Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Biblical Plan For Transitioning Spiritual Leadership

A Biblical Plan For Transitioning Spiritual Leadership
Numbers 27:15-23

Most of us are aware of the debate going on, mainly behind the scenes, regarding whether or not our president is constitutionally qualified to be the president of the United States. The issue centers around the question of his citizenship—Is Barak Obama a fully bona-fide citizen of the United States? Now, I personally don't think the issue is going to develop to the point of really effecting whether President Obama remains our president or even seeks a second term. My guess is that the judicial process will simply slow down to the point that if he is not a rightful citizen of the United States and thus qualified to be a president of this country that this won't be decided until long after he has faded into the political sunset. But the interesting thing about the whole discussion is that for the most part—it is a peaceful one. No one is advocating rebellion or secession from the Union or really any kind of realistic impeachment. As in the case of the last 225 plus years—our country has had a peaceful and really non-eventful transition of leadership.

Now, quite the opposite from this track record is another organization, if you will, which does not have such a stellar track record of peaceful and non-eventful leadership transitions—and that is the church. Church Historians tell us that one of the most fragile moments in a church's lifespan is when it is transitioning form one leader to another and especially from a strong, well-respected and loved leader to another. Church Statisticians make the same claim—stating that if churches do not find a better way to choose new leaders to replace old ones—they face very difficult days.

Well—this is where we will be in the not-so-distant future. My family and I will be leaving to pursue God's call upon us toward missions and you will need a new leader. And as I have thought about this issue for months now—I too, have thought there has to be a better way than how churches typically choose new pastors and if there is—it most certainly should be fund in the Bible—our final and authoritative standard for Life, Faith, & Practice.

Interestingly enough, as I studied out the subject of “spiritual leadership and how it is transitioned from one man to another in the Scriptures”, I found that in most of the situations the Bible presents to us of a new leader taking the reigns in providing spiritual leadership to the people of God that there was a series of very similar stages the leadership transition period went through. Whether it was Moses passing authority to Joshua or the Prophet Samuel to King Saul and then King David, or Elijah to Elisha or Paul to Timothy, or the Apostles to church elders or church elders to men qualified to be elders—the following stages all seemed to have occurred to some degree in the transition of leadership:

There was the: Realized Need Stage—where the present leader realized the need for a new leader—a replacement, if you will.

Second, there was the Divine Choice Stage—where God makes it clear at least to the present leader that He has already chosen a replacement for the present leader.

Third, there was the Leadership Recognition Stage—where God provides the criteria for recognizing whom He has selected for leadership over His people.

Fourth, there was the Leadership Commission Stage—where the present leader and God's people recognize who the new leader is to be and then commission him to that leadership position.

Fifth, there was the Passing of the Torch Stage—where the present leader before leaving the scene spends time mentoring and helping the newly recognized and commissioned leader assume his role of leadership so as to pass off the torch of leadership smoothly.

Finally, there was the Divine Credibility Stage—where God provides the necessary divine credibility for the new leader in the eyes of His people so that they desire to follow His leadership.

And the event in which all of these stages are most clearly seen in in the transition of spiritual authority from Moses to Joshua. So, for the next few weeks, we are going to enter into a short series on spiritual leadership as we primarily look at the life of Joshua in the Old Testament. And throughout, this study, we will see over and over again what God says is important and necessary for spiritual leadership over His people—whether those people be the Old Testament nation of Israel, the New Testament Church, or even in your own marriage and family.

So, please turn with me to Numbers 27:15-23.

In this passage we really see three main points: (1) What qualities in a man did Moses believe would be necessary in his replacement. (2) What qualities did God add to Moses' as being necessary in his replacement. (3) How did the transition of leadership take place. So, let's dig into the passage and see:

1.What Moses Desired In His Replacement. (15-17)

As Moses is once again reminded by God that he will not lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land, his first response surprisingly is not that of being upset with God, regret over the consequences of his sin, or begging God for another chance. In fact, Moses is not concerned about himself at all but rather is concerned that God appoint a leader to replace him when this time comes. And in this response of Moses, we really see some of the reasons why he was such a great leader—

First, he was more interested in his people's welfare than his own. In fact, in this case, we see that he was more interested in their future than he was his own future. His primary concern was not that he was about to lose his position and in fact—his life. His primary concern was that his people were about to lose their leader and be left as “sheep without a shepherd”. This concern of Moses demonstrated the tenderness he had toward these people. He did not merely lead them out of duty but out of devotion—he really loved them.

Second, Moses was more concerned about God's work than his own work and personal ambitions. In essence, his concern was that the work of God in bringing the Israelites into Canaan and conquering it so as to glorify His own Name might be carried on and accomplished, even though he would not have the honor of being a part of it.

Third, Moses demonstrated a believing dependence upon God to provide a new leader for the people. And he knew and trusted in the fact that God could either find a qualified man and appoint him or would qualify a man and appoint him. In either case, Moses was confident that God could and would appoint the right man for the job.

