January 28, 2001 Deut. 31:1-8
¡§New leaders ¡V changing of the guard¡¨
Our nation has just completed the process that we go through every 4 years. Last Saturday, most of you probably watched as George W. Bush was sworn in as our nation¡¦s 43rd president. We chose a new leader. From what I have seen so far, we have chosen a good one. There are a lot of people that don¡¦t like George W. Bush though. They don¡¦t like his policies, they don¡¦t like his choices for cabinet, and they especially don¡¦t like his relationship with God. That¡¦s o.k. though. All they have to do is wait another 4 years ¡V or at the most, 8 ¡V and they will have a change of leadership in the White House. Our system is like that. You give a guy his chance to make an impact on the nation and the world, and then you kick him out regardless of whether he did a good job or a bad job. Four years from now, we¡¦ll go through the whole thing all over again. Hopefully, by then, we¡¦ll have a better voting system than we do right now.
Israel¡¦s method of choosing and keeping leaders wasn¡¦t like ours. When they found a good leader, they kept that leader until he died. For forty years now, Israel had been following the only leader that they had ever known. But they are getting ready to go somewhere that he could not go. Moses had sinned against God. Now, he was prevented from seeing the completion of the job which he had begun. A new leader had to be chosen. The people couldn¡¦t do the job of entering the land and casting out those who were presently there without someone to guide them. Someone has said that everything rises and falls on leadership. Another has said that a body will grow only to the extent of the number and quality of its leaders. Who was the new leader going to be? How were they going to make it through the transition? Was everything going to fall apart?
Here in our church ¡V New Life Baptist Church ¡V we are searching for new leaders. We are searching for persons who will be trustees and deacons. We are looking for persons who will lead in Sunday School. We need people who will lead in caring, prayer, worship, and bringing people to Jesus. As you know, our church is in the financial situation that requires me to search for a second job. When I find one, that will mean that I will not be as available to do many of the things that I presently do. That leaves us with two possibilities. Either they will not get done, or someone else is going to step up, take on the mantel of leadership and say, ¡§I will do it.¡¨ ¡§Not me! I couldn¡¦t do witnessing or praying or leading a Sunday School class!¡¨ How do you know whether or not you are that person? This morning, I want us to take a look at the changing of the guard between the leadership of Moses and the leadership of Joshua. We¡¦re going to ask and answer three questions this morning ¡V what qualifies leaders, what empowers leaders, and what scares leaders. As we look at these verses, I want you to ask yourself this question: Has God chosen me to be a leader? Let¡¦s read verses 1-8 of Deuteronomy 31.
1. What qualifies leaders? (vs. 1-3)
If you were getting ready to be put into a position of leadership, would you rather follow someone who was a successful leader or a failure as a leader? If you follow a failure, then expectations are low. Anything you do couldn¡¦t be any worse than the guy before you. You¡¦ve got no place to go but up. The advantage of following a success is that when you take office, if you have the same ideas and leadership style as the guy before you, then everything will already be in good shape. You just continue what the guy before you did. That¡¦s probably would have been the situation of Gore had followed President Clinton. The disadvantage of following a success is that expectations are high. You¡¦ve got big shoes to fill. Chances of disappointment and failure are high.
Imagine yourself as Joshua. You¡¦re getting ready to step into Moses¡¦ shoes. Talk about stepping into some big shoes! This is the guy who stood up to Pharoah without flinching and said, ¡§Let my people go!¡¨ This is the guy who God used to bring 10 plagues on the Egyptians, to part the Red Sea, and to deliver the Ten Commandments. This is the guy that God spoke to directly. This is the guy who had so much compassion and meekness that he was willing to give up his own salvation if that¡¦s what it took for God not to destroy the Israelites. What an act to follow. Last week, Jeff Clark talked about how much he hated having to follow the kids when they presented their interpretive movement at the constitution service. You kids did such a great job. Jeff did a good job of following them though, didn¡¦t he. But how would you like to follow Moses as the leader of the nation of Israel? What had qualified Moses to be their leader, and what now qualified Joshua?
