Publication: Pastoral Letter,April 2011
Dear Friend in Christ:
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of installing a new pastor, Scott Lloyd, at the Worship Center in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The following week, I was honored to join in celebrating the 10th anniversary of Larry Grainger as Senior Pastor at Abundant Life Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. These opportunities have led me to study the issue of leadership once again. I have come away from those occasions with a renewed desire to honor leadership for several important reasons, which I will discuss in this letter.
I have also recently read Good To Great by Jim Collins; a book that I highly recommend. Collins and his team studied companies that went from being good companies to great ones and how they did it. It was about the kind of leaders required.
My recent studies led me to Moses and his task of leading Israel out of Egypt to the edge of Canaan, one of the greatest accomplishments of history. I specifically studied chapters 17 and 18 of Exodus.
Many, if not most, leaders begin with an ideal, a vision or ideology. Great leaders begin with reality-their own and the situation. Unless reality is faced, failure is certain. Moses was honest about his own weakness and Israel’s situation. His task seemed impossible and indeed it was, apart from God’s power. But because he was called and empowered by God, he was able to lead millions of former slaves across the Red Sea and into the wilderness, where he was tested time and time again.
Israel’s journey is a foreshadowing of our own from slavery in the world system to the land of promise and reign of God’s will. The journey is in fact a process of getting us out of Egypt, but just as important, getting Egypt out of us and learning both God’s acts and God’s ways. God’s acts deliver us; God’s ways preserve us.
The acts of God are exhilarating and breathtaking; but the ways of God are a matter of tedious retraining of our hearts and minds. We have a 60-pound Labrador puppy at our house. He is being trained and that is not fun for both pet and owners. Training is laborious.
In Israel’s case, they had barely crossed the sea and celebrated when the Amalekites ambushed them. The Amalekites were fierce descendants of Esau, bent upon the effort to stop Israel from its destiny. Their effort to stop Israel set up a battle that demanded real leadership. It would be nice if our journey were a simple tour of the wilderness requiring only a guide, but it is far more than that; it is a battle to enter Kingdom life in the sovereign will of God.
The instructions were unusual but effective. Moses was to go up a hill with Aaron and Hur while Joshua led Israel in battle. There are four leaders involved in their story: Moses was the primary leader who was to hold up the rod, the same one that he had extended over the Red Sea. Aaron and Hur were to go with him up the hill. Joshua was to lead the battle. Moses, Aaron, Hur, and Joshua were the leadership team. (Collins tells us that the right people in the right place are the key to success.)
Moses’ hands grew weary as the battle raged below. As his hands dropped, the Amalekites prevailed. When his hands were held high, Israel prevailed. Realizing this, Aaron and Hur did two things that every leader needs; they sat a large rock under Moses that allowed him to sit down. Authority is best exercised from a sitting position. Note that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand. Secondly, they held up Moses’ hands all day long until Israel prevailed.
When the Battle had ended and Israel had won, the Lord established a memorial. He said, “I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” Then Moses built an altar and called it “The Lord Is My Banner” (Jehovah Nissi). Moses said, “The Lord has sworn that He will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” It would be useful to study the Amalekites as some have done, right up to modern times. War with Amalek has been continual.
If we fail to learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it; losing history is losing the future (to paraphrase others). I urge us all to study history, especially Biblical history.
God appoints leaders. Leaders come from among the people (see Ezekiel 22:30). Culture has an impact upon the quality of leaders-especially in modern culture where public opinion is so dominant. But God chooses from among the people. Perhaps that is one reason why Moses was so great; he was not part of their culture. Leaders are not perfect; Moses was not, nor has any leader been since Moses. Moses had a bad temper, but he was a meek man and not ambitious to be a leader. He was chosen by God.
We are on a journey. We are moving toward a destiny. Management of a status quo is one thing, leading on a journey is quite another. I have led tours and that was chaotic enough, but I cannot imagine Moses’ task. Keeping that many people going forward and together in a wilderness is unimaginable.
