I’ve grown up in church, so I’m pretty experienced in all the different things that can happen there. One of the least pleasant times I’ve gone through is the loss of a pastor, especially one who’s been there a long time and who was really popular. A good pastor, one who cares about his congregation, who sees himself as a servant, and who carries out his ministry with integrity, is worth his weight in gold. I’ve been through this multiple times in my life, and I owe all of them an eternal debt of gratitude. Many of the people in my last church have only had one pastor through all of their Christian experience, and he was called to a church-planting mission in Canada. He was the one who'd married them and kept their marriages from falling apart, and many of them had been led to Christ through him. He founded the church, and his vision had been their vision for over eight years. Then he left.
Unfortunately, a lot of people also left, because to them our church WAS that pastor. Once he left, they saw the ministry as basically dead, and they abandoned it. We got a new pastor, and the vision God gave him stirred new life into our church. Lots of us (including myself) saw our church as turning a brand-new corner and as ready for the next step upward (sorry for the mixed metaphor).
Regrettably, this is a story repeated again and again. Once the pastor leaves, people start looking for another church, or they abandon God’s family altogether. I think they need to read this passage until they get it into their heads: God’s servants leave, but God’s work carries on. The first two verses of Joshua set the stage for the rest of the book: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, it’s time to complete my plan for you.” They paid the proper respect for Moses (mourning for thirty days), and then God told them to get ready to cross the Jordan.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for Billy Graham, but there will come a day (probably sooner than later) when he will be taken home. Want to know one of the reasons I have so much respect for him? Imagine this scenario. An angel appears to him, and gives him this revelation straight from God himself: “When you die, the Lord is going to raise up a thousand like you. In fact, they will be so much better at leading people to Christ, that within ten years after you’re gone, no one on earth will even remember your name. You’ll be completely eclipsed by their success in bringing millions of people to salvation.” What do you think would be his reaction? Jealousy? Anger? Friend, you couldn’t give him any better news than this! If an angel actually told him this, he'd carry a smile into the grave and into Glory.
On a side note, I would like to issue a challenge to anyone in a church with a new pastor. If the old pastor was popular and long-term, then I promise you that the new one needs a boat-load of encouragement. He'll have to fight (in his mind and in many others) constant comparisons to the former leader. Why do you think Joshua needed five times (here and four times in today’s reading) for someone to tell him “Be strong and courageous”? Please make it as easy for him as possible.
Thank you Father, that your work doesn’t depend on any one man. You are eternal, and your purposes are sure. I trust you.
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