ƒá Maturity, not age ¡V Moses was 120 years old (vs. 2); Joshua was at least 60, probably closer to 80. No spring chicken himself. Our U.S. constitution says that a person must be at least 35 years of age before they can serve as the President. The Bible warns about putting persons who are young Christians in positions of leadership because they are more prone to falling into sin. There is something about age that causes us to ask for and respect the opinions and guidance of our elders. But age alone is not an indicator of a good leader, nor does being on either end of the age bracket lessen your potential as a leader. I want to make one thing very clear to you ¡V Moses was NOT stepping down as the leader of the people because he was 120 years old. No one is too old to lead. I like that one Wal-Mart ad that features a couple of their greeters, both of whom are getting upwards in age. One of them says this, ¡§Retirement is for the birds.¡¨ Then he goes on to say, ¡§If you don¡¦t have a smile, I¡¦ll give you one of mine.¡¨ That man is a leader. He leads in encouragement. He doesn¡¦t let his elderly age stop him from doing what he can do for his employer. On the other end of the spectrum, you do not have to be an adult to lead. You can be a teenager or even a child. Paul told Timothy not to let people look down on him for his young years. Timothy was not a child when Paul said this, but to some of them, he might as well have been a child. Whatever your age, don¡¦t let age stop you from being a leader.
ƒá Present with the people ¡V Moses couldn¡¦t lead the people in the promised land because he wasn¡¦t going to be with them. [vs. 2 ¡V ¡§you shall not cross this Jordan¡¨] It is impossible to lead people when you are not among them. If you want to be a leader in this church, you have to be here. Many of you don¡¦t understand how it affects the whole church when you are not here. We don¡¦t just miss you, but we also miss out on what you have to offer to the body as a whole. It¡¦s not just to your benefit that you come and participate. It is also for the health of the whole body. When you are absent, whether it be Sunday morning, Sunday night, or Wednesday night, it leads others into discouragement. It works to steal away their motivation. You want God to use you. You want to be a leader. You have to be where the people are.
ƒá Chosen by God ¡V Joshua was hand-picked by God [vs. 3 ¡V ¡§Joshua . . . as the Lord said¡¨]; Not elected by popular vote or electoral college. You either accept it or you don¡¦t. There will be no re-count because the only vote that counts is God¡¦s. He made His vote very clear. There¡¦s no antiquated chad system with God. God said it. That¡¦s the way that it is. When we, as a church, elect men to serve as our deacons, we are not conducting a popularity contest. We are simply trying to discern through prayer and God¡¦s Spirit working in us who He has already chosen to put in that place of ministry.
If I try to put myself in a position of leadership where God has not put me, then I am putting myself at risk and all those who follow me.
ƒá Experience in leadership ¡V Joshua had gained experience under Moses. You gain experience by getting involved as a helper with someone who is the leader of a particular area. You want to learn how to lead a Sunday School class ¡V participate with the person who is leading it right now. You want to learn how to lead someone to the Lord for salvation ¡V go with someone who is actively involved in doing that right now.
ƒá Evidence of faith in God ¡V when Joshua had the opportunity to either stand with the crowd or exercise his faith in God, he chose to exercise his faith. [i.e. two spies, Joshua and Caleb, trusted God¡¦s provision and said that the people could conquer the land. Ten spies refused to believe.] When choosing what leaders you are going to follow, make sure that you choose well. The Israelites chose the wrong leaders, and they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.
ƒá Loyalty to their leaders ¡V When everyone was attacking Moses, Joshua stood with him. Are you loyal to your leaders? Everybody loves Sunday afternoon dinner. In a lot of houses this afternoon, people are going to be eating roasted preacher. ¡§A typical American family was driving home from church. Dad was fussing about the sermon being too long and sort of boring. Mom said that she thought the organist played a little too loud during the second hymn we sang. Sis, who was a music major in college, said that the soloist sang about a half note off key during most of the song . . . Little Willie listened to all of this and started to fuss about the woman with this big hat who sat in front of him. . . . And then he nudged his dad and said, ¡§But, Dad, you gotta admit; it was a pretty good show for a [dollar].¡¨ [The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, p. 126.] Can I make a request of you? If you have some criticism of what goes on here at church or what some leader in this church does or fails to do, don¡¦t talk about it in front of your kids. Unless it¡¦s absolutely necessary, don¡¦t even talk about it with your spouse. Talk about it with Jesus, and then if He gives you permission, talk about it with the person who did the thing that you are being critical of. Remember: whatever you sow, you are going to reap. You sow disloyalty and criticism, guess what you are going to get.