There are enemies. Not everyone wants us to accomplish God’s will. Some will die trying to prevent the purpose of God. The Amalekites were brutal and relentless. It wasn’t just one battle; it was and is an ongoing war that will require eternal vigilance and commitment. The enemy has vested interests and he is not merely angry, he is enraged. One story in this ongoing battle is that King Saul was given the task to wipe out the Amalakites. He did not; he spared their King Agag and others, including the best livestock. But in the end, Saul was killed by an Amalekite.
Leaders delegate. Great leaders begin with the who, before the how. They chose the right people and give them responsibility. The wrong people in the wrong place are a problem-creating team instead of a problem-solving team. Leaders trust their team to solve problems and carry out responsibility. Team members requiring continued motivation and baby-sitting are the wrong people. When authority is delegated, it is not diminished. When a team member is empowered, he or she shares in the anointing and authority of the senior leader. My father delegated authority to my mother. If I rejected her directions or showed disrespect, I was in trouble with Dad. He stood 100% behind her; there was no daylight between them. A leader who fails to stand behind his delegate destroys his or her own leadership.
Leaders get weary. One cannot imagine the pressure on leaders in our generation unless they have been there. Public opinion can seem overwhelming to the purpose of God unless the leader is strengthened. Leaders that keep a frenetic pace wear out. Not only do their hands fall, they often fall. We have witnessed the fall of many spiritual leaders in our time. Some fell because of serious character flaws and lack of accountability, but others fell from sheer discouragement and stress. Leaders in our culture are swimming against the current. One Christian college professor told me that every pastor he knew was discouraged. That was a serious statement from a man who knew many pastors. Discouragement means to “lose heart”. Hands go down and God’s people lose battles. Encouragement lifts the hands that hold up authority (see Isaiah 35:3). When leadership is strong in any arena, we win.
God remembers adversaries. When people attack leaders who are trying to follow God, it is God that they are attacking, not just the leader. God remembers them and they become His adversaries. Leaders need not take it personally or become defensive. It is not about us; it is about the purpose of God. No, we are not God, but God is jealous for His anointed ones (see 2 Samuel 22:51; 1 Samuel 26:9; Psalm 18:50; Psalm 2:2; 2 Samuel 1:13-16; 2 Corinthians 1:21; Psalm 37; Psalm 20:6). Be careful of criticizing God’s servants.
The Lord is our banner. Israel’s tribes camped beneath their banners (see Numbers 10:14). They moved with their banners. Moses declared, “The Lord is our banner”. They moved together by tribes under the banner of the Name of the Lord. He was their rallying force-and their battle flag (see Psalms 20:1-9).
The war is unending. This is not good news, but it is reality. We have a tenacious enemy and he will not go down without a fight. The good news is that Jesus defeated him and we can also if we stand together in the name of the Lord. Our children will also face that same enemy and we must not leave them ignorant of evil or the means to victory. True worship will lead us into battle against evil and in pursuit of God’s purpose-“Thy Kingdom Come.” Real worship does not stop at the church exit (see Numbers 32:6). If we go forth, the Lord will go with us. But passivity and cowardice are unacceptable in a day of conflict.
I trust that the above lessons will serve us as we journey in the will of God. We might all camp around different banners, but there is one banner around which we shall all gather. The Lord is His name. I want to thank each of you who prays for me and for CSM, and also those who support us with your financial gifts. We are deeply grateful and honored for your trust, and your willingness to co-labor with us in the cause of Christ’s Kingdom. Please continue to remember us this month. The opportunity to declare the Word of the Lord among the nations in this generation is great, but so is the opposition. We are committed-with your support-to continue to publish, teach, and serve in every way that we can. It seems we are in the days when everything that can be shaken is being shaken, but we have this confidence: what is unshakable will remain.
P.S. There is still time to register now for our annual CSM Leadership Conference in Gatlinburg, TN, May 4-6: “Translating Biblical Worldview into World Mission”. Call our office 251.633.7900 or register online at www.csmpublishing.org. We hope to see you there!
Scripture Reference: Exodus, Ezekiel, Isaiah, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, Psalms, 2 Corinthians, Numbers