By Hogan Brock
The judges in ancient Israel challenge the modern mindset that God only chooses those that are specifically gifted to lead. They were often some of the least expected people.
In selecting leaders in and for the contemporary church, we often look for people with the appropriate gifts and qualifications, disqualifying those who do not conform to expectations. Is it possible that the church has misinterpreted and misconstrued the selection process for leaders? The varying qualifications, or lack of qualifications, for the judges in ancient Israel might be a key to reforming the way the contemporary church selects leaders.
The judges come from different tribes, and have different backgrounds. Many have flaws that should disqualify them for leadership within their cultural context.
Deborah, is a woman. Women, in her culture, are treated, at best, as less than men, and, at worst, as property. That a woman could rise to be a judge is astonishing, and that she leads an army into battle is even more jarring for the informed reader. Samson is a man gifted with tremendous strength and prowess in battle. Samson is also a fool and a hopeless romantic who throws caution to the wind. Ehud is left-landed, Jephthah is the bastard child of a prostitute, and Abimelech was the son of a concubine.
These leaders of Israel came from backgrounds and had attributes that should have disqualified them from leadership, but they led anyway. What is the common thread that binds them together, and brings them to leadership? God’s call and opportunity.
Most of the judges have a defined call story.
The text is clear that these people have been ordained to lead and are filled with the spirit of God. They also share in common exploitation of moments that others may not have taken. In the story of Ehud, we see a left-handed man use his difference to hide a dagger. He then takes a momentary opportunity to overthrow a king and an oppressive, occupying foreign nation.
While the story of the judges should not inspire the contemporary church to begin assassinating heads of state, it should inspire churches to take advantage of moments and opportunities as they come. I was reminded of the how slow churches and church bodies are to adapt and improve while sitting in a business session of the Baptist General Assembly of Virginia. While understanding that business must be done in an orderly fashion, I was also keenly aware the antiquated system of raising paper ballots and putting formal ‘motions of appreciation’ on the floor to be voted on is decidedly old fashioned. Technology has been adapted in so many other aspects of the conference, but the very core of the meeting has not been changed or updated. While this is just one example, it is symptomatic of the church at-large’s inability to take advantage of contemporary opportunities like the judges did.
In raising up leadership, the church often looks for those who have an outstanding resume, charisma, and a pleasant speaking voice. In many contexts, we also look for those who look like us, sound like us, and come from the same socio-economic bracket as us. We are quick to quiet those who have non-traditional backgrounds and those who think outside of the established framework. This method of selecting leaders perpetuates systems that are no longer relevant to the world.
There are contemporary churches that do follow the model of leadership and call that is shown in the book of Judges. And it is those that live and function in the margins that successfully and creatively engage their communities.
It is from the margins that the judges rose, and it is from the margins that the next generation of radical Christian leaders will arise, as well. I am not advocating for a toppling of current church leaders, but I am advocating more meaningful seats at the table for people who have not traditionally been invited. When functioning from the margins, you must take risks and exploit opportunities when they are presented.
Sometimes fast actions are what is necessary. In moments of opportunity and fast action, unexpected leaders can rise and the church can be present in unexpected places. To quote Jonathan Brooks, a pastor in and from what are considered to be the margins of society: “There are no God-forsaken places. There are only church-forsaken places.” (Church Forsaken, IVP Press)
The significance for the judges to the contemporary church should be this: The best and most capable leaders may not be who you expect, and they may lead you to places you do not expect, but God will be there too.
Hogan Brock is a CBF Leadership Scholar serving as the Minister to Youth at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. He is currently pursuing a M. Div. at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.