This election season has prompted many of us to think carefully about what we want in a leader. There are voices shouting from so many different directions, it gets confusing, and it would be easy to lose hope. I’m extremely thankful God is on the throne, and as always, I can trust him to handle things. During my journey of clarifying the leadership characteristics I’m looking for before I cast my vote in November, I have been reflecting, evaluating, and asking the question: “What makes a good leader?”
Whether I’m leading a country, an organization, a small group, or the people in my home, I want to be the best leader possible. Since experience shows the best way to do something is always God’s way, I turned to the Bible for insight to see what makes a good leader. While the scriptures weren’t written as a how-to book, they are full of wisdom, examples, encouragement, and even best practices. There are many superb leaders throughout the Old and New Testaments, and plenty of examples of what not to do, as well. One amazing leader in the book of Judges stands out to me: Deborah. She is all that and a bag of chips when it comes to leadership characteristics.
Let me set the scene. God had led his people out of Egyptian slavery through Moses and had given them the Promised Land through Joshua. However, the next generation of Israelites didn’t remember what God had done. They were under constant attack from the neighboring Canaanite raiders. “Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders,” (Judges 2:16). One of these judges was a woman named Deborah. You can read her whole story in Judges 4 and 5, but let’s jump right in to see what we can learn about leading.
“Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at the time,” (Judges 4:4). In only the first verse introducing Deborah, we learn so much! She was a prophet. That means she was super spiritually connected to God and operated with discernment of people’s motives, the spiritual realm, and long-term ramifications for the future. Those qualities sound important.
The second thing we learn in her introduction is she was leading Israel. She had been given full authority over all the people, and she didn’t shy away from it. There didn’t seem to be a question about her being in charge. The people believed God had provided her as a leader, so they followed her. Next, we see her smooth skills in conflict resolution. “She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided,” (verse 5). How clever of her to mediate disputes under a palm tree in a beautiful area! (I would choose a beach, but that’s just me.) It looks like a peaceful setting can make a big difference in bringing people together. I also love that people came to her. Deborah was not chasing anything that hadn’t already been given to her.
In the next few verses, Deborah does some team building and selects a delegate to represent her in battle. Surrounding herself with smart people who have different sets of skills, she wisely sets her team up for success. Her military leader, Barak, respects her, and he refuses to go into battle without her coming along. Barak believes so strongly in Deborah’s favor with God, he says, “ If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me I won’t go,” (verse 8). At this point, Deborah doesn’t badmouth or belittle him, but instead shows a mutual respect and lets him keep his dignity. In a demonstration of unity, she decides to accompany him and 10,000 soldiers to the fight. During this process of empowering and mentoring Barak, Deborah reminds him God is in control.
Deborah displays her “activator” strength when she listens to God, and then says, “Go!” when the time is right. God did give Israel the win. In fact, not a single enemy was left standing. I like to be on the winning team, but I also respect a leader who can hear God’s voice above the clutter of opinions and can project a vision of victory that enables me to believe and follow willingly.
Later, we see Deborah and Barak singing a duet in celebration of what God has done for them and through them. Celebrate good times…Come on! While today’s leaders are busy pointing their fingers at themselves for credit and pointing at other people for bad things, Deborah pointed her nation toward God.
Deborah believed God, accepted authority, exercised discernment, valued people, empowered leaders, listened to God, loved peace, showed up when it was time to fight, and praised God.
And her story ends: “Then the land had peace for forty years.”