In I Samuel 24-28, we read about a major set of events in David’s relationship with King Saul. It was a rocky relationship at best. Saul’s roller-coaster personality did not lend itself to stable interactions, particularly with someone he found as threatening as David. The accolades of the people, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands,” only increased the King’s insecurities. Saul tried to kill David often enough that David had to flee from his homeland, finding it safer to live among the Philistines rather than in Saul’s Israel.
Twice during this period, David had the chance to kill Saul. Although Saul failed in all his attempts to kill David, David simply refused to kill Saul even though occasions presented themselves. One of the scenes is genuinely comical with Saul’s vulnerability shown while he used the bathroom. His defenses and his pants were down. David could have stabbed him while in the cave, but did not.
After refusing to take the opportunity to kill Saul, David’s words are often described as noble, “I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.” Was David simply righteous? Subsequent history would say “no.”
David was a political creature. He understood better than most of his contemporaries the dynamics involved in the transition of Israel from a tribal confederacy to a kingdom ruled by a monarch. David saw that his actions set precedents that would become part of Israel’s culture.
If David slayed the monarch, then others could justify slaying him when he took the throne. It was much wiser for David to weave respect for the “Lord’s Anointed” into the fabric of Israel’s culture than for him to institute regicide as a practice sanctioned by the king himself.
What does this story have to do with church culture? Our combined actions shape the culture of our community of faith. Or more directly put: unless challenged, the way we treat others becomes an accepted way we can expect to be treated in the future. The way we function in a crisis today becomes the accepted way to function in future crises.
This dynamic is particularly important in disagreements. Many congregations have at least one chapter in their history when someone resorted to anonymous mail during a controversy. Is that the way you want your church to decide issues? Remember, the tactics you sanction today can be used against you.
If a controversial congregational vote is pending, how do you attempt to achieve your desired outcome? If you try to stack the meeting with people who will vote with you, that tactic may become an accepted part of your church’s culture. Someone may stack the meeting against you the next time. Do you want a culture of discussion and consensus building, or a culture of “who can get out the vote.”
David shows us that the actions we utilize, accept, or tolerate become part of our individual congregational cultures. He shows us that how we do things in our churches is as important as the decisions we make, the policies we implement, or the actions we take. He would not take the throne by force because he did not want to legitimize force as a way for an adversary to dethrone him in the future. Yes, Absalom tried that route, but the nation resisted it because force was not an accepted way for a king to take the throne in Israel.
If you think the outcome of a church action is more important than the way the outcome is achieved, you need to read the gospels again. Jesus would not turn stones to bread or worship Satan to become the prince of this world. He would not forsake the cross to try to save us another way. How he became the Savior is as important as being the Savior.
How the followers of Christ function is as important as claiming Christ.
The Center for Healthy Churches assists churches to develop processes that honor Christ and strategies for ministry that accomplish Christ’s purpose in the world. We believe that how churches do things is as important as what they do.