Leading the Way

 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses 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. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:1-9 (NIV)

Being placed in a leadership role can be scary. Depending on the size and scope of the organization, there can be times when the role may be daunting. The health of the organization may add to the burden of leadership if there are issues of concern. Transitions within the organization and/or its direction can also create leadership challenges. Many times there is no playbook on how to navigate these situations. Insight from other leaders and the organization’s 

own governance documents and policies may be of some assistance. Leaders can often feel alone. Leaders can experience high levels of stress accompanied by a multitude of concerns. A sense of inadequacy for the leadership role to which the person has been called can enter her/his thoughts.

A leadership transition is occurring in today’s reading from Joshua. Moses has died and his assistant, Joshua, will become the new leader of the Israelites as they enter the promised land. The Lord is giving Joshua instructions as the new leader of the Israelites. The Lord tells Joshua as the people cross over the Jordan that they are to strictly follow the law Moses gave from God. Success will come by following what God has said. God reminds Joshua to be strong and courageous in his leadership. God promised Joshua to always be with him.

These words must have been important to Joshua because he was dealing with a multitude of issues at the time. Moses was Joshua’s leader and mentor. Joshua probably assumed that Moses would be the one to lead the Israelites into the new land and help them to become established but now Moses was dead. Joshua quickly goes from being an assistant to being the leader of a rather rebellious group of people. Even though Joshua had watched Moses as he led by God’s guidance, there was no handbook to follow outside of God’s commands. God gives Joshua the pep talk and assurance which Joshua needs to be a leader of people entering a new land.

We may not be called upon to lead people into a new land but the Lord’s words are still helpful to us. Whether we are called to  be a leader of a large or small organization, or to be the leader in our own house, these directions from the Lord apply to us. It is important that we use God’s commands and Jesus’s teachings as our guides in navigating life’s journey. Knowing that the Lord has promised to always be with us wherever we go provides the confidence we need to face whatever may lay ahead of us on our journey. So let us go boldly into each day whether that day we are leading or following. The Lord has given us guidelines to follow and a promise of being present with us wherever we journey.

Leadership Transitions

22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. 24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

27 To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

John 3:22-30 (NIV)

One of the hallmarks of the way in which our nation is governed is the peaceful transition of power following an election. This is a closely followed tradition at every level of government from the President of the United States to the members of our local school boards. This type of transition sets our nation apart from many other countries. Nations which have adopted a variety of forms of democracy have emulated this quality of the United States. Even in very contentious elections, this hallmark has always been honored. The transition of power is a well-orchestrated process. How smoothly this occurs is based on the character of the individual in leadership prior to the election.

The passage from John’s gospel is about a transition of power. Prior to John baptizing Jesus, John had been the heralder of the Messiah and the one chosen to prepare the people for the coming of God’s kingdom. John was a leader who drew many people to himself. Once Jesus had been baptized by John and had begun his ministry, the process of transition was placed in motion.

Today’s passage brings Jesus in close physical proximity to John. Both men were continuing to teach and baptize the people who came to them. Because they were in the same area, a person came to John to point out that more people were going to Jesus than John. This is when we get to see the nature of the leadership of John. He reminds them that he had already said he was not the Messiah but instead he was to point others to the Messiah. Then John indicated that it is proper for the transition to take place. Jesus is to be the one who gathers more people to him while John’s influence is to diminish.

Transitions can be easy or very difficult. When the transition involves power and influence, the nature of the transition is amplified among humans. John, the Baptist, provides an excellent role model for leaders. Instead of fighting to retain power, control, and influence, a strong leader acknowledges the need for transition. The leader gracefully lessens the role which they now play and welcomes the new leader. This is the model which has been followed in our country since George Washington. This is the model of a servant leader. May we always see this model followed by all our leaders this day and forever more in our nation.

Classless Church

In the June issue of The Atlantic, James Carroll wrote an article entitled, “To Save The Church, Dismantle the Priesthood.” When I saw the cover of the magazine and it listed this featured article, I knew that I had to read what appeared to be a disconcerting concept.

In the article, Carroll presents an argument for removing the clerical titles which have been a significant part of the church hierarchy. His reasoning for this is that these titles separate and give power to a certain class of members which leads to corruption. He argues that this is why there has been rampant sexual misconduct among the clergy because the clergy protect their “class.” My intent is not to argue in support or opposition to what Carroll states but instead to consider what the pros and cons of the removal of a clergy class in the church. Also, I will not be able to fully cover all the arguments in this post.

Beginning with some pros for this change in the church. I do think that Carroll has a valid point that in some denominations, clergy are able to hide behind a code of secrecy among their peers. When their peers are charged with the task of investigating and trying an accused colleague, accountability may come into question. The one way this works is that there is such a high level of transparency in the process and a structured process which can be problematic as well. Elimination of a special designation for clergy could have the potential of placing the handling of misconduct on a more level ground.

Another possible pro to the elimination of a clergy designation is that it would actually require more commitment from the rest of the members. Part of being a member of the clergy is that certain responsibilities and expectations are placed upon the individual. If one person is not given a title which automatically requires fulfillment of these responsibilities and expectations, then those will need to be divided among others within the church.

However, a change as being proposed here comes with issues. The first issue is that organizations quickly struggle if there is not identifiable leadership. While there are aspects of the work which can be managed through group leadership, there are logistical aspects which require a designated person with the correct skills in place. The reality of humans is that we all are given different abilities so there is an inherent division based on skills and abilities. The church has always considered clergy to have a specific role based on their skills and abilities. My denominational background refers to this as separate in responsibilities but equal in faith.

Another issue is that some responsibilities and expectations within the church require specialized training. The method for this training has traditionally been through learning institutions which are called seminaries. Degrees are obtained confirming that the individual has received the necessary education to reasonably fulfill the unique responsibilities and expectations referred to the clergy. Due to the intensity of study needed to obtain that knowledge, not every person sitting in the pew can be expected to obtain this education. So individuals are chosen through a variety of means to obtain such education and training and then return to the church and fulfill the specific responsibilities and expectations.

Again, this is just scratching the surface but my conclusion is that while creating a classless church may solve some problems which now exist, other problems will arise. Does the church need reformation and restructuring? YES Should the individuals in the pews take on more responsibilities? YES Does the elimination of the designation clergy solve all the problems? NO The church is made up of humans who are imperfect, from top to bottom. This truth means that problems will always exist. The true question is are we willing to adapt, learn, relearn, and reform.