By Elaine May, CRCNA Women’s Leadership Developer
“The ultimate measure of a man [or woman] is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
These words from a sermon series entitled Strength to Love were written by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. They are just as relevant today as they were then.
Challenges and Controversies
Challenges and controversies ought to be expected in the life of a leader. Whenever you are influencing the lives of other people, conflict inevitably arises. The developmental opportunity for the leader depends on their response to conflict. We wish it were not so, but conflict teaches lessons that can’t be learned any other way. Fortunately in the hand of a loving God, conflict is a powerful tool to shape and develop a leader.
David as Leader
David was called by God to unify a nation and establish an identity for Israel that would enable them to live as a holy people before the nations of the world. Their existence was to communicate to the surrounding nations the reality of the One True God who loved the world he created. In his book A Light to the Nations, Michael Goheen summarizes David’s mission:
he was sent to remove the threat of idolatry, ensure the worship of Yahweh, and enforce God’s law so their lives reflected God’s will for human life.
As David responds to his calling, God forms his character and one of his primary tools is conflict. As the youngest in the family, David initially tended toward having low self-esteem. He was inclined to make decisions based on emotions rather than facts, acted more impulsive than self-disciplined, and tended to compromise rather than make his own decision in challenging situations. Throughout his life we see him tested through repeated conflict with Saul, military commanders, and his family. It’s through this conflict that God develops David’s faith, increases his dependence on God, and expands David’s understanding of relationships and leadership.
When King Saul was pursuing David with the intent to murder him, David had two opportunities to kill him. Once after Saul entered a cave, David silently approached him and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Immediately, David was “stricken to the heart” (1 Samuel 24:5 NRSV). David felt remorse even though Saul would not have exercised the same restraint toward him. David submitted himself to the authority given to Saul by God. He courageously approaches Saul, calls out his behavior, and vows not to harm him.
Conflict Teaches and Challenges
Conflict teaches us about ourselves when we’re frustrated with those in authority over us or with peers who disagree with us. Conflict challenges us to learn to communicate in helpful and productive ways when our emotions are running high. Conflict builds strength and courage when we choose to move toward angry people with a sincere desire to reconcile. And conflict drives us to the feet of Jesus when we feel hurt, betrayed, and unable to love those with whom we are in conflict.
The mission God gives David changes him. David becomes a courageous and inspirational leader as he expands and unifies a divided nation. The psalms he wrote illustrate his dependence on God and desire for God’s presence. In Psalm 27 he exclaims, “The Lord is the stronghold of my life.… One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, and to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe (verses 1, 4-5).”
Where do you go when the people you’re leading are angry? Who do you turn to when the people you are called to love seek to destroy, “belittle, hate, insult… [with their] thoughts, words, looks, or gestures?” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 40). God wants you to run to him and to find safety and refuge in his unconditional love.