Buried within the heap of the laborious genealogies of the Old Testament’s Chronicles, lies a verse that requires elaboration. The sons of Ulam are mentioned in 1 Chronicles 8:40 and unfortunately we don’t even know their names. What we do know is that between Ulam and his two brothers they had a total of 150 sons and grandsons. That’s certainly a family of significance, but what is spoken of the sons of Ulam is even more remarkable.
“The sons of Ulam were brave warriors who could handle the bow.” 1 Chr. 8:40
Big deal, huh? Perhaps you’re thinking that this verse is in obscurity for a reason! I believe, however that this simple verse contains two concepts that are vital for Christian leadership: courage and competency.
Courage – A Work of Heart
An underlying characteristic in many of our biblical leaders is courage in the face of fear and potential failure. Consider the lives of Moses, Gideon, David, Paul and certainly Jesus. Each walked with a sense of courage. They were brave. They were mighty. Of course, each displayed their humanity. Moses questioned God’s plan. Gideon put out the fleece. David cowered in the caves. Even Jesus faced the cross with the cry, “Father, if it be your will, let this pass!” And yet we see so often a deep, abiding courage that resonates within God-fearing, Spirit-filled leaders.
The sons of Ulam were called brave, mighty warriors. We, as leaders, are challenged to walk in a similar level of courage. Like Joshua we can hear the voice of the Lord say be “strong and courageous, for I will be with you wherever you go.” Courage is rooted in that reassuring word from the Lord because one cannot simply pull courage out of thin air. For the believer, we trust in the one who is in us, and that he is truly greater than anything the world can put up against us. Therefore, our courage is never a show of our muscle – it is a display of Gods strength made perfect in our weakness.
Courage is much needed in our churches and Christian organizations. It’s needed in the pastorate and in the pulpit. It’s needed in the decision-making process undertaken by a church board. It’s needed in our youth ministries, and in the care for our children and babies. It’s needed in our outreach ventures and in our worship expression.
What does courage look like in a ministry context? Is it sheer bravado that often neglects the emotional concerns of the congregation? Is it strong-handed leadership that demands blind allegiance? Is courage merely an outward display of quick decision-making and reckless abandon? I fear that in many cases these descriptors are more than accurate – often leaving followers in a wake of hurt, distrust and confusion spurring from the leaders flexing muscle all in the name of ‘courage.’
What is true courage then? I believe we find some clues from the life of David in scripture. Psalm 72:70-72 tells us that the Lord “chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance.” The passage goes on to describe David as one who “shepherded them with integrity of heart.”
Integrity of heart: these three words contain the essence of what is true courage. Whereas, muscle and meanness (which are often characteristics touted as courage) leave the leader with little energy and the follower with little joy, integrity of heart is a holistic approach to courage. The leader ministering out of integrity of heart will function with courage – true, Godly courage.
This kind of courage has little to nothing to do with ministry context. Integrity of heart can be displayed in the sheep pens (small ministry) and in palace (big ministry). David had courage both in the care of his sheep and then as he became the leader of the people of Israel. We see this so often in the Old Testament writings. He faced the lions and the bears that threatened the sheep within his care. He then took on Goliath when others ran in fear. Later as King he courageously shepherded Israel with integrity of heart. I believe you’ll lead as you’ve led. Many in smaller ministries say, ‘I’ll really be effective when I get into a larger context of ministry.” Courage is courage regardless of whether it is fleshed out in the sheep pens or the palace.
Remember though, integrity does not mean perfection. We know that quite well from the life of David. He was far from perfect! But, interestingly, the Bible calls him a ‘man after God’s own heart’ – a description of one endeavoring to walk in integrity, but, like so many of us, falling short at times. And boy do we fall short. What we find in times of sin and failure is similar to what David found – a breakdown of integrity and a subsequent breakdown of…courage.
Integrity and courage are intertwined. The former affects the latter. As leaders, when we are lacking in integrity we will invariably discover a season in which courage diminishes as well. A close examination of 2 Samuel will affirm this. From David not going to battle like he should have, to the failure of addressing insubordination with Absalom, to the misstep of counting his fighting men, we see a series of leadership blunders flowing from a lack of courage, which finds its origin in the heart.
So, courage is a work of the heart. Will you allow the Lord to always have access to that area? The key to courage is integrity. That is an inside job – and the Lord is good at it!
Competency – The Work of our Hands
In 1 Chronicles 8, the sons of Ulam were referred to not only as brave warriors (courage), but also as ones who could “handle the bow.” They were well known as archers. The only way you become ‘well known’ for something is if you have invested a great deal of time in order to become proficient at that particular skill set. We can all think of people that have abilities that are above and beyond. Perhaps it’s an excellent musician. Think about incredible sports figures and brilliant authors. We can listen to a communicator expound upon a topic with diligence and grace, and marvel at the care and craftsmanship of a home well built. All of these are examples of competency.
Competency is the second concept that is vital for Christian leadership. Competency can be learned and developed. Like a student that progresses in his or her studies, ministers must be ‘life-long learners’ – continually broadening and deepening leadership competencies.
We see this model in Jesus’ development of his disciples. Bill Hybels writes in his landmark work, Courageous Leadership: “After Jesus identified all twelve, he very quickly moved into an intense time of investing into their lives. He spent time with them. He taught them. He nurtured them. He confronted them. He motivated them. He rebuked them. He inspired them. Then months later, when he knew the time was right…he entrusted them with real ministry responsibility and coached them into effectiveness. His plan worked marvelously and it’s worth emulating.” Jesus aggressively helped his disciples grow in ministry competency, therefore supporting the notion that skills can be learned and honed. The sons of Ulam weren’t born with the ability to handle a bow – that had to be developed over time and with intentionality.
How intentional are we at developing our leadership skills? Do we listen to our own preaching and make necessary adjustments? Do we read a variety of authors and styles in order to stretch us intellectually? Do we glean from the wisdom of Godly individuals in an effort to learn from the mistakes of others rather than making them for ourselves! New competencies are discovered as well as old competencies enhanced in the process. The benefit for the Kingdom is great as leaders function with not only courage but also with competency.
David again illustrates this in Psalm 72. It states, he “shepherded them with integrity of heart and with skillful hands he led them.” Early on we discover the “son of Jesse is a talented harp player” (1 Samuel 16:18). This passage also couples competency with courage as it goes on to say that “he is brave and strong and has good judgment.”
“Skillfulness of hands” indicates an ability or capacity for excellence. Our churches today are desperate for leaders that continue to hone their skills in order to lead the Body of Christ effectively in this generation. Be quick to remember though that courage and competency go together. How often have we seen ministries that are full of fire and passion and yet sloppy and careless with people? As well, how often have we seen ministries that are polished and flawless in execution and yet when pressed they reveal a lack of integrity immediately below the surface?
Both are necessary: integrity of heart and skillfulness of hands. Heart and hands. Peanut Butter and Jelly. Peas and carrots. Courage and competency must go hand in hand. Bravery and the ability to handle a bow – that’s what gave the sons of Ulam a long-standing place in the Chronicles. What will your place be?
John Fehlen serves as the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. He digs his wife Denise and their four kids. Check out his blog at www.johnfehlen.com.