03 July 2023

The Joshua generation.

When Moses first appeared before the pharaoh of Egypt to demand freedom for his people, he was 80 years old. Seriously. Eighty. Ex 7.7

I know; the Moses movies never depict him as that old. Never cast an 80-year-old guy to play Moses. Might put him in a long white beard, as they did with Charlton Heston, but dude was still only 33 years old when they filmed it.

I suspect it’s because movie directors look at all Moses achieved and simply can’t believe he was 80. They figure the bible has to have exaggerated his age. But I have no trouble with the idea. After all, the LORD does all the heavy lifting, and all Moses had to do was repeat whatever the LORD told him. And not hit certain rocks—but that’s another story.

People in American culture expect to retire, and sit on our keisters the rest of our lives, at 65. In Moses’s day, retirement wasn't a thing. At his age he was still sheep-herding. Then the LORD called him to shepherd Israel.

For help, Moses had his 83-year-old brother, Aaron—first as spokesman, then as head priest. Plus his 90-something sister Miriam, a prophet. Finally his assistant, Hoshea ben Nun, whose age isn’t stated but was likely about 40. Moses renamed him Joshua, Nu 13.16 and he occasionally led Israel’s militia. Like the United States Congress, that’s what we call a gerontocracy—a nation run by old people. Joshua, and Aaron’s sons who helped their dad lead worship, were the only “youngsters”—if you can call men in their forties, fifties, and possibly sixties, “young.” Younger than Moses, anyway.

But over time Moses and his generation died, and those who were left of Joshua’s generation had to step up and run the nation.

Certain Christians are very aware that at some point, we’re not gonna run Christendom’s churches and denominations anymore. Not gonna lead ministries, charities, Christian schools, Christian publishers, Christian media, humanitarian lobbies, and various businesses which like to imagine they follow biblical principles. We’re gonna retire, either because age or ailments catch up with us; we’re gonna die. We have to hand the reins over to a new generation. The next generation. The “Joshua generation.”

So we gotta get this Joshua generation ready for the job!

Or, y’know, not.

Thing is, over my five decades of being Christian, I’ve seen many a ministry where the president, pastor, or otherwise head of the organization, clings to the reins for as long as he can.

He doesn’t wanna surrender the ministry to a successor. To any successor. Not even if it’s his favorite kid. Not even if Jesus himself tells him, “Son, come on; it’s time.” He’s made no arrangements to pass the ministry forward, and that’s on purpose: He doesn’t want anyone to take his plan of succession, use it against him, and force him out before he’s ready. And he’s never gonna be ready. He could be deep in the throes of full pants-wetting senility, but he’s clinging to those reins like grim death.

When Jesus returns, these people expect to bow to him and confess him as Lord… but only so long that Jesus never takes their ministries away. ’Cause those ministries are theirs. They made them.

In Moses’s case, he clung to power till he died at the age of 120. Dt 34.7 Yep, way past retirement age. Mainly because Moses wanted to lead Israel into the promised land himself. Various preachers describe it as Moses only wanting to see the land—which he did, from a distance Dt 34.1-4 —but let’s be honest: Moses didn’t need to be in charge to witness that. He stayed in power because he never thought to hand it over till he died. And it’s fair to say (due to his giant speech which makes up most of Deuteronomy) dude had all his marbles; he didn't physically need to retire.

Yet there’s something to be said for stepping back, letting your planned successors actually run stuff, and making yourself available for advice and experience-based wisdom. Wise leaders recognize this is definitely the right path to follow. Unwise ones think they’re indispensable, arrange the ministry in such a way that it’ll fall to pieces without ’em, and use it as an excuse to stay in power. Sometimes because of the power; that’s what they love most about it. Not the work, not the people, not helping the needy. The power.

Meanwhile the Joshua generation gets old. Same as Joshua himself! If he was 40 when they left Egypt, after 40 years in the wilderness he was likewise 80, same as Moses, when he finally stepped up to lead Israel.

Yeah. Whenever people talk about the Joshua generation, they tend to make it sound like the young people will be taking over Christianity right away. The young people especially talk this way. But really it’s about them stepping into authority same as the previous generation… who often had to wait a mighty long time to do so.

Though really, who says they have to wait a mighty long time to do so?

Young leaders and new ministries.

Movie directors likewise have a bad habit of picking people who look about the same age as Jesus, to play his students. Even though that culturally doesn’t work: Jesus’s followers would’ve been young adults. What we’d call teenagers, but in Jesus’s culture these were “young men” from 13 to 25. The oldest of Jesus’s followers would’ve been the women—some of whom were mothers of his apostles. They would’ve been around the same age as Jesus. Not his apostles.

So when Jesus was raptured, who stepped up to lead his church? Yep, these very same young men. Simon Peter and the Twelve. People whom we’d call kids, and presume were too young to run anything. The same guys who, in the gospels, Jesus was rebuking time and again for acting like immature kids, and now they were running his church. Because Jesus felt they were ready.

There’s plenty of precedent in the Old Testament, where the LORD personally chose young people to become his prophets and kings. Spiritual maturity doesn’t have an age limit. If someone’s producing good fruit and has the good sense to consult the Holy Spirit and other mature Christians, why can’t they be in charge of a ministry? God doesn’t practice age discrimination; that’s a human failing.

And there are plenty of places in the world where, frankly, the older generation has dropped the ball. Countries and communities where missionaries went, fumbled the job, and didn’t produce any growth because they were too busy pursuing power instead of God’s kingdom. Needy people with no one to help them, because neighboring church leaders are too busy with busywork, or are too immature themselves to serve God effectively. Or lack the faith to see this as something which can be done; they’ve given up already.

So if a young person wants to start a ministry, and has the spiritual maturity to run it properly, I say go for it. Don’t wait for the leaders of an existing ministry to recognize the opportunity and put you in charge of it; follow the Holy Spirit and do it yourself.

Yeah, some of those older leaders might accuse you of stepping out from under “their covering.” As if you work for them, not Jesus. And to be fair, if you do work for them—if you’ve decided to work through a denomination or church organization—don’t break their rules; don’t tell them you’re gonna do one thing then do another. Have the integrity to resign. Subterfuge means you’re not mature enough to run a ministry. Let ’em know, “I really think we need to do this, and I believe it so strongly, I’m gonna do it with or without you. I’d really like it to be with you, but either way I gotta do this.”

There are gonna be those leaders who look at young ministers and new ministries as competition. Which just goes to show how corrupt these older leaders have become: We’re all working for the same kingdom of God! We’re all working for Jesus! It’s not competition; it’s the same boss! But frankly, if these leaders are really only working for themselves and their own power and influence, I suppose they’re right; it is competition. One which Jesus will ultimately win, so they’re on the wrong side.

But don’t you start treating it like competition. If other Christian organizations swoop in and try to help the same needy people you are, praise God! The needy are getting helped. Now you can concentrate on finding more people to minister to, or on helping them more comprehensively.

As for those ministries whose aging leaders refuse to step down, refuse to designate successors, refuse to adapt to meet the current needs of people, refuse to change? Most of the time they’re going to collapse once their leader dies. And instead of perpetuating the old institutions, the new Joshua-generation ministries are going to step into their place. There’s more than one way to keep God’s kingdom ministering to the needy and lost.