Change of Command

In a few short days, I will be joining a new team at church. Although I know some of the people there personally, it will be the first time I will be serving with them. There is an unwritten understanding that I will assume some leadership role.

This got me thinking about leadership from a biblical perspective and God sees a change in command. Maybe from the Book of Kings? Nope; I’m not inheriting a kingship. What about the New Testament? Nope; apostolic succession was never codified since all the Apostles were martyred; no time to formally pass the baton. I guess I’ll stick with the OT, especially this one kept coming up. Thanks God; I’ll go with your nudge – much wiser. 🙂

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: â€śMoses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites…”

– Joshua 1:1-2

The first words from God was: “Moses my servant is dead.”

Why would God start with this sentence? That sounds strange. In the US military, change of command ceremonies are scripted affairs. The old commander is thanked, given some token of appreciation, and whisked away while the new one steps up, introduces himself, and sets out his vision. In the corporate world, a senior exec introduces the new manager to the team, says a few words. The incoming manager says a few words and thus the introductory meetings begin.

So why do it this way?

First, Moses died away from the camp. God buried him in an unknown location. We know that from the book of Jude. Joshua wasn’t there, and Joshua had been the faithful understudy. Joshua was there for all the big events except this one.

Second, God called Moses his servant, but the relationship was much more than that. If God is infinite, then His sorrow at the loss of a very close friend was just as infinite. You think God doesn’t mourn? Doesn’t care? Wrong! He does care. God never forgets past service, but He is looking for us in the present.

Third, God is telling Joshua not to look to Moses, but to Him. I think this is key. Moses is highly venerated in 3 religions and is listed among the great lawgivers. It’s easy for us to look to past leaders and consider that time a “golden age.” It is just as easy for current leaders to emulate past leaders too closely that they are criticized as a ineffective copycat.

True story: while she lived, Queen Elizabeth I was a controversial figure and the target of multiple Catholic plots. And there is no doubt that she achieved a lot as a woman in a man’s world. Towards the end of her life, she made some poor decisions both personally and professionally. But after she died and the Stuart kings took power, some of what James I and later his son Charles I did made Elizabeth’s time much more palatable. “Oh, if Queen Elizabeth was here, she would not have done this…” “It was a grand Tudor golden age.” And that’s human nature.

Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I of England

Fast forward to today: “Oh, if only Pastor James were still alive and in charge, he would set those elders straight!” Or “Reverend John-Mark always did it that way and so will we,” – forgetting that John-Mark has been dead 20 years.

No. God wants us to look to Him for guidance today, not some nostalgic past. Past experiences help, but the circumstances could have changed. It is axiomatic that a person could encounter the same situation twice and respond very differently. I mean, I drive the same route home every day. I haven’t changed much in 24 hours, but deciding whether I run a yellow light on Grand Avenue? That depends. As a leader for Team A now on Team B – would I have made the same call? It depends.

Fourth, God’s marching orders to Joshua start NOW! There is no interregnum, no transition period, but go! Take the people to get ready to cross the Jordan river in 3 days! God is telling Joshua: The ball is in your court. You’re the new leader. There is work to be done, not time to build personal empires.

To Joshua’s credit, the man obeys immediately. After all, he has been waiting for this moment his whole life! The last time Joshua saw the Promised Land, he was a spy. The next time, he’s going as a conqueror. Joshua has seen God do miracles and he is waiting for more miracles. I can imagine the old man strapping on his sword once more, grabbing his battered helmet, and calling for his aide to bring his armor and spear. There was probably an excited glint in his eye. Yes, Joshua was ready to look to the future.

If you are a Christian leader who is stepping into a new ministry, just remember; let the past be the past and just be with God as he moves you and your team into the future.

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