Joshua is recorded as God’s faithful leader who completed the task of bringing the people of Israel into the promised land. Yet Joshua does not magically appear on the scene, suddenly ready to fill Moses’ shoes. Joshua has been by Moses’ side from the early days of the exodus. In Exodus 24:13 Joshua is called Moses’ assistant. So special was this privileged position that when Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the law, Joshua went with him. We see that Joshua was still on the mountain with Moses when Israel fell into idolatry with the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:17). Joshua was also given special access when the Lord came down in his glory at the tent of meeting in Exodus 33. After Moses would speak with the Lord face to face in the tent of meeting, Moses would leave the tent to speak to the people but Joshua would remain in the tent (Exodus 33:11). What we are seeing the Lord do through Moses is groom a leader who will be ready to assume the position when Moses is no longer able to lead. There are three important principles that we see in the rise of Joshua that we can put into practice to raise up future leaders.
Leadership is not accidental. When we come toward the end of Moses’ life, there is not a last minute attempt to figure out who is going to be the new leader for Israel. Joshua has been before the eyes of the people throughout their journey in the wilderness. Joshua was one of the faithful spies. Joshua was Moses’ assistant. Joshua was a military leader during the fight against Amalek (Exodus 17). Joshua had been leading the people before he was ever designated leader over Israel. We have to be careful that we are trying to make people become leaders by appointing them to the eldership. We should see in potential future leaders a heart that is already serving and helping the flock. We cannot designate a person a leader of the flock with the hope that he will become a leader. We want to see a developing leader before he is actually designated as a leader. This is the idea behind the qualifications of the eldership in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. We are looking for a person who already loves the souls of people and is above reproach in a variety of godly characteristics.
Grooming leadership means exposing people to the work before assuming the role. Since leadership should not be accidental, then present leaders need to be working to groom the future leaders. We see this with Moses who brought Joshua with him on the mountain and in the tent of meeting. Present leaders need to teach and provide spiritual wisdom to the younger with intention of building them into future leaders. As an illustration, I am thinking about how I have trained younger men to preach. I do not merely tell them how to do the visible things, like teach a class, preach a sermon, or teach an unbeliever. Far more important is to teach them how live a life that is pure and above reproach. Teach them how to handle criticism. Teach them how to have humility. Teach them how sacrifice self for the best interests of the flock. Teach them through words and actions what good leadership looks like. Joshua was not only given opportunities to serve and lead, but it sounds like he was Moses’ “right hand man.” Joshua saw what Moses experienced and how he handled those experiences with God and with the people. He saw how Moses handled the people rebelling against him. He saw how Moses was the humblest person (Numbers 12:3). One can only imagine how much Moses taught Joshua during the 40 years of wilderness wanderings. Present leaders need to expose future leaders to the work so they will be encouraged to fill the role when the time comes.
Encourage, not resent, future leadership. This leads us to the final point that we see Moses doing with Joshua. Moses encouraged Joshua’s future leadership on many occasions. We never see Moses resenting the serving and leading of Joshua throughout the time in the wilderness. Moses did not see Joshua as his competitor. In fact, Moses wished that all the Lord’s people were prophets and the Lord would put his Spirit on them (Numbers 11:29). Moses said to Joshua before all the sight of Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it” (Deuteronomy 31:7). Think about how Saul resented the anointing of David as future king and all the conflict that ensued because of that jealousy. Moses showed no jealousy toward Joshua but encouraged Joshua’s leadership. Elders should not be threatened by appointing more elders. Preachers should not be threatened by working with other preachers. Elders should not be threatened by deacons, preachers, or teachers. We are working together for the kingdom of God. This work is not about us. We are all merely servants in God’s glorious kingdom. As such, we are not to protect our influence or leadership. Rather, we are to encourage others to join in encouraging and leading God’s people. There should not be strife between elders, deacons, preachers, or the flock in any combination. We are to use what abilities we have to help people see the glory of loving and serving our Lord.
Sometimes we are quick to bemoan how we do not see any future leaders in our congregations. But are we doing anything to change this situation? Or worse, are we doing something to prohibit future leaders from rising up? Let us look to the model established by God through Moses to think about future leadership now, exposing Christians who show a love for God to the work of serving and leading the flock, and encouraging their growth, not resenting it. Let us equip one another to the important task of serving and leading God’s people home to be with the Lord.