I recently read Barry Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell University, book The Spartacus Wars. Upon finishing the book, I asked myself, “Does Spartacus have any lessons to offer a pastor?” I believe he does.
Spartacus was in many ways an amazing leader.
Starting with only 74 men he raised an army of 60,000 (some believe as big as 120,000) and incited a rebellion and marching across much of the modern Italy. In the process he defeated 9 Roman armies sent against him and kept his forces in the field and the Romans at bay for two years before his final defeat at Silarus.
One of the biggest lessons I took away from Spartacus as a leader was this:
YOU CAN’T TAKE PEOPLE WHERE THEY WILL NOT GO
Spartacus was a Thracian, meaning he was from Thrace, modern day Bulgaria. The Italian peninsula was not his home. His army was a mix of Thracians and Celts (or Gauls). By 72 BC, Spartacus had led this disparate of Thracians and Celts all the north to Mutina. Apparently, he was planning to lead his army across the Alps and out of the Italian peninsula…perhaps even back to his home land of Thrace.
At Mutina, Spartacus’s army meets and defeats army commanded by the proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul at Mutina. The victory means the doors to the Alps, the exit out of Italian peninsula, now lay wide open.
But he and the army turn south.
According to Strauss,
Many theories have been proposed, but the best explanation was already hinted at in the ancient sources. Spartacus’s own men probably vetoed him. In the past, they had never wanted to leave Italy; no success might have gone to their heads and aroused visions of Rome in flames.
I think there are 3 key reasons and 3 lessons pastors can learn from Spartacus and the army he led, and his turn south away from their destination…away from Spartacus’s vision.
Reason 1: Culture
Though much of his army was culturally Thracian and Celt…they had been born in Italy and it was in Italy they would exact their revenge for their grievances. For Spartacus to say he was leading them to their homeland and possibly escape was only partially true. They were culturally Thracian and Celt, but they we born in Italy. Their homeland was the ground they were now fighting on.
Our churches too have a culture. A pastor can set a vision for a direction, a vision for a destination, but in the end, culture will determine success. Culture trumps vision.
Just as Spartacus’s men would not cross the Alps with him, so too, those a pastor leads will not follow, if, ultimately, the vision is at odds with their culture.
Reason 2: Convinced
Spartacus’s army had crushed every Roman army they had met. It is easy to become elated with past success and not want to turn from pursuing more…even to our own detriment.
Perhaps he [Spartacus] had acquired a foolish belief in his own invincibility. Perhaps he too forgot the Roman habit of responding slowly but inexorably to those who attacked Rome. He might have allowed himself a luxury that no general can afford: hope.
Spartacus’s men were starting to think they were invincible and this might have been influencing their leader as well.
Thankfully pastors have hope. We have THE hope. But that does not mean we should continue a course of action just because we have been successful in the past. We must be aware and when the time to change…to walk through the open door…is upon us.
Reason 3: Challenge
Sometimes the challenge will just seem to big. Though a leader sees it as possible, those we lead do not.
The last straw might simply have been the sight of the Alps. As anyone who has ever looked up from the plain toward the rock wall of the Italian Alps knows, the mountains are overpowering. Most people in Spartacus’s army had probably never seen the Alps before. Many of them had never left southern or central Italy.
And so Spartacus and his army headed south. Spartacus could not lead his army where they would not go. A while future victories of more Roman armies awaited them…they could not avoid the inevitable; that turning away and heading back meant the end for all of them.
Pastors must consider the culture of those they lead, what their past successes have convinced they can do or should, and the challenge their vision will create for those they lead.
1. Culture can overcome vision.
2. Past successes can convince those you lead not to pursue a new direction.
3. Challenges that appears to big to attempt can make all turn back….
The role of the pastor is to anticipate these challenges and prayerfully, wisely, and effectively keep the eyes of those they lead on Jesus and the hope and promises we have in Him to reach our destination with Him and for Him.
I am sure Kirk Douglas would say the same.