Leadership Development in Local Church Revitalization: A Review of the Literature and Suggestions for Further Research

by Bart L. Denny This article identifies a gap in the existing literature concerning leadership development in the context of local church revitalization. The article further suggests how existing leadership and leadership development theories could be applied to church revitalization and proposes further investigation and research areas. Observers and practitioners in the field of church revitalization unequivocally make the case that for a local church to reverse its decline, the pastor must develop a new generation of leaders (Clifton, 2016; Davis, 2017; Henard, 2021; Rainer, 2020; Stetzer & Dodson, 2021). The extant literature links the decline of churches to a lack of leadership and identifies renewed leadership as a vital component of church revitalization. However, little has been written, theoretically or practically, about the process of leadership development as it applies to local church revitalization. Moreover, little empirical verification supports church revitalizat

Ruth: A Biblical Theology of Faith, Hope, and Redemption in the Face of Suffering

Throughout the Book of Ruth are the major biblical themes of hesed—the human or divine provision and kindness for those in need—faith and hope in the face of suffering, and ultimate redemption and reward. In the Book Ruth, God receives what appears only to be a tangential mention. It is almost as though God was merely a supporting character in the story of a faithful Moabite immigrant and her new Judahite family. However, in the end, the sovereign God is revealed to be much more than an incidental player. Indeed, the author of the Book of Ruth masterfully reveals the invisible hand of God to have been providentially active in weaving the story of Ruth into the story of Israel’s greatest king—David. As the canon unfolds, God’s sovereign involvement is revealed to work through Ruth’s story and ultimately into the lineage of the King of Kings. The story of Ruth and her kinsman redeemer eventually extends to Jesus Christ, the kinsman redeemer of humankind.

The Theme of Hesed

Many commentators note that the theme of hesed—or kindness—is prominent throughout Ruth. Block quickly notes that no single English word appropriately translates the Hebrew hesed. Of the word hesed, “It is a covenant term, wrapping up in itself all the positive attributes of God: love, covenant faithfulness, mercy, grace, kindness, loyalty. In short, it refers to acts of devotion and lovingkindness that go beyond the requirements of duty.” [1] Hesed is a kindness expressed in an unyielding and sacrificial commitment to others. Younger notes that hesed is voluntary, something performed to benefit those in desperate need. Further, hesed is rendered by someone in a situationally more powerful position than the recipient. In this regard, observes Younger, that God’s acts of hesed for his people are most strongly illustrated.[2]

Because she cannot return the hesed rendered by Orpah and Ruth, Naomi desires that Yahweh repay Orpah and Ruth the hesed they have shown their mother-in-law (v. 1:8). As Hubbard notes, Naomi’s wish for Yahweh’s hesed is also more than a simple goodbye. Instead, since she will never again be in the position to do hesed to Orpah and Ruth, she asks God to do it on her behalf. Naomi can repay none of the kindness bestowed upon her by the young women.[3]

According to Hubbard, Naomi’s desire for her daughters-in-law assumes that hesed is a foundational principle of the entire moral order of the world. God’s covenant kindness rests upon Israel. However, Yahweh rewards all people—not just Israel—for demonstrating hesed; likewise, He extends divine hesed. Indeed, Israel’s ideal of hesed is but one expression of the concept of kindness demanded of those God has created in His image.[4] As Campbell notes, the divine hesed and human hesed are not simply parallels. Yahweh is entirely within his right to demand kindness from his image-bearers because He is kind. But instead, human and divine hesed demonstrate a profound interplay, especially in Ruth. God most often exercises the divine hesed through human beings.[5]

As such, Ruth and Boaz are both exemplars of God’s kindness—Ruth to Naomi and Boaz and Boaz to Ruth.[6] The text is clear that Ruth and Orpah have been kind to Naomi during their widowhood. But Ruth’s hesed to Naomi goes beyond mere kindness. It is a sacrificial commitment to leave behind her Moabite roots and to adopt Naomi’s home, culture, and people as her own. Boaz recognizes the hesed that Ruth has performed to Naomi. And more than that, Boaz sees Ruth’s hesed to him (v. 3:10); she requests that Boaz redeem her when obviously still young and attractive, she could have sought a suitor closer to her age. Ruth’s loyalty to her family demonstrates hesed—a sacrificial kindness beyond the call of duty by forgoing the opportunity to marry a younger man.[7]

For his part, Boaz shows hesed to Ruth and, by extension, to Naomi—even if, as Younger claims, hesed on the part of Boaz is only alluded to rather than explicitly spelled out as such.[8] He allows Ruth to glean from his fields, under his protection from the young farmhands who, presumably, would have harassed her or made unwanted advances towards her. He demonstrates hesed in agreeing to be Ruth’s kinsman redeemer—a role he could have quickly passed off to a closer relative.