2. What empowers leaders? (vs. 3-6,8)
ƒá The permanence of God ¡V Everything was changing for Israel. They were leaving behind the wilderness to enter into the promised land. The wilderness wasn¡¦t great, but it was what they knew. It was safe. They were changing roles. They were going from being wandering nomads to being a fighting army. They were changing leaders ¡V Moses, who had led them for forty years to Joshua ¡V an untested leader. Everything was changing. God says, ¡§Uh, uh. Not everything is changing. I remain the same.¡¨ There in vs. 2 and then again in vs. 3, you see the word ¡§LORD¡¨ in all capital letters. Whenever you see that, it is an indication that the Hebrew word they translate there is the word ¡§Yahweh¡¨. It is God¡¦s name for Himself. Simply translated, it means, ¡§I am¡¨. God is the unchanging God. Leadership changes. Terrain changes. Challenges change. God never changes. He made His point very clear down in vs. 4. [read it] Just as God destroyed Israel¡¦s enemies in the past, so He could and would destroy the enemies that they faced now. God¡¦s power doesn¡¦t change. His love doesn¡¦t change. And His promises never change.
As a leader, it¡¦s important to have at least one thing that never changes. With the information age that we live in right now, it is easy for the president to know what the nation thinks of the job that he is doing pretty quickly. They have those little ¡§job approval¡¨ surveys. On Monday, the president may have a job approval rating of 80%. And then he makes one decision, or one juicy tidbit of information about his personal life comes out and by Tuesday, the bottom has fallen out. Part of any president¡¦s agenda is foreign affairs ¡V trying to maintain peace in the world. What a job! Just when you think that the Israelis and the Palestinians are about to work out a deal that they can agree to, some kids throws a rock that hits a Jewish soldier. The soldier fires back, kills the kid, and everything has changed. How do you keep your sanity as the President in a world that constantly changes? The same way that any other leader does ¡V you keep your focus on God who never changes.
A leader in God¡¦s kingdom doesn¡¦t get his power from the applause of people. That changes too quickly. He gets His power from the permanence of God.
ƒá The presence of God ¡V To the people of Israel, God said the words of vs. 6 [read it]. To Joshua, in the presence of all the people, God said the words of vs. 8 [read it]. To his disciples and to us, Jesus said the words of Matt. 28:19-20. (Mat 28:19-20 NIV) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Mike, when you and I go and knock on the door of total strangers, it¡¦s a scary thing isn¡¦t it. But it doesn¡¦t need to be. We can stand tall. We have the presence of Almighty God with us! We represent His church ¡V the church that not even the gates of hell prevail against! Roy, when you go into the radiator shop where you work, you don¡¦t need to be afraid to stand up for God in that place. God is right there with you. Janet, when you go to work at the hospital, you don¡¦t need to be embarrassed about reading your Bible or speaking up for God. God is right there with you! He¡¦ll take care of you. He¡¦ll give you the words to say right in the heat of the moment. Stand up and be a leader because God is standing with you!
ƒá The promise of God ¡V [read vs. 3-5] What did God promise to Joshua and the Israelites? He promised them success. He said that He would be the one to bring success to everything that they were getting ready to attempt for God. The only stipulation that he put on this promise was that they be obedient to do everything that he had commanded them. (vs. 5). How would you like to go into investing in the stock market knowing that you were going to be successful? Or how would you like to run for the presidency already knowing that you were going to be the one who won? Sure could save a lot of money on advertising! How would you like it if you could guarantee the success of the chemo-therapy that you are on? God doesn¡¦t guarantee us success in those areas. But He does guarantee us success in the way of our lives if we do things His way. (Psa 1:2-3 NIV) But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. When I allow God to place me as a leader where He wants me to be, and I follow His commands, living my life in obedience to His Word, then He guarantees that I will be successful in His sight. I cannot fail when I do things God¡¦s way. That¡¦s empowering!
3. What scares leaders?
ƒá The character of the people that they lead ¡V ¡§rebellious and stiff-necked¡¨ (vs. 27). I saw a cartoon once that illustrated a young man as he was getting ready to be interviewed for the pastor of a different church. As he waited to be called into the office, he saw a wall that was lined with the pictures of former pastors of this church. He went over to investigate. Underneath each picture, he saw a plaque listing the dates of the stay of each pastor. Then a sudden fear seized his throat, for each pastor had lasted about 3 months. He began to wonder if this was such a good idea after all. Working with church people can be pretty difficult sometimes. Everybody has their own idea about what songs to sing, what activities to do, how loud the mics should be, and the list goes on and on. It can be a scary thing trying to keep everyone as happy as possible. Some people fear working with kids or teenagers. ¡§You want me to work with kids?! You want me to teach in junior church?!¡¨ Some people who would stand up to any adult with no fear have a very difficult time when it comes to kids. [i.e. Arnold Swarzaneggar in ¡§Kindergarten Cop¡¨] As a teenager, it can be an especially scary thing to try and be a spiritual leader on a middle school or high school campus. Pray for our teenagers! I¡¦m proud of them. It¡¦s hard to stand up for Christ and say no to peer-pressure at school. We all are faced with the reality that we must lead sinners. There¡¦s only one perfect person, and He¡¦s already at the front of the pack. Sinners tend not to be very willing followers.
