

Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great calls that challenge, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG).  God calls it trusting him.  Whatever we call it, there comes a time in a leader’s development where he or she is stretched beyond even what they think they are capable of doing.

My first job as a major on the Joint Staff was on a team reviewing how we prioritize reconnaissance assets.  The preliminary report was a disaster.   In four weeks, the Admiral was supposed to take it on the road and it was clearly not ready.  My Division Chief, a Navy Captain, called me into his office, closed the door and told me I needed to take charge of this project that others have been working on for nine months.  “And, by the way, you need to finish it in four weeks.”

“How am I going to do that? I have only been here for a couple of weeks and most of the other team members outranked me?”  He laughed (it sounded like a goose honking if I remember correctly) as he said, ‘well, you are going to have to figure that out.’

We did get it done on time, thanks to a lot of hardworking people, and it was a great product.  I remember my boss coming into my cubicle after it was all over and saying “I knew you could do it.”

We need to challenge young leaders to leave that comfort zone if we ever want them to realize their potential.

  1. After He Challenges, God Unleashes.

God sends Gideon down into the camp of the Midianites. He hears the Midianites talking about their dreams.  Surprise! The Midianites are afraid!  Gideon immediately stirs his troops and with the enemies fear in mind routs the much larger enemy force.

Gideon is victorious! The people of Israel are at peace for forty years.

The people want Gideon to rule over them…they want to make him King.  But by this time, Gideon, a mature leader, clearly understands to who he owes the victory:  God.

The Story of Gideon may seem like just a neat isolated story.  But it is replicated time and time again in the Bible.  Abraham is identified, schooled, challenged and unleashed.  Moses is identified, schooled, challenged and unleashed.  David is identified, schooled, challenged and unleashed.  The Apostles are identified, schooled, challenged and unleashed.

Matthew 4:19 tells the early Apostles, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” It is a clarion call to the Apostles to a great work, but it precedes three years of schooling, numerous challenges, and then unleashing them to change the world.

Paul is identified, schooled, challenged and unleashed.

Gideon’s story is not an isolated unique story.  It is how God builds leaders of different sizes and different purposes.

Why then do we think it should be different for us?

A pastor friend was lamenting (pastor’s lament better than anyone) that he didn’t have any young leaders in his congregation.

“They just don’t have it,” he said.  Well, of course they don’t have it……YET. 

Mighty Warriors are rarely ready-made.  We need to be patient.  Stick it out and see what God can do through His time tested process.

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