“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all the people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.” (Joshua 1:2)  

When Joshua succeeded to leadership in Israel, there was no doubt in his or anyone else’s mind what his commission involved. The charge to him was threefold: lead Israel across the Jordan; engage the pagan nations of Canaan until every last one of them had been expelled from the land which they had so hideously polluted by their idolatry and immorality; and settle the people in their promised districts, according the Word of the Lord.

Joshua’s work was a precursor to and foreshadowing of the work of our Lord Jesus. He also came to lead His people out of one “land” into another (Colossians 1:13); to overcome and expel every enemy that stands in the way of the progress of God’s economy (John 12:31, Colossians 2:15); and to establish His followers in all the blessings and promises of His Word (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Moreover, this work, taken up by Joshua and brought to its highest level by our Lord Jesus, serves as a model for leaders in the household of faith for all ages. The duty of leaders — in churches, parachurch ministries, schools, and households — is to enable those in their charge to possess the promises of God to the fullest possible extent.

For this to occur, leaders must insist on leaving old ways behind, going by faith into a new Kingdom of divinely charted territory under the leadership of God’s Spirit (Romans 14:17-19). They must protect those in their care against the attacks of the enemy and teach them how to defend themselves against his wiles and ways (Acts 20:28-31). And they must set them to the hard work of developing the new “land” into which they have been translated by grace through faith, seeking the Kingdom and working out their salvation in fear and trembling before the Lord (Matthew 6:33, Philippians 2:12-13). 

Now, such a view of leadership in the community of faith carries a number of important implications, as well as a raft of requirements that must be faithfully adhered to if success is to follow. 

Three Implications

The first implication of this threefold charge is that leaders need to make certain that they are not confusing secondary responsibilities with primary ones. This happens, for example, when leaders get it in their minds that their primary duty is to keep people happy, or to increase the numbers in everything they’re doing, or to raise the resources necessary for their project to thrive.

Over the years, leaders in a wide range of Christian enterprises have complained to me about how oppressive these tasks can be, how spiritually and emotionally draining they are, and how much of their time is required in just doing these kinds of things. Many leaders I’ve talked with have set aside or minimized such clearly mandated aspects of their callings as prayer, developing relationships, and assessing progress, just to take care of the pressing needs that flare up or persist in each of these areas. 

Each of these duties may well be a component in the leader’s commission. But they must not be allowed to take the first priority, occupying the best of a leader’s time, focus, and energy.