By Jon Hietbrink
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” — CS Lewis
What we’re trying to do is hard.
Catalyzing new movements of missional communities is complicated, and our job description as leaders is often a mile long: disciple, pray, vision, witness, fundraise, meet, care, decide, communicate, recruit, repeat. To be a leader is to embrace the reality that more will be asked of us than we can give–we choose to make our home in the deep end not because it’s comfortable, but because that’s where Jesus calls us. In the midst of all that we’re asked to shoulder as leaders, one thing surfaces again and again–the indispensable role of simple courage. Leadership is most certainly about vision, strategy, and organizational behavior, but at it’s most fundamental level, leadership is about exercising the courage to look fear in the eyes and defy it by fixing our gaze on Jesus instead.
As David walked up to the Valley of Elah with supplies for his brothers, he could not have expected what he’d find: an army paralyzed by fear in the face of a remarkable giant. Goliath, as he’d been doing for the last month and a half, made his confident march to the crest of the ridge and shouted at the Israelites, “This day, I defy the armies of Israel!” To a man, the army was overcome with fear; content to allow the mocking defiance to continue, hoping (praying?) that someone else would answer the bell and this trial would pass away. One can almost imagine the threat growing in their minds as the days and weeks drew on. From the beginning Goliath presented as a uniquely formidable foe, but as fear did its work, he grew to become an insurmountable champion of truly epic dimensions–utterly invincible.
What’s Your Goliath?
Every community we lead is confronted by a Goliath — the neighborhood that is impossible to reach, the campus that’s just “hard ground”, the dream that crashed and burned, the problem no one can solve. Stop for a second and think about it–What’s your Goliath? What giant stands opposed to your community lobbing insults at you and the mandate God has given you? What challenge actually creates fear in you? Now imagine what might happen if that giant came down? How might your movement change if someone stepped up and put their lives on the line to see Goliath fall? There are dozens of viable strategies to move our communities forward in mission and affect organizational change, but almost nothing compares to the impact of a leader demonstrating the courage required to confront a Goliath and take it down.
I doubt that David showed up that day looking to catalyze a movement–his primary mission that day was to deliver cheese!–but that’s exactly what God used him to do. When confronted with a giant that held an entire army in his grip, David acted with contagious courage, and God used him to score a decisive victory for the people of God. I’m struck by a few things from David’s story:
- David sowed seeds of hope as he walked the front lines of soldiers– “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel?” (I Sam. 17.26) Rather than showing up unannounced and proclaiming his intent to slay the giant, David started by sprinkling the possibility of action among the ranks. How might you start to subvert your giant by asking questions that provoke imagination?
- David embraced the strength of his story as one who had “killed both the lion and the bear” (I Sam. 17.36). His confidence was not primarily in his ability, but he didn’t discount what God had done through him before–David’s present courage was grounded in God’s past provision. What are your stories of “killing the lion and the bear” that qualify you for the task of taking this giant down?
- David refused the temptation to fit someone else’s model — “I cannot go in these because I am not used to them.” (I Sam. 17.39) As leaders, we are often tempted to “be just like ____”, but that’s a mistake. Everything changes when we start to believe that who we are is exactly who God is looking for in this time, in this place. Where are you tempted to dress in someone else’s armor instead of embracing your God-given profile and gifts?
- David interpreted the physical situation through a spiritual lens– “I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” (I Sam. 17.45) Consider for a moment the audacity of that claim–David was convinced this was a spiritual battle and that the LORD almighty was at his side. How would you act in this situation if you believed God really was with you?
- David’s courage is catalytic for the wider community– “Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout…” (I Sam. 17.52) The army was ready to join the fight, and they respond immediately to David’s victory over Goliath. Imagine what could be unlocked in your community if the stronghold of fear was broken?
- David carried the victory with him as a reminder– “Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head.” (I Sam. 17.57) Long after the battle has ended and Israel has plundered their enemies, David is still carrying Goliath’s severed head as a graphic reminder of the victory God had won through him. How might the spectacle of this Goliath falling serve as a reminder of God’s faithfulness for seasons to come?
You and I know there’s a Goliath that opposes you and your community today. We can keep managing around it and looking the other direction, but it stands as a monument to fear, and as leaders we must pay attention. Now is the time for courage; now is the time to see Goliath fall.