Leadership Lessons from Deuteronomy 32

Today I thought I would do something completely different.  Over the last few years, I have developed a “spiritual formation” activity for my student leadership team.  I thought maybe I would share this year’s here, with the hope that it might be of use to others.  I have taken out youth group specific items to make it more useful to a wider audience.


Leadership Lessons from Deuteronomy 32
For Leadership Teams
Rev. Derek Mansker

What is this?

Leadership is about more than just showing up and having an up front presence.  Leadership is actually about having a heart that loves Jesus Christ and wants to lead others to do the same.  This activity is shorter than years past, but still will help you look inward at God’s specific work in your life.  Our example for what it means to be a leader comes from Jesus Christ.

How do I do this?

Your assignment is simply to read the verses indicated and interact with them in the context of your life.  Please do not just fill in the blanks to get it done.  Take some time with it, think about it and write down things that truly meant something to you.

“You will never become a servant leader until you become a servant to the Leader”  – Gene Wilkes

This activity is about getting closer to our leader, Jesus Christ.

Leadership – Starting right – “Am I spiritually healthy?”

Deuteronomy 32:2-6, 46-47

This section is about looking inward.  To be spiritually healthy is to love God and love others.  Jesus said, “Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves Me.  He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love him and show Myself to him.”  – John 14:21

The things you say and do indicate what is going on in your life.  Jesus also said, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34

In fact, there is a progression to sin.  Read James 1:13-15 – What is the progression?

Read: Deuteronomy 32:2-6, 46-47

V2 – What does this verse say about the affects of this teaching?

V3-4- What do these verses say about God?

V5-6- What has happened?

V46-47 –  What does this tell us about God’s Word and obedience toward it?

If you are not spiritually healthy, you will not be obeying God’s Word.  The longer you stay there, the worse things become.  The people Moses are talking to here are no different than you are.  They had times when they were excited about God’s work in their midst and they had times when they forgot.  They even went so far as to create their own gods to worship instead of God.

How are you doing spiritually?  Why do you say that?

What has happened to direct you to the place you are at?  (i.e. hardship, questions, doubts, family problems, indifference to God etc.)

“If all you have to offer are words, few people will follow you.  Your example will give them a picture of what you are talking about.” Gene Wilkes — What picture are you giving?

Leadership – Seeing Other Believers- “Am I loving people here?”

Deuteronomy 32:8-14

This section is about looking inward and also outward.  In the context of this youth ministry, it is essential to love God and love others.  That starts right here with people who show up each week.  Jesus said, ““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35

We need to be aware of the people around us.  That means walking away from situations that are comfortable and walking into more awkward scenarios.  It means putting yourself in someone else’s place and trying to meet them where they are at.

Read: Deuteronomy 32:8-14

V8-9 – How does the Lord view His people?

V10-11- What do these verses say about God’s work on behalf of His people?

V12- What is significant about this verse?

God has cared for his people during some difficult times in the desert.  He had set them free from their captivity and had led them to the place they were in.  He had provided for them, listened to their needs, and showed patience with them.  This is very similar to what we are called to do as ministry leaders.

What are you doing to meet the needs of people around you?

How do you view people?  (i.e. are you a people person, do people annoy you etc.)

When someone irritates you, how do you treat them?  Is it right? Why?

Leadership – Seeing the Lost – “Am I loving people out there?

Deuteronomy 32:15-18, 36-38

This section is about looking at how you are ministering to people you know who are not followers of Jesus Christ.  We need to care about those people who do not know Jesus.  This is something that needs to be a part of your daily life wherever you are.  Jesus said, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. – Luke 15:9

Read: Deuteronomy 32:15-18, 36-38

V15-18 – What happened to the people?

V 15-18 – How is this similar to what people who don’t know Jesus are doing today?

V 36-38-   What is at stake when people choose to worship other things and reject God?

In a world where people are afraid to offend others, are we willing to take the risk and share the Gospel with people who need to hear?  In other words, if your friends don’t follow Jesus does it concern you?  Why?


