I was recently struck by the story of David and Goliath from a fresh perspective. I had just finished praying with an incredibly faithful follower of Christ. He was in the hospital and his days were numbered. I prayed that God would raise up a next generation with faith like he had. As his strength was waining I asked him if there was a passage of Scripture that I could read to him. He closed his eyes and with a warm smirk said, “David and Goliath.”
As I read, God spoke powerfully to me that within this story are several keys to help answer the prayer I just prayed. Raising up a generation like that man won’t be easy – it will be messy, but in the end, the Kingdom will move forward through the next generation because of us, not in spite of us.
I won’t recount the whole story of David and Goliath but it’s worth our time to review the main interaction between Saul and David.
Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”
But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”
Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.
“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
1 Samuel 17:33–40 (NIV)
This interaction was incredibly foreshadowing. It would come to represent the passing of a baton from a fear-driven, insecure leader to a leader who was ready to follow God through the unthinkable. Some of what Saul did was right, some of it was foolish – I for one don’t want to embody the foolish, so let’s learn from his mistakes.
1. ENCOURAGE. DON’T ENCOMBER.
Saul get’s this half right. He gives David a prayerful blessing (sure it could have been a desperate plea for his own sake, but we won’t be picky). The King’s words had to be encouraging to David and encouraging him was the right move. The part about dressing David in his own kingly military attire? That wasn’t encouraging it was encumbering. I bet Saul thought it was a good idea; give him the finest armor to withstand the fiercest blows. The only problem was that the armor didn’t fit David or the task in front of him. You can picture David, a young man with armor three sizes too big; he not only would have looked funny, he would have been set up for failure. If David went out there in Saul’s suit, David was a dead man.
The armor we have worn and battled with in ministry will not fit the next generation of leaders. The study tools we have used, the preaching styles, the programs we developed, the missions philosophies – they are all losing their effectiveness with each passing day. Of course young leaders need our guidance, but they should never be stifled by what worked for us.
I once had someone donate over 100 marriage counseling books to my library. That person would be disheartened to know that very few of those books are still on my shelf (I actually only have about 15 hard copies of books total if it helps). Instead, what I did was take the content of those books and break them down into a 6-session marriage counseling curriculum that is graspable for the people I meet with. I took someone else’s armor and made it my own.
Want to get good at this?
Place more value on their ideas than on your own. Ask the young leader what they think will work and listen well. Their ideas will need shaping and encouraging, but God is probably ready to use that leader more than you are.
2. BET ON FAITH.
Saul may have clumsily given David his tunic, but in the end he risked his entire military career and probably his life on David’s firm belief that God was capable. I give credit to Saul for seeing this. He wasn’t looking at someone who was polished, he was looking at someone who was filled with potential. Seeing that potential didn’t come naturally for Saul. And I love the transition he makes from, “you are only a young man,” to “Go and God be with you.”
In that “go” moment Saul did the most valuable thing he could have done as he stood behind David’s faith. He had faith in another leader’s faith. I like to imagine David walking out to meet Goliath with a swagger in his step because the King didn’t think he was crazy. Instead, the king knew David was up to the task because God was with him.
Saul recognized that while David’s logic was simple his faith was big. David knew Goliath had offended God and the giant stood in the way of God keeping His promises. David believed God wouldn’t stand for it. Saul believed David. Logic took a back seat to faith and the rest is history.
One of our values at Susquehanna Valley Church is that, “we expect God to do great things…because He always has.” No value has been more inspiring to our young staff and no value has challenged them to more, calling them to let go of small thinking and latch on to big kingdom concepts. It has called us to look at things from a fresh perspective, try things we wouldn’t have, and praise God for what we never would have imagined.
What the next generation needs is ultimately a deep faith in God as He does His work through them. What the next generation primarily needs from us is to help deepen that faith, to stand behind it. The young leader may be late for meetings, may not always see all the angles we do, may be chomping at the bit for influence, but if we want them to be able to weather the storm of ministry and tackle giants, we need to have a faith that backs their faith.
In my own life, someone chose to share the pulpit with me when I was 19 and someone chose to let a 13 year old “preach a sermon,” if you can call it that. I am sure the pastors that trusted me in those moments had deep fears of a heretical young man, but they bet on my faith and it resulted in some giant-crushing moments in my life.
3. SEE IT THROUGH WELL.
Saul had well wishes, but well wishes don’t make it easy to maintain good intentions. We know how this story unfolds. Saul, out of his insecurity, cared more about his kingdom than God’s. He ended up trying to kill the man he should have mentored.
I can’t imagine how difficult this is – how it churns in our hearts to watch someone take over something we have worked so painstakingly to craft, to watch them seemingly undo our work and disregard its value. Still, we have to appreciate the context we are in historically. At best we have several decades until we are with Christ forever. We are a leg in a relay race and we have to pass the baton well. If we aren’t in stride with the next-gen leader, having earned their trust, there’s a good chance we stumble, they stumble, or worse, the baton drops. Insecurity ruined Saul and since then it has ruined many other baton-passing moments. Remember you have done this well if the young leader can do it themselves.
Some bullet points that are worth your thoughts:
- Be open and honest about what is at stake. I have told each and every one of my staff that the gospel is more important than them, the church is more important than them, but that they are more important than me. We make staffing decisions based on that flow of thought.
- Protect the future of the church more than you protect your career. Do this and God will honor you for it. Too often the fear of turning over leadership is financially driven. Let’s live simpler and invest more in retirement so we won’t have that fear. We owe it to the Kingdom to be financially flexible.
- If you are over 45 and you are your church’s primary influencer of internet and social media content, you have a problem.
- Give it gold standard time. Satan hasn’t stopped raising Goliaths – we can’t stop raising Davids. If we want to get champions ready to champion then we will need to give it a priority place on our schedule. Thursday mornings my young staff get my undivided attention as we sit and study God’s Word together.
- Start thinking transitionally now, not five years before you retire. Let it be part of your DNA as a leader that you are always looking to move someone else into a position that lets them grow by experience.
On a rainy morning I was taking some next-gen leaders to eat when we drove past another church. For the second Tuesday in a row that church’s parking lot was full and I remarked, “Why is this place always busy on a Tuesday morning when they never have anyone Sunday?” One of the young leaders spoke up and said, “It’s a funeral…they keep having funerals.”
I hope we never reach the place where the only time our church is regularly full is because of funeral attendance. In order for that happen, we have to let the next generation crush some giants.