These major concerns of Moses then became his main prayer request as in verses 15-17 he asks God to appoint a leader over the people. But, Moses did not just ask God to appoint a leader over the people—he asked God to appoint a certain kind of leader for the people.

Let's take a moment to see what kind of prerequisites Moses, one of the greatest leaders of all time, thought was necessary in the man who would as his replacement, lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land.

A)The Future Leader of God's People Needs To Be Selected And Appointed By God—Who Knows All Men's Hearts. (v. 16)

The title, which Moses uses for God in verse 16 is only used here and in Numbers 16:33. It refers to God's omniscient understanding of everyone's heart and mind, which guarantees the wisdom of God's choice of a leader.

As 1 Samuel 16:7 states: “For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Thus, in using this title for God, Moses is asking God to look and appoint the man who had the right heart to lead His people. So, before he ever gets to the resume detailing education, experience, skills, and references—Moses asks God to appoint a man who had the right kind of heart to lead His people. Now, there is an essential spiritual leadership principle imbedded in this verse that we must not miss. God's people do not appoint their own leaders—God does!!! The role of God's people in the selection of leaders is not that of selecting and appointing their own leader—rather their role is to recognize the leaders God has already selected for them. And the reason why we, the people, do not select and appoint our own leaders is because we do not know and cannot know the hearts of men. But, we can with the Holy Spirit's guidance and the Word of God's instructions recognize the man God has chosen to lead His people and then follow his leadership. And in verse 17, Moses provides some of the fundamental characteristics, which would identify the man God had chosen to lead His people.

B)The Future Leader of God's People Needs To Be A Man Who Knows How To Lead God's People God's Way To Pursue God's Goals In Good Times And Bad. (17a-b)

The phrase in the beginning of verse 17, “who will go out and come in before them” is a Hebrew idiom (figure of speech) that refers to the ability to first, of all, lead one's self before trying to lead God's people in the everyday normal affairs of life. Note that the only real difference between this phrase and the one which follows is that in the second phrase he is to lead others to do what he is already doing. Thus, this first characteristic that Moses raises in regard to recognizing the man God has chosen to lead his people is: not only can he lead God's people but can he lead them by first and foremost leading himself when the spotlight is not on him. In other words, does he have the self-discipline, integrity, and godly character to govern himself to do the right thing in regard to temptation,integrity, duty, and responsibility when the absence of a crisis means no one is watching him and he can get pretty much get away with anything he wants.

To determine this—one would want to know how this man conducts himself in the leadership of his home, his wife, his children, his job, his finances, his personal habits, and his own walk with the Lord. You'd want to know whether he spends time with those he leads--again, such as his family, his wife, his kids, and those he is involved in leading at church or outside of the church.

And finally, how does he lead himself? Does he govern his own life well? Does he discipline himself for the sake of godliness? Does he invest personal time in personal spiritual growth and development? How does he use his leisure time? Does he pittle it away or does he use it for productive goals? And especially, productive spiritual goals? Listen, if a man cannot lead himself why would you think he can lead anyone else?

This exact phrase is also used in 2 Chronicles 1:8-11 of the divinely gifted and resourced ability to rule, govern, and lead God's people. But, if you remember, Solomon's rule was one of peace. Thus, this phrase is not so much talking about the leader's ability to lead during times of crisis but rather during the routine of life. This phrase indicates that the man God has chosen to lead just doesn't show up to lead when everything has hit the fan and is headed south—No--the man God has chosen to lead is the man who is with his people and leading them when things are relatively quiet and peaceful. In other words, he is there with God's people ministering to them, guiding them, and leading them when in their minds there isn't much of a need for such leadership because everything is good.

The phrase also has the idea of “hands-on-leadership” or on-site leadership rather than leadership that is impersonal and distant. Thus, in Moses' mind, one of the marks of the leader God has chosen is that he is with his people providing hands-on, on-site, and personal leadership during the times when they aren't aware that they need leadership.

There is yet another characteristic that this phrase highlights when it comes to leadership. Most recognized leaders are known because they led well in and through a crisis. However, during the routine, mundane, day-to-day, non-crisis leadership issues—they oftentimes have proven themselves to be disasters.

Rudy Giuliani is one example of such a leader. Giuliani, who was the Mayor of New York City during 911, gained international attention for his leadership, during and after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. For those actions, he received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth in 2002. In fact, he became so popular that he threw his hat into the 2008 Republican Presidential Primary Race and was considered a viable candidate until his candidacy faltered later in the year.

On December 24, 2001, Time magazine named Giuliani it “Person of The Year” for 2001.
Time observed that, prior to 9/11, the public image of Giuliani had been that of a rigid, self-righteous, ambitious politician. After 9/11, and perhaps owing also to his bout with prostate cancer, his public image had been reformed to that of a man who could be counted on to unite a city in the midst of its greatest crisis.