I pray this encourages you and challenges you wherever you have influence.  God’s Word provides us with so much for daily life.  I hope that sharing this unique post will be useful to you.


Referenced Book: Gene Wilkes, Jesus on Leadership (Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1998)

Why do we do this?

Why can't I cook dinner?

I operate under the assumption that what we do in life is rooted in the priorities that we have.  Without even realizing it, we are answering a question about what is important just by the direction of our life.   For example, if I take time to help someone with a project they have, I have demonstrated that service is important to me.  That message speaks loudly to others, especially to my children.

We have reasons why we do what we do.  Sure, the motives aren’t always the right ones, but a reason is a reason.  The answer is never ‘because, that’s what we do” ;  at least not if we are honest. Life needs to be purposeful, not wasteful.  The reason being that we are operating on such limited time.  Our life is only so long, so what is it going to be about?

When people are asked for reasons for something they do, they will either give an honest answer, a dishonest answer, or no answer. (a.k.a. the lazy answer)

Honest and Dishonest Answers

 If my kids ask me why I am spending an entire day in the hospital with a student I can answer them by telling them that this person appreciates my company.  I can tell them that I can bless them and encourage them in their hardship by being there.   If someone has done something wrong and are being questioned about it, the answer can be harder to give.  The honest answer is the straight forward approach.   The dishonest answer is obviously the opposite of that.

The Lazy Answer

This is what parents tell their kids when they ask seemingly ridiculous questions.  Why do I have to brush my teeth?  Why I do need to close my eyes in order to sleep?  Why do I have to clean my room?  “Because”  This response doesn’t actually answer the question, in fact it just shuts the communication process down.  It says that the person is not willing to honestly engage in the discussion, or is just too tired to actually give an honest answer.

Another common lazy answer is the answer which says, “Stop asking me, you don’t have a choice.”  This pulls rank on the unsuspecting person, but doesn’t answer their question.  I often get the question, “Why do I have to go to school?”  I could just say, “because you do, so get ready”.  But, that doesn’t answer the question, it just shows my annoyance with the question. A better answer is, “because learning is an important part of growing up and something you will need as you get older.”  That answer might get lost as it enters an ear, but at least the answer is honest.

The tragedy of not explaining it

The problem is that when parents are unwilling to answer the questions their children pose, even the routine ones, they risk resentment or confusion.  If I constantly shut down my son for asking me why he has to go to school, all I am doing is distancing him from me and from the school.  That is not helpful.   If a friend has asked him to go to some get together and we don’t let him go, there is always a reason.  The reason might just be that we don’t want to take him there, but it is still the reason.  We have had things fall on Sundays and have said no because we try to set that day aside as a day of worship and family.  Explaining that honestly, I believe, pays dividends later.

Here we are in 2010- before our daughter

Why do we go to church?

One of the most significant areas I see this is with church attendance.  Kids get to a point where they start to question what this church thing is all about.  Then they get to high school and many of their friends get to sleep in on Sunday mornings and they wonder why they have to get out of bed and go to church.  Why do we do this? If parents just say “because” or “you’re going” I believe they have missed a valuable opportunity to share why it is that we go to church.  We don’t show up because it is routine or because it will inherently save us from sin.  We show up because Jesus Christ is alive.

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses reminds the people that they need to be honest about passing on the law of God to the next generation.  He warns them that the questions will come, but to answer them honestly.

In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?”  tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  – Deuteronomy 6:20-21

Moses knew that kids would inevitably question the reason for all these commands.  Even so, the answer remained the same as they went on.  The reason that they were to obey the commands was because at one time they were slaves in Egypt, but God rescued them.  It was God who met them where they were and placed them in a new place.  That’s why.

That is exactly what happened to us as well.  We were not slaves in Egypt, we were slaves to sin.  God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to come and rescue us from sin, freeing us from, its grip. That’s why we gather!  We gather because we need to remember that Jesus Christ died and rose again to save us from our sin.

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 6:11

Instead of just running from questions, let’s embrace them as opportunities to impart truth.  It might be the only chance we will get to do that in that person.

