In countless meetings, I've encountered the recurring phrases: "We don't do it like that," "We've never done it this way before" and "We prefer the old approach." These sentiments are all too familiar within the realm of leadership.
This resistance to change isn’t a new phenomenon. Even Joshua grappled with such attitudes among the Israelites as they stood on the edge of entering the Promised Land.
Israel was preparing to cross the Jordan River. Spies had already scoped out Jericho. The people were in great anticipation of exiting the desert and finding their new home in the Promised Land. They had been holding out hope for an entire generation as they dreamed of greater things.
Joshua rose early to commune with God and then led the Israelites to the banks of the Jordan where they camped for three days.
Officers wandered through camp with specific instructions to the people. The Israelites were supposed to keep a defined amount of space between them and the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant. The specific instruction was not to come near the ark, but to follow it, as “you have not passed this way before” (Joshua 3:4).
The river, however, was at flood stage and the obstacle of getting to greater things was huge. The Lord gave the Israelites a specific instruction through Joshua to sanctify themselves so they could see the Lord’s wonders.
As we are on the edge of eternity, we, too, have similar obstacles and challenges in our world through generational divides, family challenges, political tensions, wars and rumors of wars, pandemics, endemics and so much more.
God had a lesson for the Israelites that applies to us too. God wants us to be right with Him, to have a devoted state of mind and to follow where He is about to take us.
As Moses started closing his chapter of leadership, he reminded the Israelites, on this side of the Jordan, that God had said they'd dwelled long enough at Mount Horeb. It was time to turn and take the journey to greater things for them and for their descendants (Deut. 1:1–8).
Frankly, it’s time for God’s last-day church to quit wandering in the wilderness as well. It’s time for us to seek those greater things and to see where God is leading us.
For many years, we’ve talked about the changing demographics of our church. Since the pandemic, this conversation intensified with topics of churches that are multiplying, growing, plateauing or declining.
Churches need to be gospel-oriented and gospel-sharing. They need to be Spirit-filled places that are seeking out and doing God’s will to nurture the faith of each generation in relevant ways.
As the Israelites passed through a new pathway, Joshua encouraged his people to embrace the new thing that was about to come. New isn’t bad. Even in heaven, we are going to sing a new song and we will be learning it from the angels.
Even Jesus used new or different methods to heal people while communicating the same message of His love and saving grace. In His healing miracles, for some He spoke, for others He mixed up clay and still others He touched or was touched.
Jesus is the personification of doing things in a new way. He waltzed into the temple and kicked out people who didn’t belong there and invited people to sit down in His Father’s house to learn about the Father.
He invited children to come and be blessed. He lifted up the role of women in a depressed time. He was always doing things that set the establishment on edge because it was new and out of the ordinary.
Joshua is telling the people that they are headed into new territory. New paths are going to be followed. New paths are going to be made. The Israelites needed to sanctify themselves so they would be ready and willing to discern God’s leading.
As God’s last-day people, we will move forward expecting greater things. We need to move forward with God as our leader. We need effective biblical change to help all churches revitalize and grow.
There should be some lead time of prayer between us starting on the path so we can allow God to go ahead of us. If you see change ahead and don’t see God, slow down. Let God show up first and take the lead.
The Israelites, like us, wanted to see their new homeland. On the banks of the Jordan, an entire nation was watching to see what God would do. They committed themselves to prayer and a covenant relationship with God.
As they stepped into the water, the miracle took some time to get there. They had to wait a bit for the miracle of the water to stand still 15 miles upstream. The Israelites had to let go of the past with a step of faith so they could accept the future.
God made their pathway forward clear so they could move forward toward the greater promised gifts of their homeland.
Let us not be bound by the traditions of yesterday, clinging to the old ways. The message is eternal, but the methods may change. Our faith, like a radiant array of colors, should adapt and shine through different lenses and generations. The diversity within the family of God is our strength, not our division.
As we look to the future, let us stand united in the knowledge that God will continue to work in His time and His way through every generation of the church. Our mission remains constant, but our strategies may differ. Let us step boldly into the future, ready to share His light and inspire each generation to reach one more soul for Christ.