Under the Radar Leaders

A major theme of our gospel meeting this week is being a leader wherever and however you can. Not all can teach before mixed assemblies; not all can serve as elders; not all are the God-approved leaders of their family. That does not mean, however, that there is no leadership role for us to fulfill. Being a leader involves so much more than a formal appointment to some public role.

Rather, it involves using our God-given talents and skills to inspire, inform, stand upon principle, speak truth when others shrink, take initiative, be courageous in the face of danger, etc. Teens can do this; mothers of small children can do this; the mature in age can do this. And sometimes significant things are done for the Lord by those who receive little fanfare.

Scripture tends to focus on major players in the redemptive story, for it is an expansive overview rather than an exhaustive analysis. So here are some under the radar leaders whose efforts of the moment, though perhaps overlooked, were vital.

Obadiah. This is not the prophet Obadiah but the steward of the house of Ahab (1 Kgs 18). Though of high rank and a trusted royal servant, a synopsis of his service reads: “While Jezebel massacred the prophets of the Lord … Obadiah had taken one hundred prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and had fed them with bread and water” (18:4). Though we now read this in Scripture, at the time no one knew of his heroism – in fact, no one could know else Obadiah would be slain. Obadiah knew there were some things worth risking death.

Philemon. Based on references to Col 4:9, 17 and the mention of Onesimus and Archippus, it is conjectured that Philemon hosted the worship meetings of the Colossian church in his house (Phile 2). Further, Paul had “great consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother” (Phile 7). Other than this short epistle urging him to receive back his escaped slave – and now brother – Onesimus, nothing is known of Philemon. He is toiling away in a fairly nondescript town yet contributing to the kingdom by his hospitality and generosity.

The Seventy Elders. Moses, at the helm of a vast multitude of ungrateful, complaining people, finally reaches a breaking point (Num 11). He vents his frustration to God (11:11-15) whereupon God directs him to “gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them … they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone” (11:16-17). Note that these men were already wise and godly leaders before their selection. That is, they were not following the murmuring crowds but retained a sense of good judgment and regard for God. This is what qualified them to be officially recognized as adjunct leaders with Moses. Crucial as they were, they remain unnamed (except for Eldad and Medad).

Abraham’s Servant. Another unnamed but pivotal Bible character is the servant Abraham sent to find a wife for Isaac (Gn 24). His mission was crucial, for Isaac is now forty years old and God’s promise of an Abrahamic posterity must proceed through Isaac. Abraham refuses the prospect of a Canaanite daughter-in-law, so he sends his servant “to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son.” This is a journey of roughly 300 miles, and who does he choose for this arduous task? “The oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had” (24:2). This servant is a no-nonsense, task-oriented individual who had already proven his fitness by his everyday comportment. And what was his response to finding Rebekah? “And I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord God of my master Abraham, who had led me in the way of truth to take the daughter of my master’s brother for his son” (24:48).

The Women of Jesus’ Company. Luke notes that “the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities – Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance” (8:1-3). In spite of their diminished social status, here are women who are not deterred by injustice. They had been blessed by Jesus, and out of gratitude they were determined to assist him as they were able, including financially supporting Him.

Luke observes that after Jesus’ death “all His acquaintances, and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things … and the women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils … Now on the first day of the week … they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared …” (23:49, 55-56; 24:1). There is no record of the women being directed to do this; they proactively determined to care for the body of Jesus after the Sabbath. And perhaps they were distinctly suited to this since women would not be perceived as a threat and consequently arrested by the Jewish officials.

Do you see yourself as a leader? Are you leading from where you are? Or is it more comfortable to sit back and let others do the heavy lifting? Are you as a person truly fulfilled when your talents for God lie unfulfilled?