Don't Miss the Opportunities!

A Happy Ending Starts at the Beginning

Now what?

Most days I have at least one moment where I feel like I am a bit inadequate for the task.  To be clear, I am not talking about just my ministry work, or my parenting work; I am talking about both of those.  There are things through-out my day where I seem to know what is going on and then the next moment I am wondering how I got into this.  It is the adventure of life walking with God.  I love the thrill of it all, most days.

As a parent, much of what is experienced is either trial and error or other people’s trial and error.  Sure, there are books on it, but they are just people who have also learned as they went.  Kids are complicated because they have such wonderful role models who are also complicated.  As my 7-year-old son (2nd grade) gets older, I am noticing his vulnerability to influence.  This is not always a bad thing, but it can make him a bit sensitive to what others are thinking.

For example, he took a lunch to school yesterday.  In that lunch we included two small pieces of candy.  As it turns out, due to the wellness policy or fairness doctrine (both of which are loony), he isn’t supposed to bring candy to school.  The best I could figure it out, one of his classmates had questioned him on it.   Whatever the story, it should not matter whether he brings candy to school or not.  If he doesn’t have enough for everyone, that is nobody’s business.  We are not running a welfare program, we are feeding our child (gasp) candy.

Our club house

In a related incident, one day he came home and told us he was not allowed to have a club at school. (not the weapon club)  It was true that he had recently watched ‘The Little Rascals’ and was really excited about the whole club house thing.  The best I could tell, he wasn’t being rude about it, but the verdict was: “No clubs at school.”  So, he comes home thinking he has done something wrong.  All he was guilty of was being a 7-year-old boy.  These are somewhat light-hearted examples, but they still put me, the parent, in an awkward place because, even though I think the school is acting a bit irrational, I don’t want to have my child go to school and tell them that.  So, we figure some of those things out as we go.  Do I always have the right answer?  Probably not, but it works out.

This is a sponge..throw it, or else!

As youth pastor, each day is different.  Tonight is youth group night and I have no idea what to expect.  Every week is different,every student brings their own baggage and every conversation brings a bit of mystery with it.  Will we have someone show up whose parents are getting divorced?  Will someone who is being abused reach out for help?  Will a student who is suicidal finally speak up?  Will that young man who struggles with lust and internet images ask for advice?  There are so many variables and so few ways to prepare.

What is encouraging in these things is that God enables us for the work.  I am amazed at how I am able to approach difficult scenarios, even when I haven’t got a clue.  God is the one who calls and He is also the one who gives the skills to get the job done.

Moses, if you remember, was not a man who was real excited about his mission.  In fact, the excuses came one after another.  Did that mean God gave up on Moses?  No, we know He didn’t.  Instead God gave Him everything he needed in order to get the job done and to help sustain the people during their time in the wilderness.  This was not because Moses was an amazing orator or leader in his own right, but because God made him all that he was.

What is amazing about the whole thing was the way Moses’ story ended. God had taken someone of very limited means and made him great.  He became so great that we are still talking about him thousands of years after the fact.  What an amazing legacy!

“Since then, no prophecy has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt — to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land.  For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.” Deuteronomy 34:10-12

What an ending!  To go from a lowly shepherd to someone who was the greatest prophet to ever come to the Israelites, until Jesus Christ, is tremendous.  What made him so great was not his money, or amazing skill; it was this statement : “whom the LORD knew face to face.” The success Moses found in his ministry came from an initiate relationship with God.  Without it, he would not have had the impact he did.

Each person, young or old,  has an opportunity to be used by God and equipped for His work.  God desires a relationship with each person, but so many just ignore Him.  It is my prayer that more people would walk like Moses, as he walked with God.  That more parents, teens and leaders would stand up and be courageous in the face of opposition in the culture.  We know that God is faithful and that when He calls, He also equips.

Moses’ happy ending started at the beginning when God showed up and sent Him on His mission.  Without that, we wouldn’t be talking about him today.

A happy ending!