So, here is a leader who led well in a crisis and was recognized as a great leader for it. But how well did he do in his own life and personal leadership during the normal routine affairs of life? Well, he has been married three times, had numerous affairs, his children are estranged from him, and one major periodical reported when he was running for president that: "All of this brings the soundness of his judgment into question”. Another wrote that he was a "man without convictions".

You see, sometimes it is much easier to lead well in and through a crisis than it is to lead well when life is pretty quiet, calm, and even boring.

All of these things and more are bound up in what Moses was thinking when he made the point that this is the kind of leader he was looking for and the kind of leader that would evidence God's hand upon him.

Then in the second phrase in verse 17, Moses identifies the second characteristic you would want to look for in determining if a man has been appointed by God for spiritual leadership. He changes the first phrase just a bit from the leader's own personal goings out and comings in to the ability to lead the people “out and bring them in”. This phrase has to do with leading God's people in God's endeavors to accomplish God's goals utilizing God's means and God's ways so as to achieve God's results and enjoy God's blessings.

This is leadership in and during crisis situations or in situations in which decisive action is required. It is leadership under fire. And what Moses has in mind is that the mark God's people need to be looking for when trying to determine if a man is God's man for spiritual leadership is the character and quality of his leadership when under pressure.

Now obviously, Moses has in mind—the leading of the people into battle, which is what his successor is going to have to be able to do. And so one of the first things Moses has in mind is—that this man must be where the battle and God's people are. He must be in front of them leading the charge not behind them seeing which way they want to go or which front seems the less risky. Under pressure, God's leaders are engaged in the battle. They are not disengaging or retreating or looking for safe haven—they are engaged in the battle and furthermore they are leading God's people to be engaged in it as well.

Notice that this leadership characteristic Moses is highlighting here is the ability of a man to lead God's people into battle or into situations that appear risky and even dangerous. Now, this means that the man who is qualified for spiritual leadership is willing to sacrifice the sheep if the shepherd demands it. He is willing to even put the congregation at risk and lead them into battle and hard times and risky situations, and danger and the unknown if that is what God is requiring.

When I was qualifying to become a rescue boat coxswain in the Coast Guard one requirement I had to demonstrate understanding in was when to risk the boat and crew in a dangerous rescue operation. The other major requirement I had to demonstrate in “on-the-job” training was to actually make the decision to put the crew and the boat at risk in a dangerous rescue operation. You see, it is one thing to know and understand when to put the crew and the boat at risk—it is quite another to make the decision to do so. And the Coast Guard does not want leaders who can't make that decision. And neither did Moses.

I agree with what one Civil War general said about the difference between good leaders and great leaders. He said that to be a good leader a man must love the His troops but to be a great leader that man must be willing to sacrifice the very thing he loves—for the fight it was created for.

The leader God appointed would be recognized by his understanding of when to make risky decisions and then actually making them when God's will demanded such. He would know when to risk the congregation, the church—the ship and crew—so to speak and then would do so when God's will and glory demanded it. Thus, the man who has the heart for spiritual leadership is a man whose greatest concern is not himself, his leadership, or even the people he leads—but rather God's glory. He is not a limp-wristed panzy who is afraid to fight the battles of the Lord with the Army of the Lord.

I think that we in the contemporary church have long forgotten Jesus' words about His church in Matthew 16:18. Jesus said to Peter: “I also say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock [Peter's confession that Jesus is the Son of God] I will
build My church and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” In other words, in Jesus mind, the church was on the offense attacking Hell and the gates of Hell would not stop His church.

This is a whole different attitude than I think most of us have about the church of Jesus Christ isn't it?! We tend to think of the church as being in a defensive position always reacting and usually retreating under Hell's attacks. But Jesus said that His church was not the defender but the attacker who was bringing the fight right up against the very gates of hell itself and that requires churches who are being led by leaders who are willing to lead their churches into spiritual battle and make decisions that cause the church to go out on a limb for the glory of God in terms of her ministry goals, mission's goals, budget, and so forth.

This is the kind of leader Moses said the children of God needed. I think its the kind of leaders we still need.


In his excellent book on Spiritual Leadership, which I would recommend to all of us—Oswald Sanders makes this point: The real qualities of leadership are top be found in those who are willing to suffer for the sake of objectives great enough to demand their wholehearted obedience. Spiritual leaders are not made by election or appointment, by men or any combination of men, nor by conferences or synods. Only God can make them. Simply holding a position of importance does not constitute one a leader, nor do taking courses in leadership, or resolving to become a leader. The only method is that of qualifying to be a leader. Religious position can be conferred by bishops and boards, but not spiritual authority—which is the prime essential of Christian leadership. That comes—often unsought—to those who in earlier years have proved themselves worthy of it by spirituality, discipline, devotion, ability, and diligence . . . . . Spiritual leadership is a thing of the Spirit and is conferred by God alone. When His searching eye alights on a man who is qualified—He anoints him with His Spirit and separates Him to his distinctive ministry.”

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