the shape of leadership

Faithfulness Is the Test of Ministry

Three lessons from the mistakes of King Saul

Donna Barrett on October 1, 2021

When I am not traveling, I attend Freedom City Church in the Grant Beach neighborhood of Springfield, Missouri, just three blocks from the national office. John Alarid is my pastor, and he is currently teaching an expository series from Hebrews 11 titled “Faith Hall of Fame.” On a recent Sunday morning, he preached from Hebrews 11:32:

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets …

As I read along with my Bible in my lap, the name of King Saul jumped out at me because it was missing from the list of the faithful. In fact, if you search the phrase “unfaithful to the Lord,” Saul’s name comes up.

So Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord. He failed to obey the Lord’s command, and he even consulted a medium instead of asking the Lord for guidance (1 Chronicles 10:13–14, NLT).

Sometimes the best way to learn is by looking at others’ mistakes. What did Saul do so wrong that he qualified as “unfaithful”? And how can we turn his mistakes into positive lessons for our own lives and ministries?

Here are three takeaways I notice in the mistakes Saul made:

1. Seek God for Guidance

Though Saul started well, he did not finish well. He stopped seeking God for guidance, consulting a medium instead. That is why he was unfaithful.

Now you might say, “I would never consult a medium. I’m not going to the corner fortune teller to get advice. I know better than to do that.”

However, do you realize that any information source you seek before or more than seeking God is just a modern-day medium? Is it the morning newspaper, the investment channel, your go-to blog, webcast, or family member? If you seek information from those sources “instead of asking the Lord for guidance,” make an adjustment.

Doing so is especially important because of the heavy traffic on the information superhighway called the internet. There, we can find almost anything, from how to repair a toilet to what was said at the most recent Supreme Court hearing. If we are not careful, such quick access can evoke a lust for information that is addictive. And in that rush of information, we can set aside our first priority to seek God for guidance.

I recently felt convicted about this issue in my own ministry. Reaching for resources and research at the start of a business day, I felt this challenge in my spirit: “Donna, have you sought the Lord for guidance? Are you going to God first and most?”

The true test for
us ministers is faithfulness. Do I seek God’s guidance first
and most? Do I resist the temptation to jealously compare myself with others?
Do my actions flow from good character?

Right then, I stopped and prayed in the Spirit. Now more than ever, praying in the Spirit is necessary. We need to agree with God’s gospel metanarrative more than whatever version of truth is presented to us at the moment. His truth is still the truth, even if no one believes it. A lie is still a lie, even if everyone believes it.

2. Dodge the Comparison Trap

Saul’s second mistake was comparing himself to others, especially to David. Consider 1 Samuel 18:7–9:

As [the women] danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.

The lyrics to that celebration song provoked Saul’s jealousy and caught him in a comparison trap from which he never broke free.

Wouldn’t this scene have turned out differently had Saul taken his jealous feelings to the Lord in repentance? But, no, Saul viewed David suspiciously from that day until he died.

Or what if Saul had reframed his reality and said, “David is my protégé; I’m his mentor. His win is my win. Together, we’re a winning team”?

I recently taught a friend to play pickleball, only to have her beat me the first game we kept score. I felt bad for a minute for losing to her. But then I framed her win differently and told myself, I must be a good teacher!

Is there someone in your life or ministry you are eyeing with jealousy? Are you caught in a comparison trap with him or her?

Social media can become today’s tool for unfair comparison. “How did they get to vacation there?” “Look who’s cooking in that family.” “That pastor baptized 21 people Sunday, but my congregation doesn’t even bring unreached guests.” Unfair comparison and jealousy feed off one another and result in a never-ending vicious cycle.

The way out is to be faithful to the Lord with who you are and what He has given you. Don’t allow the enemy to catch you in the comparison trap.

3. Be Honest with Yourself

The worst kind of deception is self-deception. Saul began lying to himself (and believed his own lies) before he lied to those around him.

When Samuel challenged Saul about why he did not wait for him as he had been directed, Saul made excuses (1 Samuel 13:7–14). When Saul disobeyed God’s instructions and kept back some of the plunder, he justified his actions (1 Samuel 15:7–15). His pattern of excuse-making started with self-deception, and we all know that an excuse is simply a lie wrapped up in a rationalization.

In her recent book, Redeeming Power, Diane Langberg quotes Henry Burton on the relationship between who we are and what we do: “Conduct is character in motion; for [humans] do what they themselves are.”

Saul began his reign with many natural advantages. He was tall, handsome and gifted. He did not finish well because his natural advantages could not overcome his character defects.

Do we recognize this problem in our own lives? Do we see our advantages as potential roadblocks on the path to a life of character? We may have natural talents, official position and limitless charisma. We may be an articulate preacher, an effective fundraiser, and a leader with a history of success. None of these things mean anything if, like Saul, we lack character.

The true test for us ministers is faithfulness. Do I seek God’s guidance first and most? Do I resist the temptation to jealously compare myself with others? Do my actions flow from good character?

Why not take a minute to examine yourself before the Lord, asking these three questions drawn from the error of Saul’s ways?

Donna Barrett is general secretary of the Assemblies of God (USA). This article was written for the Fall 2021 issue of Called to Serve and is published here by permission.

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