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But now your kingdom shall not continue. 1Sam. 13:14 

Perceived kingdoms are difficult to relinquish…

It’s the tendency of church leaders who seek to establish and develop their personal kingdoms to struggle with letting go of their claim. So it was with Saul, Israel’s first king, and perhaps with church leaders generally. I know this reality personally, and I’ve observed this struggle in countless church leaders who I would describe as good men. It’s the nature of kings and kingdoms. Men like Saul don’t have a monopoly, and men like David are not immune. The above quoted words of Samuel to Saul are presumably familiar as is the immediate context of Saul’s offering of a sacrifice in violation of the law in preparation for war with the Philistines. It’s the back-story that we should revisit.

It’s the tendency of church leaders who seek to establish and develop their personal kingdoms to struggle with letting go of their claim.

When Samuel reached the winter of his life, he sought to establish his sons as rulers (judges) over Israel. This was inappropriate because Samuel’s sons were corrupt [1 Sam. 8:1-5], and the authority was not Samuel’s to give. Samuel has a generally sparkling record before God and man as a godly, reverent leader, despite his corrupt sons. Yet, even Samuel discovered perceived kingdoms are difficult to relinquish.

God’s ideal was a theocracy where He would rule over his people unlike any other nation. They would be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation where God would speak guidance through His word and prophets. Judges were raised up by God to temporarily lead in times of crisis, but were not called to rule a kingdom, much less pass one on to their sons. Thus Gideon declared that neither he, nor his son, would rule over Israel for the Lord was to rule over them [Judges 8:23].

Israel rejected Samuel’s corrupt sons and declared its desire for a king like the other nations [1Sam. 8:5]. It’s understandable why the people did not want Samuel’s sons to rule and it may even appear reasonable why they asked for a king, but it was wrong. Not only was it wrong in the sense that they sought a monarchy that would be inferior to the theocracy, but also the nation acted as if the right to rule the kingdom was theirs to decide. They did not say, “We don’t want your sons! We want God to rule over us!” Their declaration that they were entitled to a king was a claim to authority over the Kingdom [Theocracy]. We recognize that the people were acting carnally in rejecting God, but we may not understand that the carnality of the people was a catalyst for the carnality of the king and reinforced his claim to something that belonged to God.

…kings are interested in their kingdoms and misappropriate resources that God intended for His Kingdom to benefit His people.

God was willing to give the people over to the desire of their hearts and provide a king, but first Samuel would warn them of the behavior of the king(s) who would rule over them [1Sam. 8:7-18]. The essence of the extended warning is this: kings are interested in their kingdoms and misappropriate resources that God intended for His Kingdom to benefit His people. This warning applies to all kings – it’s the nature of a personal kingdom. Arguably, some kings are better than others in their role as stewards of God’s resources because they are more sensitive to God’s voice. Nevertheless all kings take resources, because it’s the nature of kingdoms for two obvious reasons. First, kingdoms require a bureaucracy that usually requires significant resource to support, unlike a theocracy. Second, kings seek to establish, develop, and preserve a legacy. A king wants to provide a great legacy for his heirs to rule and expand. After all, the greater the legacy, the greater the king, right? This dynamic creates pressure to accumulate and maintain resources for our kingdom, making assets unavailable for God’s Kingdom. We are stewards of God’s resources, not kings.

Despite the prophetic warnings the people rejected God [the theocracy] and He gave them what they wanted a king – and that is what they got – a king like all the other nations. A man not submitted to God. Saul started well but relatively soon the above noted indictment came, But now your kingdom shall not continue [1Sam. 13:14]. Then the indictment would issue again for Saul’s failure to submit to God regarding the judgment of the Amalekites – He has rejected you from being king. Samuel reiterated the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel [1Sam. 15:23, 26]. Finally the prophet declared, The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, better than you [1Sam. 15:29] (emphasis added).

Although the kingdom had been taken from Saul that day he continued to cling and refused to relinquish his perceived kingdom for about thirty years until his death. As it became clear that David was a rival to the throne – that David was the anointed one of whom Samuel spoke – Saul continued to cling. Saul even attempted to murder his rival on multiple occasions. Perceived kingdoms are difficult to relinquish. Putting aside that Saul was willing to murder to cling to something that belonged to God, don’t miss the underlying principle. Despite repeated admonitions that the Kingdom did not belong to him Saul refused to relinquish his claim to authority over God’s resources. Saul went to his grave clinging and refused to learn the lesson that the Kingdom belongs to God.

How can church leaders be like kings who are interested in their kingdoms and misappropriate resources that God intended for His Kingdom to benefit His people? For example consider the desire for a permanent building for the local church to gather in. Let me preface my comments by noting that there is nothing wrong with having a permanent home and it can be a very good initiative. But consider some of the usual dynamics involved in the process. There is a sense among many church leaders that more people will be attracted to the local church if there is a permanent home, and the nicer the building the more attractive it will be. In many parts of the globe, and especially in developed countries, immense sums are paid for building projects. These often include relatively huge sums for technology including lighting, sound systems, projection systems, video, computers, transmitting and recording equipment, etc. Suffice it to say that we have really just scratched the surface of the furniture, fixtures, and equipment costs related to these facilities. People are needed to oversee the systems, facilities, and operation of the church building. In addition the facilities must be maintained. This “kingdom” requires a bureaucracy to support the infrastructure. The associated expenses needed to maintain the kingdom typically escalate significantly.

