Three Leaders in Transition: David, Saul, and Jonathan

Casey pointed me to a document by Andrew Strom, which is helpful in considering leadership in this transitional place. Jonathan is the figure of interest, because he is the young transitional leader; he is the one whose loyalty is divided. He is caught between Saul and David, between one leadership paradigm and another. To make a huge jump, he can be seen as the young leader caught between the traditional (or inherited), attractional church and the missional-emerging church. (See Stuart Murray, Church After Christendom).

Like Andrew I see these young leaders at risk: at risk for discouragement and burnout, risk of misunderstanding, risk of rejection, risk of confusion etc. And as always, the more gifted of them are at greater risk, because they face not only the task of attempting to bridge two worlds but also the jealousy of established leaders who may resent the opportunity afforded these young leaders. They see passion and commitment, and they see gifts that connect with the need and an understanding of the times. It can be hugely challenging to established leaders who have had success and recognition in ministry to watch young leaders suddenly rise up with new insight and new vision that is so evidently right for the times. The challenge for established leaders is to release and empower young leaders - to get beneath them and lift them up so they can accomplish all that God has called them to accomplish. Or as Earl Creps put it, the challenge is to “pass on the baton” and pass it on well (Creps, Off-Road Disciplines).

Here is Andrew..

“You will no doubt remember how Jonathan, who was Saul’s son, had a tremendous devotion and love for David. They were like brothers. While Saul went about trying to kill David, Jonathan was doing his best to quietly protect and help him. I believe that there are quite a number of leaders and ministries around the world today who are just like Jonathan … they are caught between their allegiance to the existing order, and their affinity with the new ministries - the ‘Davids’. They want to be part of the renewal that God is sending, but they are too attached to the old system and the old ways to really let go.

“This is a very dangerous position to be in - although Jonathan was a friend of David’s, he was killed on the same battlefield and on the same day that Saul was killed. Jonathan never got to see the new work God was doing.

“Jonathan was the “heir apparent” (ie. the `obvious’ choice to lead Israel in the new era, when Saul was gone). I believe that many of today’s “Jonathans” are also like this. They are the seemingly ‘obvious’ new leaders of today - the kind of faithful men [and women] who preach on fundamental issues, but in an “acceptable” kind of way. Many of them are prophetic, but they fit into the current set-up just a little too well. They have a reputation to uphold in the existing system, and they can be trusted not to say anything too radical, or to rock today’s “Laodicean” boat too hard.”

I think there is genuine insight here, but also simplification. There is more work to be done in looking at the biblical story. Andrew is right in seeing Jonathan as a transitional figure, and one who is devoted to two very different worlds. But I wonder.. would it have been right of Jonathan to abandon his father? Or did he make the best of a bad situation, walking with integrity in loving and helping David, and loving and remaining loyal to -- but not assisting -- his father.

Consider the issue in broader terms, as the transition from one paradigm and movement to a new one. Others have wisely pointed out that, "paradigms don't build on one another, they replace each other." We have a different biblical story to consider: the arrival of Jesus, and the transitional figure of John the Baptist.

John has a unique relationship to the old world and the new. He honors each world uniquely. He does not step clearly into the new world, but instead dies with the old one. Yet this wasn’t because of any insufficiency or failing in him. There is NO indication in Scripture that his choice was wrong, but rather every indication that he fulfilled his call.

John is not part of the old order, and doesn’t live to see the new one. His relation to old and new is unique in that he stands on the threshold of the new world with anticipation, but honors the old world. In obedience to his call he doesn’t enter the new world but dies with the old. In this sense he is different than other transitional leaders. He is different than Joshua, who left the old world behind, and also different than Moses, who didn’t enter the new world because of disobedience. He is more like Jonathan, honoring both worlds and engaging each in his own way.

Closing thoughts..

* John pointed to the new world while honoring the old.
* John would have loved to enter the new world, but that was not his call. His call was to prepare God’s people to enter.
* Joshua entered the new world, and left the old completely behind. Joshua is not a transitional figure so much as the new church leader
* Jonathan stood between the two worlds, was a friend of the new but not its herald
* David grew out of the old world and honored it, but stands as a leader in the new
* Saul creates a unique problem, and represents the old leader who is afraid of losing power. Young leaders who relate to a Saul are at great risk
* along comes Jesus and offers a completely new paradigm of leadership..

For more on leadership and transition go to the RESOURCES page..

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