Lead & Repeat Audio
Leadership. It’s a timely topic when a parish is looking for a new leader, even if you are feeling the frustration of how long it’s taking to find one. But it isn’t just the lead minister who needs to show leadership, it’s the rest of the staff, it’s the Wardens and Parish Council; it’s the leaders of connect groups and other ministries in the parish. It might even be you in your suburban street as you seek to help others cope with life during a pandemic.
So today, as we begin this new series from the book of Joshua, I want to ask: how can we develop leadership in ourselves? How can we recognise it in others? How can we help those who lead us to be better leaders?
Here’s how I think this passage answers those questions: Choose leaders who’ve been called to leadership by God, choose leaders with courage, devotion and obedience to God and be people who in turn are obedient, courageous, loyal and encouraging of your leaders.
Let’s look at today’s passage to see how these sets of conditions come out in the history of Joshua.
Three Partners in Leadership
The first thing to notice is that leadership here involves a 3-fold partnership, between God, the leader and the people.
The Call of God
“1After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' assistant, saying, 2‘My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites.’” Moses has gone. God has said he can’t enter the Promised Land. So the Israelites need someone new to lead them. There’ll be very difficult years ahead as they seek to conquer the land and drive out its pagan inhabitants. So God chooses Joshua. Now if we’d read through the book of Numbers before we came to Joshua we would have read how before they entered the Land Moses sent 12 spies to check it out. 10 of them returned saying they could never do it but Joshua and Caleb came back and said that of course they could, because God was with them. Well the people didn’t listen to Joshua and Caleb so they spent another 40 years wandering in the desert until every one of them had died. Except for Caleb & Joshua, that is. So now God appoints Joshua to lead them.
The Promise of God
And as he calls him he gives him a promise; an assurance that if he takes on this job God will give him success.
He says, “3Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. 4From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. 5No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life.” How would you feel if God said something like that to you? You’d feel indestructible wouldn’t you? It’d be like a great weight had been taken from your shoulders. “Wow! I thought God had given me an impossible task and now I realise that he’s going ahead of me, to give me success. What a relief!”
Actually, God has said something like that to you. Listen to the words of 1 Peter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us ... an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” And in 2 Peter 1 we read: “3His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Did you get that? Protected by the power of God. His Power has given us everything needed for life and godliness. Wow! What a relief!
The Power of God
Joshua was promised the power of God just as we are: “5As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.”
The great thing about being called to be a leader in God’s church is that you don’t have to depend on your own ability or power or cleverness. God promises to supply all the power you need. I have to say, I found that a great comfort when I started at St Theodore’s Wattle Park, with 40 people in the congregation!
But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do anything to make your leadership work. Look at what was required of Joshua.
2 The Leader
The first requirement for Joshua was courage. He was about to lead an army into occupied territory. This would be a difficult job, so difficult that those other 10 spies had advised against it, even if God was with them. There’d be battles and death. There’d be fortresses and giants to contend with. Only a brave leader would be able to carry it through. So God tells him: “7Only be strong and very courageous.” Maybe you wouldn’t be quite so keen on being chosen as a leader if you heard those words.
There’s always this balance in the Christian life, isn’t there? God tells us he will be with us and look after us. But he also tells us to be strong and courageous. Phil 2 puts it like this: “12Therefore, my beloved, ... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Work out your own salvation ... God is at work in you, enabling you. It’s a double sided coin.
Not only is he to show courage, he’s also to show devotion to God. “8This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night ...” If he’s to remain a faithful leader of God’s people it’s vital that he knows how God wants him to act. So he’s to meditate on the book of the law day and night. We too are encouraged to meditate on God’s word, to use it to teach and admonish and correct us.
If you want to be a godly leader in God’s church today, the reading and meditating on scripture is just as important for you. Let the Holy Spirit lead you as you read and study God’s Word.
