Five months ago, when Liz and I stood before the church on our first day as new pastors, we were very aware that God was calling us to take the church on a new journey. It was the beginning of a new season and change would be both inevitable and necessary. Change is never easy, not for the people bringing it nor those effected by it.
We were reminded of the story of Joshua, when he took over the reigns from his predecessor Moses. Moses had been a great leader and had led the nation out of slavery. However, he had taken them as far as he could and now the nation of Israel had made the desert their home. When Joshua came to take over from Moses the people were in a place that was relatively safe, happy and comfortable.
Joshua could have taken the easy option and kept things how they were. However, for the sake of future generations he had to take people out of that place of comfort. He was going to be called to do things that were unconventional, using methods that were strange and new. Those that know the story will know that Joshua eventually did this and led the people into the promises of God.
This is where we felt we were in the church, taking over from a leader who had led faithfully and a church full of good people. However, like Joshua, we knew, that for the sake of future generations, we would be called to do things in ways that were new and unfamiliar.
The succession from Moses to Joshua is actually one of the Bible’s biggest success stories. He led in a completely different way to Moses and brought massive changes, and yet there is no feeling that he has dishonoured Moses in the slightest. I think that Joshua understood a couple of important things.
He stood on the shoulders of Moses
I think that Joshua realised that he was only able to lead the people into the promised land because Moses had already led them out of slavery. It is all too easy to forget that what we have is because of the hard work of those that have gone before us. Joshua is keen to say that Moses was a servant of God. (Joshua 1:15) Joshua does not complain that Moses hadn’t taken the people further, but rather celebrated what he had achieved.
It is all too easy to criticise leaders. Often we can think that we can see what leaders should be doing and aren’t. However, after now been in Christian leadership for a number of years, I have realised that leading is like driving in the fog.
A few years ago I was driving back from one city to my home town around 20 miles away. It was dark and very very foggy. When driving in the city the fog wasn’t a problem because of all the street lights. However, we then left the city and went onto the dark country roads and the visibility became extremely poor. Thankfully, there was a car about 25 metres in front of me. I could see the road between me and the car and, because of the car’s headlights, I could also see in front of that car as well. The car in front appeared to be driving far too slowly for the amount of visibility that I had.
Leadership is like driving in the fog
Thankfully, I have been driving a long time, and so have experienced the situation a number of times. As a result I happily sat back and drove behind the car grateful for the fact that the driver in front of me was doing all of the hard work. When I was younger, and less experienced, I would have gotten frustrated at the slow rate of progress and overtaken the car. It is only then that I would have realised that you can hardly see a thing when you are in front.
As leaders we are driving into the fog. Paul himself says ‘For now we know in part and prophesy in part’ (1 Cor:13v9). From behind, before entering into leadership, it can look like the leader should be doing this or doing that. It is easy to criticise the person in front. You often don’t realise that they are straining to look out of the window just attempting to stay on the right road and trying to avoid a big crash. After being in leadership for a number of years Liz and I have developed a lot more grace for people who are leading the way.
I think that Joshua realised the challenges of leadership and so you never hear him criticising his predecessor. He was now driving into the fog, just as Moses had been. Instead, Joshua is grateful for how far Moses has taken them.
He honoured Moses’ leadership, not his destination
Joshua honoured Moses’ leadership, but he didn’t copy his ways. He didn’t leave things how Moses had left them. he didn’t confuse honouring Moses with keeping the people where they were. He knew that a drastic change of direction was needed in order to secure the future. Too many people think that honouring a leader means doing things in the same way that they did things. Joshua understood differently. He knew that, while we stand on the shoulders of those who go before us, we still need to dare to be different for the sake of our generation.
The scholar, N.T. Wright, realised this when he was once asked to go and preach at the school which he had once attended as a boy.
“It was one of those annual events that many schools have where we were supposed to remember the great pioneers who had founded the school, developed it, and given it its character.
So that is what I preached about. But I pointed out that something very odd was going on. Each one of the men and women we were honouring had been innovators. They had been the ones who dared to do things differently, to go in a new direction despite the people who wanted to keep things as they were. But we, by reading out a list of their names in a solemn voice, and by holding them up as our founding figures, were in danger of doing the opposite; of saying that we wanted everything to stay just the way that it had always been. Do you honour the memory of an innovator by slavishly following what they did, or by daring to be different in your term?”
Joshua dared to be different. Instead of keeping the people in comfort he led them into battle. Instead of having a visible pillar of God’s presence to lead them, they were having to rely on God’s promise instead. The scenery, activity, destination and even diet all changed. The transition would not have been easy. However, it led them into their future.
As I contemplate these things, it makes me more grateful for the efforts of those that have gone before me. The church has been a light in our community for well over 80 years. Many people have sacrificed to get this church to where it is. Many leaders have done their stint at the front, driving into the fog.
My immediate predecessor, Pastor Alec Hilton, has served the church for over 20 years. Few people will know the burden that he has carried, but I truly believe that he has served faithfully in his generation. He has left the church full of good, godly, people, and a building without debt. I want to honour all that he has done in order to achieve that. He personally, was the person who gave us our first opportunities to minister when we were still very green behind the ears. I recognise, that as Liz and I take the church forward, we do so because we stand on the shoulders of Pastor Alec and those that went before him.
We will change, and have already changed, many of the things concerning how the church was run before. Jesus remains at the centre but the whole ethos of the church is slowly changing as we try to reach another generation. However, this isn’t to dishonour the past. On the contrary, while honouring the past we are striving forward into our future.