The idea of training or growth seem to be taken to two extremes. Some are overly fixated on training, especially formal training, hesitant to jump into any ministry until they feel adequately prepared, a day that all too often never seems to materialize. Then there are others that see training as completely unnecessary and even view it as a hindrance to the Holy Spirit. Sermons in Scripture are viewed as impromptu, inspired “on the fly” by the Holy Spirit. So there is a hesitancy to put too much work into preparation because it might hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. No need is seen to train for the pastorate or for the ministry. All that is needed is for us to jump in and figure things out as we are led by the Holy Spirit.
The story of David and Goliath is often referred to as evidence that training is unnecessary and a hindrance to ministry. There is a belief that those who are trained are unwilling to take the step of faith required for true ministry. The thought is that, although David was just a boy and untrained, he was willing to step out in faith, and because of this, he was successful in ministry. It was through the power of the Holy Spirit that he was able to kill the giant Goliath.
I think a closer look at the story will show that the victory was indeed the Lord’s, but it is a story where the Holy Spirit was working in conjunction with training, preparation, and proven ministry experience.
Saul the first king of Israel had failed. God had promised that the kingship would be removed from the line of Saul and that He would raise up a new leader after His own heart. The Lord tells Samuel to go and anoint a new king from the family of Jesse. Samuel looks through the sons of Jesse, but the Lord says no to all of them. Samuel says, "Are these all the children?" and Jesse says, “there remains yet the youngest, and behold, he is tending the sheep." David is chosen, being the least impressive child, of the most insignificant family, of the most insignificant tribe. When we think of the different churches in Tribe, this is closest to the way we view ourselves. Pretty insignificant from the outside, but hoping and praying that God will use us and let us enjoy working with Him.
After being anointed by Samuel, David apparently goes back to tending the sheep. Saul calls him into royal service as musician, but he goes back and forth between the royal court and tending his father’s sheep. Not much seems to have changed, until the day that we see his brothers entering into battle against the Philistines. David is left behind, but he ends up being sent by his father to get news of the battle and of the well-being of his brothers.
So far the story fits with the idea that our methods of evaluating qualified ministers and leaders often overlook the people God has truly called, a point that is all too often true. The one that is called may have to run back and forth between his job and his calling. The establishment may not see that one is called and best suited for the job. But it is often assumed that David simply sees a need, responds by jumping into the battle, and the victory is his. Nothing could be further from the truth. David does not jump into the battle; he patiently waits to be sent. This is a mark of David’s whole life. In this story he knows that he is called, but waits for Saul to send him out. Later on he knows that he is called, but waits for God to remove Saul.
In the story of David and Goliath, David goes to his brothers, and while he is there, Goliath comes out and begins to taunt the army of Israel. Goliath challenges them to send out a champion to do battle with him and settle the fight man to man. David sees that Saul and the armies of Israel “were dismayed and greatly afraid.” David hears the men of Israel saying, "Have you seen this man who is coming up? Surely he is coming up to defy Israel. And it will be that the king will enrich the man who kills him with great riches and will give him his daughter and make his father's house free in Israel." This was the kings plan to motivate the troops. It was a laughable plan, but nonetheless it was the king’s plan. David picks up on this plan and starts to work within the existing structure. He doesn’t come up with his own plan. He works within the context of the plan that that king has established, despite the fact that it has already proven to be a bad plan. David says to the men standing next to him, "What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should taunt the armies of the living God?" and the people answered him in accord with this word, saying, "Thus it will be done for the man who kills him." David does not just go off on his own, he believes that God will use him within the structure, even though it is marked by a failed plan of a failed ruler with a system of kingship that wasn’t God’s idea to begin with. God took the whole idea of a king over Israel as an affront. The structure was flawed, the plan was flawed, but David believed God could work with flawed people, plans and systems, and so David pursues a course in conjunction with the established structure.
Upon hearing David’s remarks his older brother begins to rebuke him, but David says, “What have I done now? Was it not just a question?” He continues to stir things up until finally Saul hears about it and sends for David. David says to Saul, “Let no man's heart fail on account of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Then Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant was tending his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and may the LORD be with you.”
David is not just blindly taking a leap of faith. He is clearly basing his decision on proven ministry experience. He is asking the establishment to look at proven experience, rather than credentials. David is arguing that despite the fact that he does not have a formal education he is indeed qualified and called to do this. It is not that David is unqualified, it is that he has different qualifications. He presents his experience, and Saul accepts it as valid. Now the truth is, whether Saul truly views it as equivalent is unknown, but nonetheless Saul does commission David. The effect of the sending renders the experience as equivalent, regardless of the inner thoughts.
David is sent to fight Goliath, but before he goes, the establishment tries to require that he first conform to their formal standards. “Then Saul clothed David with his garments and put a bronze helmet on his head, and he clothed him with armor. David girded his sword over his armor and tried to walk, for he had not tested them. So David said to Saul, 'I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.' And David took them off.” David’s experience was accepted, he was sent, but there was still this pressure to conform to the traditional standards. They were still trying to fit him into the system, a system that just didn’t fit David or the current situation.
David left the armor, took his sling, and went down to the brook and chose five smooth stones. It only took one stone to kill Goliath, so why did he need the other four? If God gave the victory, why did he need to bother taking the time to find smooth stones? Again it was not that David lacked training, that he had no experience, or that preparation was absent. That was the prevailing opinion of the institution. The experience was there, the training was there, and the preparation was there; it just looked a little different than what everyone was used to, but it turned out to be just as effective.
The final point of the story is something often left unsaid. In the very next chapter we see that Jonathan, Saul's son, “stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.” The fact is that David did not continue to fight all of his battles with a sling. David, along the way, learned to use the sword and armor. In fact, it would seem that the rest of his battles were more than likely fought with armor and a sword. David learned the formal method. He incorporated it into his training with the sling.
What we see is that training, preparation, learning, and growth were always a part of the life of David, but they were never prerequisites or they were never the root cause of good happening in his life. God was always the one giving success as a gift, but David’s participation ended up entailing or including things like training, preparation, learning, and growth. Sometimes that training, preparation, learning, and growth fit with common norms, and sometimes it clashed. But either way, it was always there because of the participation of people that need help, need growth, need to learn, and need forgiveness. That’s who we are and who we will always be.