The theme of hesed connects Ruth with the larger message of the Bible, particularly in the Psalms. David frequently reflects upon the hesed of Yahweh—David’s patron. The Psalms continually sound the theme of God’s unfailing and eternal kindness, most often reflected in the Psalms by God’s deliverance from enemies, but also in God’s gracious provision. Ruth shows that God’s compassion extends not only to the king but to ordinary Israelites and, indeed, to the nation of Israel.[9]

Faith and Hope in the Face of Suffering

Perhaps no one here has suffered more than Naomi. As Ruth opens, Naomi’s life has been nothing short of calamitous. First, she is driven from her homeland of Judah by famine; then, in a foreign land, she loses her husband, Elimelech, and then her two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. Sonless and too old to remarry, she is alone in a foreign land, with the prospect of having no one to care for her old age. With no social safety nets, women in such a situation were particularly vulnerable in the ancient Near East. Naomi is, as Younger says, “a victim of death and of life.” [10] To keep her Moabite daughters-in-law from sharing the same fate, Naomi instructs them to return home to their families, where they will face renewed prospects.

As Naomi returns to Bethlehem, she has given up hope, and her faith in Yahweh is severely shaken. She tells Ruth and Orpah, “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (v. 1:3), and she tells the women of Bethlehem that “the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (v. 1:20).[11] However, even though Naomi does not recognize it yet amid her hopelessness, God is already at work in bringing her hope in the very person of her loving, devoted, and kind daughter-in-law, Ruth.[12] As Moore notes, Naomi’s faith is reignited when Boaz steps on the scene. She worships, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” (v. 2:20). The kinsman redeemer has arrived, and Naomi “dares to imagine, even before anything is planned or dreamed or attempted, that there is a way out.” [13] The glowing ember of faith and hope, rekindled, bursts into full flame in Naomi’s life as the near kinsman ensures the family of Elimelech will continue. In fact, it is Naomi’s joy to serve as a nurse for Obed, the son of Boaz and Ruth and eventual grandfather to King David.

Ruth, for her part, never loses faith, even in the face of hopelessness. More remarkable still, her faith is in Yahweh. If that faith is not demonstrated strongly enough by Ruth’s willingness to leave her people for the, at best, uncertain prospects ahead in Bethlehem, it is evident in her oath to Naomi, “Your God (shall be) my God.” (v. 1:16) Despite the prospects ahead, Ruth’s attitude is one of trust from the outset.

Erdel appropriately sees six sources of hope in Ruth. First, the book of Ruth demonstrates that God knows about and is concerned with the affairs of the “little people.” This book sees Yahweh’s provision for two unknown widows in all the OT accounts of kings and prophets. Second, the reader sees God’s blessings upon the humble throughout the Bible. Ruth is willing to live as a foreign migrant farm laborer. She is modest in her dealings with Boaz and deferential towards Naomi. Third, God blesses those who trust him, and Ruth’s trust is as unwavering as it is surprising. Fourth, Erdel states God honors human initiative—certainly, Ruth demonstrates initiative in moving with Naomi, gleaning the fields, and approaching Boaz with a marriage proposal. Fifth, there is hope because God honors holiness—something Ruth has demonstrated in spades.[14]

Finally, Erdel sees hope in Ruth because the book demonstrates that God provides for His people through His people. Boaz is one of the Lord’s people, and he, in turn, provides for Ruth and Naomi. From the beginning of the book, Ruth’s provision for Naomi is also evident. Perhaps most surprising is Naomi’s provision for Ruth—something not clear upon a casual reading of the text but evident after sufficient reflection. In her son Mahlon, Naomi provided Ruth with her first husband. Naomi leads Ruth to Yahweh, the true and living God. And finally, Naomi leads Ruth to propose marriage to her second husband, Boaz.[15]

