Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Casting shadows

When we think of some of the 'greats' of the bible, how often do we wonder that some of those individuals stood in very long shadows of their predecessors? We have their stories, in most case, physically written down decades, if not hundred of years after the events. From the lens of looking to the past, each individual is viewed by the writers of the bible in their own right, but how was is for them when they wee going about their work for God?

How were things for Joshua, as he took on the mantle of leading God's people after Moses? He was young, he was devoted to God, but he wasn't Moses. Is that why, just before the Israelites passed into the Promised Land, Moses says to Joshua "“Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (Deut 31:7-8)” Yes, it will need strength and courage to lead God's people. Moses knows that. Strength and courage, with God going with those who lead God's people. With the reassurance that God will not leave nor forsake those God calls to lead God's people for God.

But maybe Moses also know it will take strength and determination for Joshua as he will be in Moses shadow. Yes, God has chosen Joshua to take over from Moses, but when Joshua inevitably does things different from Moses, the people will say "Moses didn't do it that way" or "Moses wouldn't let us do that" or "Things were so much better when Moses led us" (oh, how quickly people forget!)

The thing is, it still happens. God calls a loved minister (aren't they all) to another charge. That may have happened 30, 40 years ago. (Seriously, it's true). There may have been 2, 3, 5 or 6 ministers in the meantime, but not one of them was as good as their leader all those years ago.

But, the world was different then. Fewer activities on Sundays. More ministers, so fewer vacancies, in general, and a long term vacancy was regarded as over a year! Churches were fuller (well, what else did you do on a Sunday?), with large Sunday Schools and Women's Guilds (they hadn't changed their name), youth fellowship groups, etc, etc. And linkages were the exception, not the norm.

Now, the reality for being church, is very different to even 20 years ago. Churches can no longer expect people to 'come to church.' Church needs to be where the people are. Churches have gone through linkages, dividing their ministers time. In some cases, ministers can have 3 or even 4 congregations they are minister to, which means 3 or 4 Kirk Sessions to moderate, potentially the same number of congregational boards, if the congregations haven't moved to Unitary constitutions. On top of that, the 'rule' that no minister is asked to be an Interim Moderator, chair a Presbytery committee, be part of national councils of the church, chair local church reviews,, basically all the things which are 'over and above' looking after the parish(es) and congregations for the first 5 years is long gone.

But congregations don't get that. No matter how much their ministers try to explain, they look to the Moses of their church and no one, no one at all is as good as they were. Sometimes, even Jesus himself wouldn't be good enough, because some leaders cast very, very long shadows.

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