Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
If you are from Alabama and over the age of 35, then Jan. 26, 1983, is as etched in your memory as Nov. 22, 1963, was to our parents’ generation. The last Wednesday in January 1983 is the day Paul “Bear” Bryant died. Although I am not from Alabama (proudly hailing from Georgia.), I have vivid memories of that day. I was sitting in a small café on my college campus when the owner, who had been listening to the radio, suddenly cried out, “the Bear’s dead!” I immediately walked outside and wept. College football’s greatest coach (the one who put southern football on the map) was dead.
Reflecting on that awful time, I realize the greatest tragedy was not Bear Bryant’s death as much as it was the University of Alabama’s bungled attempts to replace him. That raises a question: How do you replace a legend? Put into the context of the church, why is it so difficult to follow a very successful long-tenured pastor?
Our passage is one of deep distress for the Israelites. The great Moses was announcing that he would not be leading them into the Promised Land. Imagine the grief and sense of loss the people felt. How do you replace a Moses? For the moment, set aside issues such as congregational loyalty and unique giftedness. Those obstacles are self-evident. It has been my observation that the reason most Joshuas fail has more to do with how they were chosen. Instead of following the same biblical guidelines that had brought the legend an earlier generation, many churches feel pressured to find another legend and forget the basics God used to bring them the first one. In this passage, Moses laid out for the people a timeless guide to follow when looking for a successor-leader.
1. He is raised up by God (v. 15).
No angel went sprinting into the throne room and surprised God with Moses’ announcement that he would not lead the people anymore. This came as no surprise to God. He already knew the end from the beginning.
Whether your church follows the call system or the appointment system, it is important to remember God is the One who should call the Pastor-Prophet. He places His anointing on the one who would stand behind the sacred desk and proclaim the eternal message.
2. He represents God (v. 18).
The pastor should represent the loving kindness, gentleness and grace of God. He should also represent God’s holiness and indignation toward sin.
It is a humbling and fearful moment for the pastor to realize that unique standard that he is to live out. Of course, it should be more fearful to attempt to shirk that duty.
3. He reflects God’s Power (v. 19).
God neither will tolerate a pastor who shirks his responsibility to call forth the whole counsel of God, nor will He tolerate a congregation that unjustly turns against the one God has anointed and appointed.
A pastor, bathed in the Word and walking in the Spirit, will be evident to those he encounters. That pastor is like the moon; he does not generate the light, but he reflects it.
4. He restricts himself to God’s message (v. 20).
A pastor who goes beyond God’s message is more dangerous to a congregation than one who does not teach all of God’s message. Moses laid out the criteria for recognizing a false prophet. In our day of countless charlatans, we would be wise to reinstate this standard for identifying God’s man.
Interestingly, Moses did not list CEO as a requirement for the pastor. The pastor God uses is the one who meets His criteria and reflects that to the membership and the community.
It has been almost 30 years since Paul “Bear” Bryant died. While that was a difficult day, the University of Alabama could have made it easier if it had simply tried to fill the position properly rather than replace the legend. Think about that, Pastor, when it comes your time to retire. If you are a long-tenured and well-loved pastor about to step down, take your church through an in-depth study of what to look for in a candidate. More importantly, remind the members what they are not to seek in a leader.