“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15 KJV)
I think if there was a top 20 list of the most commonly printed quotes of the Bible, this would be on that list. Joshua really has a challenge here. Joshua really needs a direction to take shape in the immediate present. I think he does an excellent job in the particulars of what he says to accomplish that direction. In many modern day churches, the leadership has a number of fundamental challenges. In general people tend to follow like sheep. Not necessarily because of their level of intelligence, but because sheep do not see very well and when wolves are perceived as present; there is a certain safety (or at least better odds) in numbers. Yet, when there is a very real freedom both in a personal relationship with Jesus and in the Spirit, it may appear to the local leadership that they are attempting to heard cats rather than sheep. The more independent the congregation is, the more difficult a clear direction seems to be present. A second challenge is that the leadership is no less culpable to the temptation to want to manage this situation than any other person is likely to want the control to manage their situation. So, where a complete surrender is critical, there is no less blame for an attempt to usurp or manage with the clergymen than the laymen.
Joshua begins the process of establishing a clear direction with an unusually keen awareness to two fundamental principles. Example and mentoring. Whether you have a herd of sheep rushing toward an inevitable cliff or you have cats that will not conform to any direction, people take note of an individual who puts a stake in the ground and stands by it. If there are dozens of foundations made on sand, people will look to see if the foundation on rock gives a different result. Can it hold more weight and withstand more impact to the building because of it’s secure fastening to the foundation? Also, there is no good substitute for one on one mentoring and discipleship. Jesus had a number of concentric circles of disciples. We see 5,000, 72, 12, and 3. I may be missing some. The closer you were to the three, the more clearly you would understand the need to in turn make 3, 12, 72, and 5,000. If you are in leadership and you do not have the three, you are missing the most important circle.
So how do the range of challenges come together as a realistic solution? Leading by example and mentoring in small numbers also look a lot like an individual’s faith. Do not assume that only the most senior pastor hears from God. He (or she) may have a great many talents and be of genuinely good character, but God is capable of reaching, growing, and moving an individual fifteen circles away if he (or she) is plugged into the same Bible and the same Spirit. This takes faith on the part of leadership. Centralized management may seem like a great idea in the business of selling goods in the market or in governing emissions controls, but it fundamentally breaks the trust that needs to independently grow in the heart of each soul. Despite the small faith size of the mustard seed, it is faith that we want to see grow. It is more important to see the faith become the great tree that it can be than to artificially build the tree and try to grow the seed into it. I would almost argue that he who has an awe and wonder for God soon sees a new brother in Christ. Whereas he who has an awe for the leadership of man soon ceases to see at all. The leader must be bathed in complete surrender before Christ so that the person near him (or her) will want to follow the same God that the leader is following independent of the leader’s potential shortcomings.
While true discipleship requires an otherwise unreal closeness on the part of the disciple (the three), it also allows the disciple to see the level of genuineness in the leader. In the leader’s surrender to Jesus, and in turn discipleship of a close friend, he (or she) is transformed at least as much as the disciple. The direction is established by God in a much more real way than leadership could ever hope to steer it. It is interesting to notice how the disciples learned from Jesus rather than learning by practicing examples that Jesus suggested. (Not that they did not later have plenty of opportunity to practice.) They attentively watched Jesus do it first, had the opportunity to ask questions and raise objections, and then they had the opportunity to practice. When we hear verses like this, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” (Psalm 119:18 KJV) We want to learn from a psalmist like this because we see he is learning from a God like that.
“After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” (John 13:5 KJV)