¡§You want me to lead unsaved people to Jesus? They might laugh at me.¡¨ Yea, they might. But remember who is present with you. Remember that whether or not they laugh at you, God¡¦s attitude toward you remains the same. He loves you.
ƒá The size of the job that they have been given ¡V ¡§go . . . into the land . . . divide it among them¡¨ (vs. 7). Joshua had a huge job placed in his lap. He was going to have to jump right into the middle of it. As large as his job was, ours is bigger. (Acts 1:8 NIV) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Leading the world to Jesus. Pretty big job. Easy to get overwhelmed ¡V to get scared. Eating an elephant is a pretty big job too. You know how you do it? One bite at a time. Joshua conquered the land one city at a time. We win the world to Jesus one person at a time. We build a church one person at a time. We build a building for this church one brick at a time. We pay the bills of this church one dollar at a time. Remember, if God is the one who gave you the task, He is the one who also promised success.
ƒá The place where they have to stand ¡V ¡§cross over ahead of you¡¨ (vs. 3). Sometimes leaders have to step out in front of the people. They have to be the ones that exercise faith and are willing to take risks. They have to stand alone sometimes. But the reason that Joshua could do that and the reason we can too was that God had already gone ahead and prepared the way.; ¡§go with this people into the land¡¨ (vs. 7) Then there are other times that the leader has to be right in the middle of the people, surrounded by them on all sides. That can be a dangerous place to be, especially if it happens to be one of those times where your approval rating is running on the low side. Thursday night, I watched a news clip about President Bush¡¦s inauguration. Right after Bush had given his speech, as he was getting ready to get in the limo, a stranger walked up to him, shook his hand and gave him something. This guy was not supposed to be there. But the secret service had somehow missed him and allowed him to walk right through the metal detectors and get so close to the President that he could have easily assassinated him if that had been his goal. Joshua had seen the people pick up stones in preparation to stone Moses. That¡¦s one of those times that you want to be ahead of the people . . . way ahead of the people. Leaders get attacked when there are not immediate results to their decisions based on faith. People start to doubt their decisions and wonder if they shouldn¡¦t choose new leaders. When you get surrounded by a bunch of babies in the nursery or a bunch of 4 year olds in Vacation Bible School, you begin to wonder what Custer felt like as the Indians surrounded Him. Though there were times that it was difficult to be with the people, Joshua could handle it because God was with him. vs. 8 ¡§. . .he will never leave you nor forsake you.¡¨
ƒá The understanding that whatever they do might very well be undone by the guy who follows them ¡V Bill Clinton, when he entered office, changed a policy of Ronald Reagan¡¦s and made it possible for U.S. dollars to be used to fund agencies around the world that promote and carry out abortions. This week, in his very first full day in office, George Bush undid that policy of Bill Clinton. Now, U.S. gov¡¦t money cannot be used to fund abortions overseas.
When the pastor took over his new church in Mass., things were in a mess. Not very many people came, and those that did sat on the back three rows of the church. It was a very long building. The first thing that pastor did was to pick up his pulpit and carry it down the aisle until he was standing just in front of the back three rows. From there, he preached the word, and he led the people. Soon, more people started coming to that church. Sunday after Sunday, week after week, he faithfully labored. People continued to come in larger and larger numbers. The pastor had to keep moving his pulpit further and further forward until he was almost standing in the choir loft. People filled the church. Eventually, that pastor was called by God to take a teaching position at a school on the east coast.
