Thoughts on Joshua 24:31

I was listening to a Carey Nieuwhof podcast (CNLP 134) interviewing Carl George and Warren Bird. One statement struck me and then I lost the train of the interview as I mulled on that. My internal monologue/dialogue tends to be louder than my laptop speakers.

They were talking about how many church leaders take seriously training up the next generation of leaders. However, relatively few take seriously training leaders to train up the successive generation of leaders.

I have seen a great amount of this problem.  Consider the following diagram:


George and Bird noted II Timothy 2:22, and that the goal of training and leading is not simply to develop the next generation, but to develop the next generation TO develop the generation afterwards.

Even the first step is difficult to focus on. In the figure above, the left side feels right. We have seen many examples of this in the Bible. Jethro had to pressure Moses to develop leaders. The book of Judges appears to be a big collection of leaders who led without developing the next generation. Eli would have developed no one if God did not intervene with Samuel. Samuel would have developed no one unless God (or was it the people?) intervened with Saul. Elijah would have developed no one if God did not intervene with Elisha.

But some embrace the right side of the figure above and DO develop leaders. But often they develop a different kind of leader. The type of leader they develop is not trained to develop leaders. When I was listening to the podcast the first thing I thought of was the end of the book of Joshua.

Israel served the Lord throught the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done through Israel.  Joshua 24:31

Now I am not sure how to interpret the passage. Were these elders of the same generation as Joshua (or, I guess, slightly younger)? Were they his colleagues or trainees? Regardless, soon after Joshua died, the leadership broke down. Moses trained up Joshua and Caleb, but soon after those two died, things began to fall apart and we are into the cycle of Judges where everyone did “what was right in their own eyes.”

The leadership of Moses and MAYBE Joshua followed the pattern of the upper right figure. What was not done was the figure below.

Leaders 2

How does this happen? I can think of two ways.

First, they train but don’t empower those they train to train others. I am part of the CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) movement in the Philippines. People in this movement are trained and certified to supervise and train others. However, in the Philippines the desire generally has been to train pastoral counselors or clinical chaplain, but not so much to train others to train others. Often those that wanted to be trained from the third generation still had to go back to the first generation. It is not surprising that the CPE movement in the Philippines has been “sputtery.” It has struggled because the training often did not include the empowerment and certification to train others. The power of certification was often held by the originally certified.  Ordination in church can do the same thing. Ordained ministers train up unordained ministers but those unordained ministers are never ordained or empowered to do certain things. Thus, there is no repeatable process to succeeding generations. When the first generation is gone, there is no one to slip into the role… and they have to look for a 23 year old fresh out of seminary to take over the role. This is not a good system.

Second, they may train but for a different role. I have seen this also in the Philippines. Missionaries came to the Philippines to train up Filipino leaders. However, the roles they generally were trained for was not missions or higher level teaching. They were taught to pastor, lead worship, or plant churches. As important as these roles were, by not training Filipinos to be missionaries or seminary professors, the people became dependent on the missionaries. The problem is that while the church may endure, missionaries come and go, and sometimes just go. I have seen many a missionary refuse to leave a role because he believes he is indispensible. It may be true he is, but if he is, it is because he created the system to maintain his indispensibility. (It is quite possible that I have been guilty of this myself.)

Leaders need to do more than train up leaders. They need to empower these leaders to train up other leaders.

We can do better than in Joshua 24:31. We should do better than training up a generation to be faithful as long as they can remember us. We need to train up generations that have never heard of us.

Visions and Missions, Part 2 of 2

Thesis: Vision from the top. Round 3.

The Bible is all about vision from the top. God spoke to Moses, and protected him from others that sought to impose their own visions. God sets up and takes down kings. God speaks to the prophets. The people are supposed to submit to authority in both church and state.

English: Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afa...
English: Moses Sees the Promised Land from Afar, as in Numbers 27:12, by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Gnostics and the Judaizers appeared to come from “false apostles” or people who had a partial picture of the truth and caused great problems in the church. It is the authority of wise leadership that kept the false visions of these apostates and heretics from destroying the church.

Antithesis; Vision from the bottom. Round 3.

The divinely envisioned in the Old Testament were usually not the ones in charge. Moses was a unique unrepeated exception (See Deut. 34:10-12). Commonly, the visionaries were prophets who were closer to the people than to the power establishment. Jesus was a visionary of the people not of the power establishment. Submission to God is unlimited, but submission to human authorities (be they government or church) in the Bible is always limited and cautionary.

In the NT church, visionaries did not seem to be fought against. Philip, a deacon, went out as the first missionary, apparently without official sanction. Long before Paul was sent out by the church of Antioch, he served God ministerially, and he liked to emphasize his lack of reliance on the 12 apostles to do so.

Thesis: Vision from the top. Round 4.

Even if the church did have renegades, the leadership had the authority and responsibility to support or restrain (see for example Acts 15). Leaders lead. They envision, and act. Such envisioning may give freedom for some to act, but may also prevent bad action.

The body/member concept of the church emphasizes the idea of roles. Some are to envision and some are to carry out that vision. The Bible cautions the idea that all members should share a common role.

Antithesis: Vision from the bottom. Round 4.

Joel chapter 2, verses 28-31, talks about God giving dreams and visions to all of His people, not just the leaders. This passage is often used to focus on eschatology and how “cool” dreams and visions are. Yet the key focus appears to be lost in this. The two key things are this:

  • Visions and dreams have a purpose… they are not meant simply to be spiritual entertainment. They must, certainly in part, be instructive as to what God’s peope should do.
  • The visions and dreams are universal. Whether one wants to see Joel 2 being applied to the present or primarily to the future, the passage certainly expresses a divine ideal. The ideal is that God’s envisioning is to all people, not simply top leaders.


