Each village or settlement has a chief or headman. Some of our United Church of God members have been and are chiefs or headmen. In one case, one of our ladies acted as chief of her community while her husband was studying abroad.
The chief structure in various African cultures is very important. Chiefs took care of various local civil necessities, often resolving property issues and disputes. Chiefs also allocate land to the inhabitants. In Zambia we have a few church buildings built on land “given” to us by a chief. Chiefs also resolved minor violations—judging what we would consider in the United States a small claims court.
In one locale Bev and I asked about how a chief was chosen.
The answer was interesting. The women of the village decided who would become the next chief. “Why was that?” we asked. The answer was that many of the women were mothers of the candidates for chief. They understood best the nature and temperament of the men because they had known them since they were little boys. Their nature from childhood was an indicator of what they would be like as adults, and more importantly, as community leaders. The women would gather and discuss who would be selected. What characteristics defined this new village leader? Was he kind? Did he have a temper? Was he truthful or deceptive? Manipulative? Compassionate or cruel? Was he self-promoting or humble? Selfish or generous? Was he a bully? Negative traits could carry into adulthood and not bode well for a future leader.
Personal characteristics would be discussed among the women who knew the nature of the candidates best. The candidate who was most charming and charismatic was not always the best choice.
How do we judge who the best leaders are for the Church within our congregations? While we ask for God’s will and judgment to be evident, He delegates to us a voice in the process.
Good and Bad Choices
The first king of Israel was chosen among a hoopla of public rallying for a charismatic, charming leader. Read about what distinguished Saul and brought the acclaim of the people:
“There was not a more handsome person than [Saul] among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people” (1 Samuel 9:2 1 Samuel 9:2And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.
American King James Version×). Saul was impressive! He probably exuded a persuasive, self-confident demeanor and the people loved it. They made him the first king of Israel against the advice of Samuel. But he was a failure as king. He had huge cracks in his character that undid his monarchy. God had to reject him as king of Israel. He didn’t obey God’s instructions, but followed idols and even dabbled in witchcraft. The sad consequences surround the story of Saul.
By contrast the next king of Israel was David. His story is told in I Samuel 16. David was an unlikely candidate among his brothers, the broad-shouldered sons of Jesse. David was only brought forward after the other sons didn’t qualify. This statement says it all about how God at us: “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 1 Samuel 16:7But the LORD said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.
American King James Version×).
In spite of very obvious mistakes and sins in David’s life, he was remarkable in his relationship to God. In Acts 13:22 Acts 13:22And when he had removed him, he raised up to them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, which shall fulfill all my will.
American King James Version×we read God’s assessment: “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.” David was courageous, he loved God’s law, he was ever-thankful in whatever state that he was in. These inner characteristics are what made David a great king.
How do we choose our “village chiefs?” Those who have responsibilities within our Church? Is it on outward appearance and show, or is it based on the inner person? As we look at the qualifications for an elder in I Timothy 3, we see that God is looking for those who are not hot-tempered, not greedy for money, but hospitable, self-controlled, humble, gentle, sober-minded. Sometimes charisma can mask undesirable qualities, but these are the ones that we should be aware of first.
We learned an important lesson about how the village chief was chosen in a rural Malawi community. It’s an important lesson for us as we consider our future chiefs and servants in the church.