Deuteronomy 31:1-8 (Part 2) – Knowing When to Say When: Doing What is Best for the Bride of Christ

Posted: May 1, 2017 in 05-Deuteronomy
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Deuteronomy 31:1-8 (Part 2 of 2)

Joshua Becomes Israel’s Leader

You see it a lot in professional sports. A guy who has stayed one year too long in the league. No longer are they able to perform at the high level they once did, but too proud to say that it’s time to hang it up. One of the famous examples of this phenomenon was Joe Namath. Back in the days before the merger of the American Football League and the National Football League, Joe was one of the first high profile college quarterbacks to accept a contract from the younger, upstart league (the AFL was formed in 1960 while the NFL dates back to the early 1920s). The NFL always got the best the college prospects but this time the New York Jets of the AFL offered Joe Namath a contract that the NFL owners would not be willing to match and Joe became a Jet. He was young, brash, and loud, but he could always back up his mouth with his play on the field. His leading of his New York Jets to victory over the vaunted Baltimore Colts in the 2nd Super Bowl (after the 1969 season) was a landmark moment in the rivalry between the two leagues that ultimately led to the merger of the two. In the years after that Super Bowl, Joe continued to have a couple of really good seasons after that but knee injury after knee injury began to slow him down.


He became at the end a shell of the great quarterback that he once was. Yet, he would not retire. He was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Rams and ended his career quietly and with little fanfare at the end of the 1977 season. There are many such examples in pro sports of hanging on too long and not leaving with dignity. Joe Montana was another great quarterback that spent all but one year of his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers but because of pride refused to retire as a 49er when management thought it was time to hand the reins off to the younger (and equally talented) Steve Young. Montana robbed his fans in San Francisco and the NFL in general of that farewell tour for the man who was the face of the franchise for more than a decade. Instead, he still wanted the glory. Although he performed well in KC, he was injured for about half the time he was there. He finally retired after the 1994 season, but what a spectacle it would have been if he had retired as a 49er, going out at the height of his career three years earlier.


These are celebrity superstar football players that are in the news, but sometimes we see it right around us. In old traditional Baptist churches, you will see pastors who had been at a church for 30 or 40 years and it is obvious that they have outlived their prime and their greatest effectiveness as pastors. They are a shell of the pastor that they once were, but because of the honor of the powers-that-be at the church, they want to the let the pastor retire on his own terms rather than being forced out. In the Methodist Church where, because of the system that they use, pastors at best will stay at a church for a decade at the most, you will see pastors who refuse to retire and end up being transferred to backwater circuits where they are serving small little country churches when they once pastor large metropolitan churches. Knowing when to quit is important. Knowing when it is time to move on is important.


That’s what I thought this morning as I read about the commissioning of Joshua as the new leader of Israel. Man, could you imagine how Moses felt at this moment. Let’s read the passage together, Deuteronomy 31:1-8.


31 Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: 2 “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ 3 The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said. 4 And the Lord will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. 5 The Lord will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”


7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”


Man, could you imagine being in Moses’ position. He was the grand poobah of the people of Israel and had been for about 42-43 years. He had be the guy in charge that led his people out of Egypt through mighty confrontations with the Pharoah. He had managed the people as they became the people of God at Mt. Sinai. He had an intimate relationship with God himself. He had been in the presence of God more times than you could count. He had developed the system of government and dispute resolution of the Hebrew people. He had ran the nation of people and had put up with a lot of bellyaching and complaining over the years. But God tells him that He will not get to the Promised Land. God tells him that he will die before he gets there. He had done a lot of hard work, thankless work over the years. But he would not get the credit of being the guy who led them to that final destination. You would think He would be bitter, but he was able to address the nation and reaffirm the covenant that the people had with the Lord and to pass on the mantle of leadership to Joshua.


What struck me this morning is how we finish is as important as how we start and how we are at the height of our skill. As leaders, we must know when to say when. We must be willing to accept that we are no longer performing at our top level. Also, we must know when it’s time to move on even if we are doing great right where we are. For example, with Moses, he was just what the people of Israel needed when they were a nomadic people who had only periodic skirmishes or battles with other people groups. However, what was called for when entering into the Promised Land was going to be a leader that was a great military leader for one thing and a great leader of a settled nation with boundaries and cities and towns, a standing army, actual buildings of the seat of government and so on. Knowing when its time to turn over the reins of leadership to someone who is better equipped for the new phase of your organization is the toughest thing to do especially when you are still in your prime. Sometimes, it is as important as knowing when to retire.


If you are a pastor who can handle the management of a smaller church of 200 or less but you are not equipped to handle a church’s growth past that barrier (where the pastor personally knows and interacts with each member of his flock), it may be best for you to move on to allow someone who is more gifted and talented at managing other pastors and more gifted at administration to take over. That type of pastor is more equipped to take the church to 500 and maybe to a 1000 or more.


For us personally, do you know when it’s time to move on? Do you know when it’s time to retire? Are you serving in a capacity at church but refuse to give up your position because of pride? Are you willing to say, this is what is best for the church – to allow someone to take my place who has the ability to move the ministry to the next phase of its life cycle. That is not to say that they are better at leading than you. It is simply recognizing that you may have been the groundbreaker and the builder but the next person is the one who builds on what you have done. This leader may have not been the one who could have founded the ministry. They did not have those talents to create something out of nothing like you, but they do have the skills for the next phase of ministry for your ministry.


It is important for us as leaders of the church to do what is best for the church and not necessarily what we want. Sometimes, we get God’s church and Our church confused. I once heard my senior pastor say that the church is the bride of Christ, not my bride. He said we as leaders of the church cannot forget that. We are simply hear to prepare the bride to meet Christ when He returns. We must know when to say when. We must know when it is time for us to allow others to lead and so that God can show us what is next for us in ministry. What if Moses had refused to leave Midian? He would have never experienced the greatest part of His ministry and His greatest moments of closeness to God. Here, though, at the precipice of the Promised Land, Moses was man enough to accept God’s will and pass on the leadership of the people to Joshua.


Finishing well is important, whether its retirement or moving on to the next thing that God has for us. Finishing well requires prayer. We must have an intimate prayer life so that pride does not get in the way of letting go to another leader. We must through the counsel of the Holy Spirit through prayer and through God’s Word to be able to hear that it is time to close out this chapter of our lives and move on. Knowing God’s will requires intimacy with him and the humility to understand when it’s time to say when! We need to prepare the way for the next leader. We must also be aware and open to what God has in store for us. What if Peter had refused to leave the fishing boats? What if he had not been open to the Holy Spirit’s influence on his life? Man, what he would have missed? What if Paul had refused to listen to what Jesus had to say in his vision on the Damascus Road? Where would the church be now? Where would the New Testament be (about one half its final canon)? What if we were so prideful in trying to hold on to what we have right now that we refuse to see the opportunity that God has for us next? What if it involves not moving from the church you are at now but changing roles at the church you are at now? We must listen for the Lord to tell us when to stay and when to go. We must do that through being obedient to His counsel through prayer and through God’s Word.


Let us learn to finish well. Let us learn to know when its time to stay and when its time to move on. Let us be open to what God has next for us. Let us be willing to hand the reins to another for the good of the bride of Christ. Let us be willing and open to do that so that God can show us what comes after Midian, what comes after the Damascus Road, what comes after the fishing boats, what comes next! Finish well!


Amen and Amen.

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