King Saul and Passive Leadership

Monday night was really cool.  You see kids, I’ve been to seminary.  I’ve read large portions of the Old Testament in Hebrew.  I know all the stories, all the characters, the whole sha-bang.  You would think that my understanding of Scripture shouldn’t be able to be radically changed by sitting with a group of commoners (non-seminarians that don’t read Hebrew) talking about it over coffee.  I should have all the answers right?  I should be teaching the class, not learning from it. 

But that is not how the Holy Spirit rolls.  He engages any and everyone who is willing.  He doesn’t care what your education is.  He doesn’t care how many languages you read or how smart you think you are.  If you approach the text with an open heart, He will show you cool stuff.

The Thingy is reading through 1st and 2nd Samuel together (if you don’t know what the Thingy is start here and read the other posts in the catagory “Stories from the Thingy”).  We read some chapters on our own during the week and then come together and discuss what the Spirit gave us.  It’s like a pot luck.  We all prepare our meal and then bring it to the table to share.

This week my understanding of King Saul was radically changed. 

For those that haven’t read 1st Samuel, King Saul was the first king of Israel.  The people rejected God’s leadership because they couldn’t see Him and begged for a king they could see; so God gave them Saul.

Now I’ve always read Saul as a proud and arrogant guy; a head strong leader that took matters into his own hands.  This was why he fell apart right?  He was charging forward without God.  That is what I have heard other preachers say.  I have actually preached that before.

This week I saw that no, Saul’s problem wasn’t head strong pride.  It was quit the opposite. 



Fear of conflict.

Caring too much about the opinions of others. 

Passive positional leadership.

 Those were his problems.

Check out these passages…

Saul is walking with his servant looking for his father’s lost donkeys…

…Saul said to his lad who was with him, “Come, let us turn back, lest my father cease worrying about the asses and worry about us.”  And the lad said to him, “Look, pray, there is a man of God in this town, and the man is esteemed – whatever he says will surely come to pass.  Now then, let us go there.  Perhaps he will tell us of our way on which we have gone.”  And Saul said to his lad, “But look, if we are to go, what shall we bring to the man?  For the bread is gone from our kits and there is no gift to bring to the man of God.  What do we have?”  And the lad answered Saul one again and he said, “Look, I happen to have at hand a quarter of a shekel of silver that I can give to the man of God, that he may tell us our way.”  (1st Samuel 9:6-9)

Who is the leader in the conversation?  Saul or his slave?  Who is worried about what others think?  Saul or his slave?

Samuel anoints Saul as king…

And he (Samuel) brought forward all the tribes of Israel and the lot fell to the tribe of Benjamin.  And he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin by its clans and the lot fell to the Matritie clan, and the lot fell to Saul son of Kish, and they sought him but he was not to be found.  And they inquired again of the Lord: “Has a man come here?”  And the Lord said, “Look, he is hidden among the gear.”  (1st Samuel 10:20-24)

Saul is being anointed king.  He knew it was coming.  Earlier Samuel told him.  Where is he?  Hiding.  He is stinking hiding under luggage.  (It is also important to note that Saul does not speak at his own coronation.  He is a passive, silent character.)

The Philistines are lined up to do battle, the troops are anxious, and Samuel is running late…

And he waited seven days for the fixed time Samuel had set, and Samuel did not come, and the troops began to slip away from him.  And Saul said, “Bring forth to me the burnt offering and the communion sacrifice,” and he offered up the burnt offering.  And it happened, as he finished offering the burnt offering that, look, Samuel was coming and Saul went out toward him to greet him.  And Samuel said, “What have you done?”  And Saul said, “For I saw that the troops were slipping away from me and you on your part had not come at the fixed time and the Philistines were assembling at Michmash.  And I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down on me at Gigal, without my having entreated the Lord’s favor.’  And I took hold of myself and offered up the burnt offerings.”  And Samuel said to Saul, “You have played the fool!  Had you but kept the commandment of the Lord your God that He commanded you, now the Lord would have made your kingdom over Israel unshaken forever.  But now, your kingdom shall not stand.” (1st Samuel 13:9-14)

So here, Saul is worried about everyone else around him.  He is concerned about what the troops think and he is worried about the Philistines.  Instead of leading, he is letting his surroundings and the opinions of others drive his decisions.  Sadly, his passive leadership is his undoing.

If you don’t know the story, things go badly for Saul from this point on.  


Here is the take away.  Passive, indecisive, cowardly positional leadership is a horrible thing.  As a leader, inaction is not an option.  This doesn’t mean you should always charge the hill (in fact, Saul should have led by waiting longer).  It means you should lead with integrity.

Know what it right.  Declare what is right.  And then stand up for what is right regardless of what everyone around you thinks.  That is real leadership.

Passive leadership that seeks to please others is no leadership at all.

If you want to read more on Saul, check out how his leadership compares to that of his son Jonathan’s.

King Saul and Passive Leadership

3 thoughts on “King Saul and Passive Leadership

  1. Guy says:

    It seems to me, that you are comparing leadership with no leadership.
    Gandhi was, perhaps next to Jesus, our best example of Passive Leadership.
    He said, “A weak man is just by accident. A strong but non-violent man is unjust by accident.”

    1. jeffandwendy says:

      It’s been two years since I wrote that post so I had to go back and read it again. Thanks for the comment and I love the quote. On reflection what I called “passive leadership” maybe could better be described as “leadership by consensus” or “leadership that avoids conflict.” I didn’t mean “passive” as in non-violent. I meant passive as indecisive, or letting things happen around you without taking action for what is right. Saul’s passivity is not that he is non-violent. He spends most of his time as king at war. Saul’s passivity is found in his decision making. He waits to see what the crowd wants and then slowly follows behind instead of leading out of values or principles. I wouldn’t describe Jesus or Gandhi as passive leaders. Quite the opposite.

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