I don’t really have any firm conclusions. I tend to emotionally embrace the antithesis. I have seen far too many leaders who talk about vision yet are not visionary… or simply have bad vision. At the same time, the vantage point of leaders does allow a bigger picture that is needed for sound action in certain cases.

A few tentative conclusions follow:

  • Leaders do need to have a vision… but sometimes that vision may be to empower others to act on their own visions.
  • Leaders do need to prevent the excesses that comes from the pressures for change (from some) and the unhealthy maintenance of the status quo (from others).
  • People closest to problems and opportunities are OFTEN the best to know what needs to be done. They should not be supported unilaterally, but leaders should be ready to facilitate and empower action, and should encourage creativity.
  • Too much power in the hands of a visionary person is almost always tragic.

How does this apply to missions? Don’t know, but I believe that mission agencies must be somewhat visionary, but they should train, encourage, facilitate, and empower the vision of the local missionaries as well. They need to be open to the idea that the local missionary knows what is going on better than they do. However, the mission agency does need to maintain accountability and oversight. To much power locally can be as dangerous as too much power centralized elsewhere.

Considering how much difficulty we have with the issue of power (and recognizing that wisdom/vision is also a form of power), it is not surprising to me that the issue is difficult. Add to that human selfishness that seeks to accumulate personal power and execute personal vision, and I feel that an ideal solution is not likely to be found anytime soon.

But I welcome your vision on this.

Visions and Missions, Part 1 of 2

Attempting to block integration at the Univers...
Attempting to block integration at the University of Alabama, Governor stands defiantly at the door while being confronted by Deputy U.S. Attorney General . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)   Is this a good example of “visionary leadership” or bad?

<Note:  I am using a looser definition of “vision” than some would like. I am not assuming vision necessarily means “vision from God.” After all, those of us on the outside of the experience cannot say for sure that a positive view of the future is from God, or self or somewhere else.>

No, despite the name, this is not about Organizational Vision and Mission Statements. Actually, this is about the role of vision, or actually who is to be the source of vision, in missions. This post is a Thesis and an Antithesis without a Synthesis. Someday I hope to have a synthesis.

Thesis: Vision “From the Top.” Round 1

Vision from the top is in many ways the classic viewpoint. The king may not do all that much in his kingdom, but one thing he does is stand at the helm of the ship of state guiding the overall direction the people should go. When I took ministerial leadership class in seminary, I was told the same basic idea for the church. “The pastor is the visionary in the church.” In corporations, the Chief Executive Officer is often selected for leadership skills and vision, rather than familiarity with the business or product line. Denominational structures and Mission organizations tend to do the same thing.

In some ways this makes sense, and it seems foolish to consider another option.

Antithesis: Vision “From the Bottom.” Round 1

There are definitely those who question the classic thesis. The king may be at the top but he has two things that work against him as a visionary.

  • He is the most out of touch, in many ways, with what is “really going on” in the kingdom. He is shielded by levels of bureaucracy (and social stutus) that filter and shade the information that he has.
  • He has a strong vested interest in the status quo. His job security exists partly in not rocking the boat (to return to the ship analogy) too much.

Additionally, when vision is left to the hands of only the person(s) at the top, the visions of the vast majority are squelched. The Civil Rights movement of the United States, and the People’s Power Revolution of the Philippines occurred due to the vision of people who were not in political power. In fact, often the people at the top, the so called visionaries, are not visionary at all. Or their vision is self-serving. Or “their” vision is simply parroting the vision of another (who may or may not have good vision).

In this view, vision comes from the people who most understand the situation. Vision to right wrongs comes from those who are downtrodden or at least interact most with the downtrodden. Vision as far as direction comes from those who DO rather those who TELL WHAT TO DO.

Thesis; Vision from the top. Round 2.

The people at the bottom are too busy doing to take time to analyze. They have a firm understanding of the little picture, but cannot (or at have not had the opportunity to) grasp the big picture.

If people at the top want to maintain the status quo, the regular people often want change, but change without clear focus– change for the sake of change. The multiple visions often lead to chaos, and can make things worse than before. The clear vision of the lowly National Socialist party of Germany in the late 1920s into the early 1930s led to the replacement of a fairly incompetent government with a hugely destructive, diabolical power structure. The laissez-faire tyranny of royal France, led to a devastating poorly focused revolution and the ascedancy of another eventual tyrant. Putting vision into the hands of the people is not such a great idea.

Besides, even the positive visions “of the people” typically did not come from the absolute bottom. The People’s Power Revolution had as its two leaders, a member of a family with great monetary and political power, and the local leader of the Catholic church. With the American Civil Rights movement, the voice of positive change came, to a large extent from a major religious leader. A lot of the other voices from that period were far more destructive or self-serving.

Leaders must lead. They have the wisdom and perspective to see what needs to be done.

Antithesis; Vision from the bottom. Round 2.

Much of the problems listed above with grassroots visioning seem to come not from the bottom but from oppression at the top. When those at the topic see themselves as the sole source of wisdom, and sole wielder of power, pressure for change builds. If that pressure is not given a healthy path to relieve and work, such pressure can lead to dire results.

The problem comes from leaders who see their followers as tools to enact their own vision. Leaders should facilitate and empower others. Leaders should wisely disperse power not hoard it. They should encourage others to envision a better future.