I love any story in the Bible where a woman is the hero. The story of Deborah is one of my all-time favorites, because God has used it in my life over and over again to remind me of the realities of being a woman in leadership, and how that has been complicated since the very beginning.
Judges 4 tells us this story of Deborah:
Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’” Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” “Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh.
There’s an abundance of encouragement here – Deborah was an esteemed judge of the people of Israel, so much so that Barak comes to her asking and expecting to hear what the Lord had to say. She is known for his wisdom and strategy, and for being a person who listens and proclaims what God has to say.
Deborah throws it down in her conversation with Barak. She is a powerful woman in a big-time leadership role that she is clearly called and gifted for. And she calls out exactly what’s about to happen. From the mouth of a woman, she proclaims that Barak, the military leader, would not receive glory for the battle he was about to lead his troops into. At first, it sounds like Deborah is noting the glory she will receive for going into the battle with him, and that is partly the case. But, when you keep reading in Judges 4, you’ll find that Deborah the prophetess also saw ahead to Barak leading the army into a total annihilation of Sisera’s troops, but Sisera, the leader, flees on foot and has a nasty run-in with a woman named Jael. So Deborah proclaimed that one way or another, the glory of Sisera’s downfall would not be credited to Barak, and he is all for it.
This is an interesting picture of leadership; one that can bring great wisdom if we examine a few principles of leadership at work:
Leadership is proactive and takes initiative.
One of the most revolutionary things I’ve learned as a leader and a follower is that God is never passive. He doesn’t wait around hoping that things will work out His way. He speaks, He acts, He moves, and He sacrifices without condition on my action. That’s something so vitally different and unique about our God. He is patient and loving, and always proactive.
In the story we read about Deborah, we recognize her taking initiative more than once, sending for Barak, speaking words of encouragement and action, and realize that this story would have been very different if she weren’t present, courageous, and action-oriented.
It can be so easy as a leader to be passive and wait for what comes your way. I battle against this daily, and as a Christian leader have been convinced that as I follow and try to emulate Christ, I must reflect this quality of His initiative in love for His people, and do that for those I lead, as well. It means calling someone when they are on your mind, it means thinking ahead and considering obstacles, and it means acting in faith when I would rather just wait and see.
Leadership is an ongoing process.
Deborah didn’t just give Barak some pointers and then send him on his way. In fact, she gives the vital gametime encouragement in 4:14, the final encouragement for the battle – “Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?””
It would be so much easier to be a leader if I could just tell people what to do once in a while, and then let them figure the rest out. But leadership is about relationship, and relationship is all about process and growth. We walk alongside people in their lives, and help them discern the path and keep their eyes forward. So many of us, myself included, wouldn’t be where we are today if there hadn’t been people in ongoing positions in our lives that helped us follow Jesus well.
Leadership requires diversely gifted groups of people.
Deborah had wisdom and leadership to offer Barak that he couldn’t succeed without. Barak needed direction and guidance to complete the task he had been called to. And (spoiler alert!) the final hero of the story, who takes out the menacing opposing military leader, Sisera, was a regular lady doing a regular job, who had the shrewdness of mind and the courage of soul to take care of a problem that literally dropped on her doorstep. If anyone in the story was too proud to accept the help of those other characters, this would have been a very different narrative.
More and more I’m learning that instead of being threatened by those around me with different (read: “better”) gifts, I must embrace the differences in those around me and recognize that God works His good purposes with a variety of instruments. Without the diversity of the gifts, we cannot accomplish the tasks and battles that have been set before us.
How might we recognize our own leadership and the leadership of others with a more Godly perspective? How can we better recognize the truths of leadership in our unique circumstances in a way that would lead us to trust God more, to wait on Him in the process, and to respect the diversity of giftings that we are surrounded with? As we receive God’s proactive, reckless love, may we in turn show that love to others in a revolutionary way, and be the kind of leader that Deborah was!
ABOUT SARAH ROSE LOCHELT
Sarah Rose Lochelt is a Southern-California native who is passionate about the power of communication and the connection that happens through conversation, especially when there is coffee involved. She is a pastor in the LA area and loves to write and speak about the lies of shame, the truth of grace, and the freedom that comes from relating authentically to one another, especially for women in the church. She always has at least one book to read in her purse, is infamous for making silly faces at babies in public, and could live on pizza for every meal.