Redemption

While the book of Ruth speaks of circumstances that might well have been worded regarding rescue or deliverance, the book speaks throughout regarding redemption. Boaz is more than the protector of Ruth, and the Hebrew word for redemption, g’l, occurs 21 times in the book of Ruth—including seven times in the encounter between Boaz and Ruth at the threshing room floor.[16] According to the Levitical law, the kinsman redeemer has the right to purchase family land when there is no male heir or when the family has sold land to avoid poverty (possibly the case with Elimelech’s family). Still, there is something deeper here in the concept. As McKeown notes, the idea of redemption exists in the arena of family law. Ruth, and not just the land, is part of the deal. Since the dead man, Mahlon, has no living brother to do so, the kinsman redeemer will be expected to carry on the family line in the name of the dead man.[17]

However, the concept of redemption is still more significant than mere family law. In the book of Exodus, Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt is described in terms of redemption (Exo 6:6; 15:13). Just as Boaz’s marriage to Ruth would deepen the relationship between the two, Yahweh and Israel have a relationship, “and the act of deliverance was both the result of that relationship and the establishment of an even closer relationship.” [18] The theme of redemption continues to develop in the Old Testament, especially in the later chapters of Isaiah (Isa 42:1;44:6, 22-24) and in the context of the nation’s restoration following the Babylonian Exile. God repeatedly “refers to himself as the redeemer of Jacob/Israel.” [19] Job declares, “I know that my redeemer lives” (Job 19:25).

Redemption is an overarching theme of the New Testament, and typically, what is in view is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Generally, the language of redemption in the New Testament draws upon themes relating to the Exodus and the freeing of captives. There is no explicit reference to the case of Boaz and Ruth. Given this kind of language, it seems complicated to see Boaz, a family redeemer, as a direct parallel to or type of Christ. Yet, as McKeown points out, “The importance of the book of Ruth is that it gives the clearest anecdotal evidence of how the concept of redemption could affect everyday life in Israel. It shows a kinsman redeemer in action and the effectiveness of such a role in providing for those in need.” [20]

Conclusion

As the book of Ruth ends, Block notes, “the providence of God the implications of a person’s covenantal fidelity often extend far beyond the immediate story.” [21].God’s action reveals itself to be much larger than His providential care of a foreign woman or even a whole family. God’s intervention in providing a kinsman redeemer for the obscure Moabitess, Ruth, and her mother-in-law, has national implications for all of Israel. Indeed, the son of Ruth and Boaz is the grandfather of King David, the greatest ruler in the history of Israel and through whose line Isaiah prophesies the Messiah will come. Indeed, God’s sovereign intervention in the life of a widowed Moabitess has implications for the whole world needing a redeemer—Jesus Christ.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth, New American Commentary, Vol. 6 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1999): 632-3.

[2] K. Lawson Younger, Judges/Ruth, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002): Kindle location 8086.

[3] Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976): 103.

[4] Ibid, 68.

[5] Edward F. Campbell, “Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth: Hesed and Change.” Austin Seminary Bulletin 105, no. 2 (1990), 69 (accessed December 1, 2017 at http://ezproxy. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http:// search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000826025&site=ehost-live&scope=siteliberty.edu/login?url= http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN= ATLA0000826025&site=ehost-live&scope=site).

[6] Peter Lau, Unceasing Kindness: A Biblical Theology of Ruth, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016): Kindle location 1311.

[7] Lau, Kindle location 1328-9.

[8] Younger, Kindle location 8119.

[9] Lau, Kindle location 1336.

[10] Younger, Kindle location 8575.

[11] All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.

[12] Thomas R. Schreiner, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013): 130-1.

[13] Michael S. Moore, “To King or Not to King: A Canonical-Historical Approach to Ruth,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 11, no. 1 (2001), 40 (accessed November 28, 2017, at http://www.galaxie.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ article/bbr11-1-02?highlight=biblical%20 theology%20of%20Ruth).

[14] Timothy P. Erdel, “The Book of Ruth and Hope in Hard Times,” Priscilla Papers 25, no. 1 (Winter 2011): 6.

[15] Ibid., 6-7.

[16] James McKeown, Ruth, Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapid, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2015): 123, Kindle.

[17] Ibid., 124.

[18] Ibid., 125.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., 127.

[21] Block, 735.

 

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