Finally it’s not enough to just study God’s word; we need to obey it. So God continues “8... so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.” Again there’s a promise here isn’t there? If he’s careful to act in accordance with God’s word, God will make his way prosper; he’ll have success.
So leaders need to show courage; they need to be devoted to God and the study of his word and they need to be obedient to that word. And if they’ll do that God will be with them.
But the other great thing is that if you’re a leader of God’s people you’re not on your own, even from a human point of view.
3 The People
The third partner in this leadership process is the people themselves. Joshua knows that his leadership will depend on their willingness to follow him. Leaders aren’t much use if no-one follows them, are they? In fact you could say that the true test of a leader is just that: are people following?
So his first act as leader is to call the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, who had been given land on the east of Jordan, to come and follow him into the Promised Land to help the other tribes conquer it. He says: “13Remember the word that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you.” Moses had given them a list of instruction for conquering the land and this was one of them: that these tribes would lead the army.
Secondly their obedience would require them to show the same sort of courage that Joshua was called to show. They were going to be fighting the battles on the front line. Some of them would die in the process. So they too needed courage. He says “14But all the warriors among you shall cross over armed before your kindred and shall help them, until the LORD gives rest to your kindred as well as to you.” The Lord might be giving them the land but they’d need to march in the army and take it away from its inhabitants. Unless they showed courage they’d fail.
Well at this stage of their history they pass the test. They may not always do this well but at this stage they gladly pledge their loyalty to Joshua as their leader.
They say “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you... 18Whoever rebels against your orders and disobeys your words, whatever you command, shall be put to death.” That’s about as serious as you can get isn’t it?
One of the things we should expect in the church is that God’s people will show loyalty to those God has placed over them; that they’ll accept their leadership and go where they lead. And that they won’t work to undermine that leadership. This is an expectation that you don’t always get in the secular world. Remember how we were all in this together? Sadly that didn’t last very long, did it? But within the church loyalty to those God has placed over us is paramount.
Finally they offer Joshua their encouragement. They say: “18... Only be strong and courageous.” They encourage him to take God at his word. To step out in faith and lead them into the Promised Land, even if it is a tough job they’re embarking on.
One of the joys of ministry for me is when someone comes up to me and encourages me. That happens in many ways. Sometimes by a word, sometimes by telling me something that they’ve observed, or that someone has done in response to my ministry. But it’s so important. Leadership of the church is one of the toughest gigs going and we need all the encouragement we can get.
But what about you? If leadership is a 3-way partnership how are you playing your part? Are you one of those whom God has called to be a leader? If you are, then remember that God has promised to be with you, to empower your ministry. Are you prepared to lead with courage; are you committed to remaining devoted to God; to being a student of his word and obedient to his leading.
What about those who work under a leader? Are you looking for ways of encouraging the ministry team or the Parish Council and Wardens? The success of our mission as a church hangs or falls on people who follow their leaders; who show courage in following where the leader takes them; who remain loyal even when the going is tough; and especially when the leader takes them somewhere they’re not sure they want to go; and it may hang or fall on people who provide encouragement to their leaders to keep on leading them.
Now I have to say this isn’t always as simple or easy as it might sound. We live in an age where democracy and personal freedom and initiative are highly valued, so we want to know why our leaders are taking us where they’re leading. And hopefully our leaders can do that. But there are times when other factors such as privacy and confidentiality prevent them from telling us everything. There are times when the leader’s vision goes beyond what we can see and we have to trust that God is leading them in the right direction. But the moment we stop trusting that God is leading them we’re likely to find ourselves in trouble. That’s why Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians says: “12we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.” (1 Thess 5:12-13) In his first letter to Timothy he says: “17Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” (1 Tim 5:17)
Nothing has changed in 3000 years. God still calls out men and women, both ordained and lay, to lead his people. It still requires courage to lead. We still need to be devoted to God and to his word. And we still need people who will follow, give their loyalty and encourage us as we lead.