Children: An Eternal Investment

Ready to "lawn" (my kids call it lawning)

Children need your time.  This is getting painfully clear the older my kids get and the longer I work with teenagers.  There are so many youth who are virtually on their own and it is difficult for them to make sense of things.  Children don’t need to be set in a room with a television or put in front of a computer screen. They need actual time with adults because that is the only way they will be able to see what faith actually looks like in real life.  Just because they live in the same house with you doesn’t mean that you are really investing in them.  This is even true of people who don’t have children of their own because it is likely they have influence on people around them.

Children are important, not a nuisance.  I know some people get queasy at the sight of a young child, but children are looking to adults for guidance.  My children look to me for affirmation, direction and for answers to their questions.  They want me to play with them, sit with them and just be there.  I look at my children and wonder what challenges the world will throw at them and if they will be ready for them.   I pray that with intentionality now, they will be better positioned to deal with whatever comes at them.

Do actions really speak louder than words?

They say actions speak louder than words, but I think that is only true if your words match your actions.  It is true that kids will catch on to things by watching.  That often goes both ways, though, as kids might be watching even at times you would rather they didn’t.  If you tell them not to lie and then they catch you in a lie, well that’s awkward isn’t it?

In Deuteronomy 4, Moses is giving the people some instructions to help them stay on track.  He takes extra care to describe to them how they are to teach their children.

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things you eyes have seen or let them slip for your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deuteronomy 4:9

Just as they have seen and learned themselves, now they are to pass those things on to their children.  In this case, they have seen the power of God as He came among them.  They have experienced the work of God as they were led away from slavery in Egypt.  These are things they are called to never forget.  The children need to know how God was faithful to them and be encouraged to put Him first in all things.

In other words, Moses is letting the people know that their children are watching, so they need to not walk away from God.  It is important to understand that the children around us will pick up on what is important to us based on how we live.  My sons will imitate me by trying to fix things with their tools, creating office space and even putting hot sauce on their food.  (that one is funny)  My 2-year-old son will repeat the prayer at dinner in his own way.   They will imitate reading their Bibles, even the younger kids who can’t read yet.  This is special to me because is plants seeds of faith in them.  They pick up on what we like by what we say, what we do and how we revere the name of Jesus Christ in our home.  If the next generation is going to know Jesus, it is up to us adults to share Him with them.

What message are you sending?

Cutting with dad

This is important because parents are still the number one influencers of their kids.  That means that if you are a lover of God and a lover of people, kids will notice that.  I know I make every effort to let my kids see how they can serve others at their young age because I know that right now they are learning life long lessons.  It is beneficial for them to know that the church is a place for them, not just for adults.  Everyday my 4-year-old son gets up and asks the same question.  “Is today church day?”  He loves to be at church because that is where his friends are.  When kids are there they need to be ministered to in such a way that they say, “this is my church.”    Too many times adults are quick to dismiss children as noise makers or too rowdy.  That is not the message to send.

The things we do with our time, show what we value.   Will the children around us be able to see the supreme value of Jesus Christ actually lived in life?

In the story of Moses, he warns them to never let anything else come before God in their lives because it is devastating to the people.

“Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden.  For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deuteronomony 4:23-24

These people had seen God work among them and they were going to turn away and worship something man-made instead. This is especially dangerous for children who see the adults around them selfishly pursuing wealth or material possession instead of God.  What are you teaching to the children who look up to you?

Is it too late?

The beauty of our God is that He is merciful.  People need to turn back to Him and teach the next generation what it means to truly follow Jesus Christ.

“For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.” Deuteronomy 4:31

“Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below.  There is no other.” Deuteronomy 4:40

That is the call for all of us, with or without children.  You have people who are looking up to you right now.  If you follow Jesus Christ, you need to live it loud and clear.  Make it known by not only your words, but your actions that you love Jesus.  I assure you the children are watching and will pay attention when adults around them wake up and get serious about investing in them.  This investment is an eternal investment and needs to be handled with great care.

Do you have anyone who you looked up to as a child? Was there someone who was really helpful in teaching God’s Word to you?  It could be a parent, but it might not be.