…there is a desire to develop the legacy and then ensure that it’s maintained.

Then the new church building does attract more people and the legacy expands. Generally, there is a desire to develop the legacy and then ensure that it’s maintained. This dynamic creates pressure to accumulate and maintain resources that are consolidated and thus arguably unavailable for the people of the Kingdom. Just as the people were acting carnally in rejecting God [exchanging the theocracy for a monarchy] they may be acting carnally in seeking (requiring) a luxurious campus to gather for the purpose of worshiping God. And the carnality of the people can be a catalyst for the carnality of church leaders since it tends to reinforce their claim to something that belongs to God (His Kingdom resources). Perceived kingdoms are difficult to relinquish.

Again there is certainly nothing wrong with a church building per se or a nice campus. The problem is arguably the extent, the consolidation, and the assumption that church leaders have a claim to God’s resources to the degree that they often assert. The same issues arise when programs are established developed and expanded independent of building projects. Buildings are not the problem in and of themselves. The root of the problem relates to the wrong attitude towards God’s resources. A transition to Kingdom leadership would appear to require the reallocation of resources towards greater Kingdom availability. This transition flows from applying the principle that the Kingdom belongs to God. It’s only the genuine understanding of this principle that allows us to relinquish the kingdom to the rightful King.

This transition flows from applying the principle that the Kingdom belongs to God.

Jonathan never asserted a claim to a kingdom and consistently lived the principle that the Kingdom belonged to God. Jonathan was Saul’s firstborn son and thus the likely successor to his father’s throne and kingdom. He is a man of courage and valor noted for his military accomplishments [1Sam. 13-14]. His faith in God is reflected in his first recorded words, Come let us go over to the Philistine’s garrison that is on the other side … it may be that the Lord will work for us for nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few [1Sam. 14:6]. Jonathan’s resolve to live the truth that the Kingdom belonged to God was demonstrated by his last recorded words, Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that [1Sam. 23:16-17].

Saul recognized that Jonathan had chosen to loyally support David as God’s appointed leader and rebuked his son for not taking his kingdom Do I not know that you are choosing the son of Jesse to your own shame and the shame of your mother’s nakedness? For as long as a son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established [1Sam. 20:30-31]. But Jonathan resisted Saul’s carnal urgings and the temptations of his own flesh; and refused to assert a claim to the throne because he understood that he could not establish his kingdom in contravention to God’s Kingdom. Jonathan is an ideal example because he never asserted a claim over God’s Kingdom resources.

…recognize that we are stewards of God’s resources and not kings.

Lord willing you discover and live this lesson before you try to establish your personal kingdom. Yet for many of us we have established and developed a personal kingdom and are struggling to relinquish our claim. We may have had good and seemingly noble motives but now we find ourselves supporting a bureaucracy and attempting to preserve a legacy that keeps us clinging to Kingdom resources. What is the antidote for this dilemma? We must choose to receive the admonishment but now your kingdom shall not continue. We recognize that we are stewards of God’s resources and not kings. The steward relationship requires us to allocate God’s resources consistent with His declared values.

How does the church (or individual) allocate resources? Most church budgets commit a very large percentage of financial resources to personnel (e.g. payroll, taxes, benefits) and facilities (e.g. rent mortgage or outright purchase, utilities, maintenance). It’s not unusual in my experience to see these costs at over seventy-five percent of the budget. In addition the cost to operate various programs consume a considerable portion of the typical church budget. These include but are not limited to children’s ministry, youth ministry, outreach to support the local church, and supplies. Unfortunately, these budget allocations result in a scarcity of resources available for Kingdom initiatives that are focused beyond the local church.

Another way that resources can become unavailable for Kingdom initiatives relates to church leaders’ pet projects. Every church leader has a sense of certain ministry projects activities or goals that they feel called to or are a personal favorite. Developing a skate park to reach teens, a youth center, or a pregnancy center are all good initiatives that arguably align completely with Kingdom leader values. Nevertheless, Kingdom leadership requires leaders to count the cost. Consider how the proposed initiative consolidates resources so that they are no longer available for other Kingdom uses. Then determine whether the initiative is justified in light of the impact on the Kingdom.

Kingdom leaders choose to relinquish their hold on God’s resources and reallocate them increasingly towards Kingdom initiatives.

For example consider how much resource has been allocated and prioritized for Kingdom initiatives such as: global missions, benevolence, church planting, building a Christian school or orphanage in a developing country, para-church organizations, or reaching unengaged or unreached people groups (think e.g. 10/40 window not evangelism at the nearby college campus). Kingdom leaders choose to relinquish their hold on God’s resources and reallocate them increasingly towards Kingdom initiatives. It will require abdicating your personal kingdom, and making Kingdom choices regarding resources. Then you will need to follow through to ensure those choices result in Kingdom actions.

 

Lifework:

  1. How can church leaders be like kings who are interested in their kingdoms and misappropriate resources that God intended for His Kingdom to benefit His people?
  1. How are you presently allocating resources (time talent and treasure) that God has called you to steward? Review your budget as part of this exercise.
  1. How can you reallocate your resources to reflect Kingdom values? How will you prioritize those Kingdom choices to ensure resources are actually used consistent with Kingdom values?