King David is one of those historic characters who can be venerated as an able leader and diminished as a moral hypocrite at the same time. There seems to be not a few of those in contemporary life as well. Harkening back to King David to talk about leadership may seem like an unnecessary history detour.
However, David, like other leaders with mixed reviews, did have many remarkable traits. He made some tough decisions. He listened for God’s voice. He was loyal.
One of David’s most remarkable accomplishments was his decision to move the home base of the people of Israel to Jerusalem. Moving to Jerusalem was the beginning of a new era for the Israelites and for David’s leadership. Jerusalem was not territory belonging to any of the twelve tribes. It was neutral. Jerusalem had other advantages: like its dependable water supply and its location on a hill, protected on all sides by valleys and roads.
As important as the move to Jerusalem was, David's true genius lay not in the physical move but the spiritual one. David chose to make Jerusalem both the physical home of the Israelites and their spiritual home. He did this by transferring the beloved ark to Jerusalem.
The ark was the most sacred object for the people of Israel. It was not aligned with a particular tribe but rather with the people as a whole. Its origin dated back to those all-important years in the wilderness. It was the most important symbol of God's presence with the people. With the ark in Jerusalem, the city became holy and a center of Israel’s unity as a people.
Some years ago, a clergy friend of mine was instrumental in setting a new cornerstone to his church building. There was no new construction. The building had not been remodeled. Rather, the church had determined that the original cornerstone had been faulty. It wasn’t an issue with engineering. It was a spiritual fault line that needed correcting. This congregation had been founded in the 1960s on the edge of a metropolitan area that was experiencing the difficulties of desegregation and urban flight. Three inner-city congregations decided to leave the city and found a new church, Trinity, in what was then considered the edge of town. Over thirty years later, under the direction of a visionary leader, the church decided it could not serve authentically (in a now fully multiracial neighborhood) as long as it was grounded in its original cornerstone. A new one, marking a new dream for God’s people on that block and in that neighborhood, needed to be set. And it was.
As leaders, we must know when it is time to relocate. As King David shows, relocation is as much a matter of the heart as it is the body. As my clergy friend was all too aware, physical space can reflect historical barriers. Those barriers become spiritual hindrances to growth.
What would you consider an “ark” in your congregation or work place? What is sacred to those who live or work or worship with you?
Now consider what divides your organization. Is it space or territory? Is it historical power or leadership? Is it office space? Is it money?
King David’s goal was to unify the people of Israel. He determined that at least two necessary items were key to that unification: neutral territory and a home for the ark. My clergy friend and his congregation desired authentic ministry unfettered by a soiled history. They knew a redefinition of the heart of that church’s “trinity” was key to making that authentic, inclusive ministry happen.
What is the purpose of your congregation or organization? What things must be relocated in order to make that happen? Where will you place the ark?
Cynthia Weems is senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Miami, Florida.