Society & Politics

Leadership Lessons from the Life of David - Part 1: Who Will Be Leader?


Preston Manning, Senior Fellow

This article is the first in a series by Preston Manning on leadership lessons from the life of the biblical David. A member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, founder of two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Allianceand the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000, Preston works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy.

He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheep-pens;
from tending the sheep he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
of Israel his inheritence.
And David shepherded them with integrity of heart;
with skillful hands he led them.
(Psalm 78:70-72)

Providential Leading

In an earlier study entitled "Faith and Politics: Lessons from Moses”[1] we examined the concept of “providential positioning” – how Moses was uniquely positioned by God to play a leadership role in liberating Israel from Egypt by virtue of his princely position in Pharaoh’s household while still being in contact, through his mother, with his Hebrew heritage.

The early life of David, however, suggests a different aspect of providential positioning and leading. In David’s case there was very little in terms of family positioning or visible circumstances that would lead anyone – even the spiritually perceptive Samuel – to believe that the shepherd boy David could become a future King of Israel.

Like Samuel, in seeking whom God may have in mind for political and spiritual leadership, we need to be reminded that He “does not look on the things that man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) And what the Lord sees and does there – especially if He perceives a yielded and contrite heart – can lead a shepherd (David) to the throne of Israel, a slave (Joseph) to become Prime Minister of Egypt, and a teenage exile (Daniel) to become the First Minister of Babylon.

Personal Experience

In the case of my own family, which has been involved in provincial (Alberta) and federal politics in Canada since the 1930s, we have experienced both kinds of leading with respect to political involvement.

My father, Ernest C. Manning, served in the Alberta legislature for 33 years (1935 to 1968), 25 of those as Premier. I was therefore born into a political family which gave me an advantageous background from which to later enter federal politics where I was engaged as a member of Canada’s federal Parliament from 1993 to 2002.

But in my father’s case, there was very little in his family background or circumstances to ever suggest a successful political career, let alone a career at the interface of faith and politics.[2]

Born on a Saskatchewan homestead on the Canadians prairies, my father’s primary and formative education was received “from the land.” His parents were hard-working pioneers, nominally Christian but with little “personal dimension” to their faith. My father’s formal education, received in a one-room schoolhouse, ended at Grade 8. The family had only enough money to send one son (his older brother) to university, so the two younger boys had to remain on the farm to help make ends meet.

Ernest’s life, however, changed dramatically in the 1920s when he and his brother ordered a crystal set radio from a mail-order catalogue and listened to their first radio broadcast. It “just happened to be” a religious program directed by William Aberhart – a Calgary high school principal and Christian layman who pioneered religious (and later political) radio broadcasting in Western Canada.

Aberhart was an evangelical who believed in the necessity of a spiritual new birth through a personal commitment of one’s life to Jesus Christ if one was to be rightly related to God and serve Him in this world. As a result of Aberhart’s exposition of the Scriptures, particularly the 3rd chapter of John’s gospel, my father made such a personal commitment – adopting as his life’s guide these words from the Book of Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:4-6)

When Aberhart later opened an institute for the training of ministers in Calgary, my father enrolled as a student and soon became Aberhart’s administrative assistant. By this time the Canadian Prairies were locked in the throes of the Great Depression with hundreds of farms and businesses thrown into bankruptcy and thousands of men (including many of Aberhart’s former students) “riding the rails” in a vain search for work.

Appalled by the magnitude and duration of this economic and social disaster, Aberhart began to study the causes of the Depression. He became convinced that it could be remedied in part by applying the principles of “social credit” – a primitive form of Keynesian economics which maintained that a stalled economy could be kick-started by governments expanding the money supply.

Aberhart – who always considered himself to be an educator not a politician – began to use his radio broadcasts to encourage his listeners to form social credit study groups and to pressure the Alberta government to investigate social credit proposals. When the government proved unreceptive, these study groups decided to run candidates in the 1935 Alberta provincial election, my father being one of them.

Albertans by this time were desperate for change and a social credit government was elected – none of whose members had ever sat in the provincial legislature before. Aberhart became the Premier of Alberta and my father became a minister in his cabinet at the tender age of 26. In other words, the prairie farm boy who had responded to the call to become a minister of the gospel became a minister of the Crown. Eight years later when Aberhart died, my father succeeded him both as Premier and as the director of his Christian radio ministry, renamed Canada’s National Back to the Bible Hour.

But now, what about you?

Not every believer acquires or is given a personal interest in the politics and governance of their local community, province, or country or feels called to become personally involved in them. But some definitely are – witness Joseph, David, and Daniel in ancient times; or William Wilberforce and William Gladstone in the British political world; or Americans William Jennings Bryan, President James Garfield, or Senator Mark Hatfield; or the Dutch theologian and politician Abraham Kuyper; or Leonard Tilley, a Canadian Father of Confederation and New Brunswick Premier, Edgerton Ryerson, founder of the Ontario education system, or William Aberhart, Ernest Manning, J.S. Woodsworth, and Tommy Douglas in western Canada’s political arena – to name only a few. 

So what about you? Is the interest in political participation there and where did it come from? Have you been given an interest in joining with our heavenly Father in answering 2000 years of Christian prayer to “deliver us from evil” – the deliverance of human beings from illness, discrimination, environmental degradation, poverty, greed, oppression, crime, and war – deliverances which often (though not always or necessarily) involve employment of the instruments of politics, public policy, and government? Have you been given a particular interest in bringing ethical “salt and light” or love, joy, peace, and patience (the fruits of Christ’s spirit) into such areas of human endeavor as the economy, the scientific world, the education and health care systems, the judiciary or the media – all of which may be penetrated and affected (though not always or necessarily) through the actions of legislatures and governments?  

And is the possibility there of your becoming effectively involved politically? You may not think so because you come from humble circumstances or a background far from the modern political arena – circumstances which appear to preclude any personal role for you in shaping your society through political action, public policy, or government. But take note of David’s story, particularly its opening chapters, and take heart – literally.

Who knows, other than God Himself, what He can make of you or what He may have in store for you if your heart is open and yielded to Him.

He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheep-pens;
from tending the sheep he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
of Israel his inheritence.
And David shepherded them with integrity of heart;
with skillful hands he led them. 

(Psalm 78:70-72)

Caution and Need for Guidance

Finally, it is most important to make crystal clear that not every inclination or “call” to become involved in politics and governance has its origins in the plan and service of God – far from it. In fact, for the believer with political interests, learning to discern the call of God from the siren appeals of the Tempter[3] to personal ambition and opportunism is absolutely essential to safe and successful navigation at the interface of faith and politics.

Fortunately for David, the specific call to political service came to him through the wise and experienced agency of Samuel – a priest and leader who himself was a man after God’s own heart (I Sam. 2:35). Yet even Samuel had to be reminded of two vitally important considerations in recruiting believers to the work of God in the political world:

  1. That background, physical attractiveness, knowledge, skills, experience – important as they are – are not the most important qualifications for such service.
  2. That the inward condition of the human heart is the most important qualification for a right relationship with God and political office.
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.
Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord
looks at the heart.
(1 Samuel 16:7)

More on this - the heart qualities which best qualify us for spiritually directed political action and public service - in the next article in this series.


  1. Preston Manning, Faith and Politics in the Life of Moses (Regent College Publishing, 2013).
  2. For a fuller account of Ernest Manning’s political career at the interface of faith and politics, see Brian Brennan, The Good Steward (Fifth House Ltd., 2008). 
  3. From the Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”’” (Luke 4: 5-8)

Source: Marketplace Institute

comments powered by Disqus