He was followed by another pastor who had a different spirit than he had. This pastor was a fighter ¡V a retaliatory man. He was a brilliant man with two doctoral degrees. He had experience, he had traveled, and he had been in the military. There were problems in the church, so this pastor dealt with them in his own way. He hired police and guards to guard who would play the instruments and who would be allowed entrance and exit from the church. And one by one, through one public debate after another, the church emptied. The work which one leader of God had accomplished was now ruined by the man who followed him. [The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart p. 334]
If you were to read further on in this passage that we have looked at today, you would discover that God predicted the falling away of the people. He knew how stubborn they were. He told Moses and Joshua that the people would begin to follow false gods. Because of that, God would have to punish them and would eventually have to kick them out of the promised land. They would go back into slavery in Assyria and Babylon. Moses¡¦ task had been to get them out of slavery. Now, he knows that will be undone. Joshua¡¦s task was to get them into the promised land. Now he knows that once that is accomplished, it will eventually be undone. How discouraging. The temptation is simply to quit. Why even try if you know that all your effort is going to be undone anyway? But God didn¡¦t give Moses the option of quitting, and he didn¡¦t give that option to Joshua either. They still had a job to do.
Here¡¦s the central issue folks ¡V obedience! The issue is not success or results. The issue is obedience. If we build a great church in our generation, but 50 years from now, it comes crashing to the ground, closes its doors, will we have been a failure? NO!! Two reasons why not. One, the lives that we have impacted will never be the same regardless of what happens to the church. When you lead someone to Jesus, the result is eternal. And the second reason, whatever happens to this church, if we are obedient, then we will be a success in God¡¦s eyes.
Last week, we had our constitution service. It was a great day ¡V a celebration ¡V a birthday party as Jeff said. But within a year from now, New Life Baptist Church may no longer exist. Unless you step forward and say, ¡§I will be a leader. I may not know where God wants me to be a leader yet, but I will be willing to do whatever He calls me to do¡¨, then this church will fail. Unless you make a commitment to be a leader in motivation rather than discouragement, sharing your faith rather than fear, being present here rather than staying away, giving instead of keeping, using every resource that you have for God rather than holding back, then we will fail. According to the Bible, and I believe that¡¦s what we are trying to follow here, my role here is not to do all the work. It is to train you to be leaders. (Eph 4:11-12 NIV) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up . . .
Joshua was not the only apprentice that Moses had. When Moses had first started out, he had tried to do everything himself and make every decision that needed to be made. Got a sheep problem? Call Moses. Got a dispute with your neighbor? Get in line to see Moses. If Moses got sick, everything came to a halt. Some churches are like that. Is there a problem with the keyboard? Call the pastor. Got a video that needs returning to the church library? Call the pastor. Is there somebody who needs to be led to the Lord? Call the pastor. I¡¦m not qualified to do that.
When Moses realized the problem that he had gotten himself into, he followed the advice that he received and appointed other people from among the Israelites to help him lead the people. Some were made leaders over a thousand people. Others led a hundred. And still others led ten. Each one led the group that they had responsibility for and only brought to Moses the things that they needed a direct word from God for. The ones who had a thousand led those well. The ones that had ten led their group well. The size of the group that they led did not matter. What mattered was that they were willing to lead and that they led well.
I believe that each and every person in this building is a leader already. I believe that you have the potential to become a great leader. Some of you can lead a thousand. Some of you can lead ten. Some of you can lead one. All of you can lead. Some of you can lead others to pray. Others of you can lead people to laugh or smile. Still others can lead people to faith in Jesus Christ. All of you can learn to lead in ways that you may have never dreamed ¡V ways that might scare you to death right now. Are you willing to be a leader in this church? Are you willing to learn new areas in which you can be a leader? If you are willing to be a leader in whatever area God has for you, if you are willing to do whatever it takes in order for God to make you the leader that you can become, then I want you to exercise one of the traits that all leaders possess. All leaders have guts. And all leaders have to make decisions. I want you to gather up your guts, and make a decision to stand up right where you are and come to the front of this building. ¡§I¡¦m willing to go before the people.¡¨ We need leaders. Will you be one?
ADDENDUM ¡V to be said to those who come forward as leaders and those in the pews.
Every leader must first be a follower. Every follower can become a leader. In order to be the best followers and the best leaders possible, there is learning that must take place ¡V training in God¡¦s Word. That¡¦s what God made provision for in Joshua¡¦s situation. Verses 9-13 of that passage make provision for the teaching of the people from God¡¦s Word on a regular basis so that the people might overcome their rebellious and stiff-necked hearts and so that the people might understand that in following Joshua, they were actually following God. [read the verses] People become better followers of their leaders when they become better followers of God. God was helping to prepare the way for Joshua by working to get the hearts of the people in tune with Him. If you are having trouble following your leaders, maybe the problem is not with your leaders. Maybe the problem is that you¡¦re having a problem following God.