America, and truly much of the world, is obsessed with newer and bigger. Now, please understand that not everything new or everything bigger is bad, but just because something is bigger does not mean it is better. Let me give an example.
75 years ago, most houses were small. And the family was more united than it is today. Now, houses are large, some and families do not see one another. For instance, the parsonage is modest-sized, but our kitchen and dining room area are probably about one-half the size of the home where my mother lived as a child and she was one of seven children! A few other items. Cars were big, then got small (as the price of oil increased in the 1970s). Now some are huge. Office buildings extend hundreds of feet in the air (a phenomenon that is very new in human history), and yes, some churches, have built large buildings (and complexes) as well.
But the reality is that the size is less important than engagement. For instance, a church can be large, but if the people are not engaged, then the effect is limited. On the other hand, a church that is fully engaged can have a dramatic impact regardless of size. And that is why our Hub Sundays are important!
For something to extend with strength the hub must be strong. And what stems from the hub must be strong, because the further something is from the base, the more likely it is to be weakened. Consider the human body. The center point of the body is the hip region. The hip region is made of several bones that together are very strong and important. These bones support the entire upper body and transfer that weight to the lower half of the body. Thus, the bones that stem downward from the pelvis region must also be strong. That bone, the femur (or thigh bone) is the longest in the body (i.e. the biggest), but it is also arguably the strongest bone in the body. Why is this important? Again, as we move from the middle of the body outward, the bones are often more fragile, more easily broken, and thus need support in different ways. But without the thick, strong, and sturdy bones working together in protection and support, the rest of the body would be dysfunctional. For instance, if we break a toe, it is a challenge. If we break our thigh bone, movement becomes very difficult.
And so, as we have discussed the skeletal system this month, we have seen how the design of the bones matter (that is where they are placed), how they are connected matters, and last week, that the foundation of our bodies (the feet) are uniquely crafted to provide the necessary support (with a focus on the qualifications of leadership). So, if design, connection, and support are important to the body, I contend they are important to the church as well. Add to that the importance not only of strong bones, but that multiple bones work together to create a strong middle to the body, and we can then add the idea that one leader is not sufficient for keeping a church strong – it takes a team of leaders.*
*Before we continue, please note that I am using leader in a generic sense. For those who have been, or may be, a part of our study on the last Wednesday of the month, that discussion is about what the Bible says about multiple leaders in a formal sense for the church. But for today, I am using the idea of leadership generally.
To examine a plural model of leadership, we can review many different areas of the Bible. We could review Daniel and his three friends who were made governors in Babylon. We can certainly discuss Jesus and the disciples who had three who were elevated above the rest in function, if not form. We can review Paul and all the proteges he taught which not only served with him, but also helped him lead the churches he planted. But I want to center on a passage where the benefits of shared leadership are first truly explained and, honestly, made leadership possible. That passage comes from Exodus 18.
People Will Grumble Against Their Leaders
At the end of Exodus 15, the Israelites have just crossed the Red Sea, but after three days they do not have water, and the first water they find is bitter. So, they grumbled against Moses (v. 24). Notice it doesn’t say to Moses…it says against. Of course, Jesus taught in Matthew and Matthew 18 that if we have a problem we should go to that person, but it is often easier to grumble about someone that to them. Moses pleads to the Lord and the Lord provides a solution.
In Exodus 16, the Israelites do not have food and would rather return to be slaves (vv. 2-3). This time the grumbling is against both Moses and Aaron. For it is their fault that the people are FREE. But the Lord hears and provides a solution (manna), and then provides instructions for what the people are to do related to the gathering of this food.
In Exodus 17, the Israelites do not have water quarrel with Moses (v. 2). After Moses responds that the Lord has led them this far, they continue against Moses (v. 3). God gives Moses instructions and, again, a solution is provided as water comes from the rock.
Before moving to chapter 18, we cannot overlook that Moses commands Joshua to go to battle against the Amalekites. This fact shows that Moses trusted others to lead in certain areas, because Moses could not lead everyone in all areas.
People Will Grumble Against Each Other
As we get to chapter 18, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro comes and brings Moses’ wife and children with him. Verse 2 says that Moses had sent them back at some point, perhaps because he was unsure what would happen when he confronted Pharaoh. Moses told Jethro all that had happened since he left him and Jethro reacts saying, “Now I know that [YAHWEH] is greater than the other gods.” He then makes sacrifices and notice that others come to join them (v. 12). This verse is important in this story because it shows Jethro knows other leaders are in the camp.
The next day, Jethro watches Moses work. His work consists of resolving disputes (vv. 15-16). Jethro asks why he does this, and Moses essentially answer that the people come to me to know how God would settle the dispute. Essentially, he is saying “the people need me to help them because they need God.”
Jethro admonishes Moses. In verses 17-23, Jethro says that Moses will wear himself out. The burden is too much for one person. Jethro advises him to find others who can help and says these leaders should fear God, be trustworthy, and not be subject to bribery. Of course, this list is far short of the number of items we saw last week in 1 Timothy 3, but these three concepts certainly fit within the general scope of that New Testament list.
Again, we must consider that Jethro saw Joshua and “all the elders” the night before at the sacrifice (v. 12). If we look back to Exodus 3 where Moses has his encounter with God on the mountain, Moses is told to go to these same leaders of Israel and tell them it was Yahweh who sent Moses to lead the people out of Egypt by the hand of the Lord (see Exodus 3.16-18).
Now, the issue is that Moses was busy for the full day managing problems, not leading people. Certainly, leadership is about solving problems. But management is more about systems and processes; leadership is about people. And Moses’ time was being occupied by some matters that others could resolve, which would allow him to focus on more important items.
Thus, Jethro says Moses should choose others to help him with these matters. If the matter is too great to be resolved by someone else, then Moses should handle it. As we hear this system, we should think of our court system, where the Supreme Court only hears cases after they have been heard at lower levels. And this leads us to our final point.
Many Leaders Are Needed to Properly Serve the People
Again, the people will grumble against one another and against the leaders. Thus, to ensure proper care, many leaders are needed. I want to point out what Jethro advises. Notice Exodus 18.21. Place a chief over each 1000, over each 100, over each 50, and over each 10. So, Moses is the primary leader. Then, for every 10 people, add 1 leader. For every 50 people, add 1 leader. For every 100 people, add 1 leader. And for every 1000 people, add 1 leader.
The results of the math would look like this. For every thousand people, you would have 1 leader over the thousand people, plus 10 leaders who are over each one hundred people, plus 20 leaders who are over each fifty people, and 100 leaders who are over each ten people. Thus, 100+20+10+1 = 131 leaders for every 1000 people. And Moses is above that. 131 divided by 1000 is approximately 1/8, so for every 8 people, one person was some kind of leader.
Now, beyond the math is the true importance. Jethro says in verse 23, “If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people will go to their place in peace.” In other words, God will lead you, you will last, and the people will be better served.
And verses 24-27 says that Moses followed the advice of Jethro. And it worked! And it must have been quite successful because in Deuteronomy 1.9-18, we have Moses reminding the people of when this idea was put in place.
Why does this message matter?
The statistics say that 40% of pastors have major conflict within their church each year. 35% of pastors experience depression. 70% of pastors do not have someone whom they consider a close friend, while 84% desire to have someone like this in their life. And thus, 10% of pastors will retire as a pastor. (1)
Like Moses, pastors cannot endure without having other leaders around them. The problems and challenges are real – not just physical and emotional challenges, but spiritual ones as well. Expectations are high, as well they should be, but they are often unrealistic. Years ago, a prominent ministry leader today did a survey of his deacons (12 of them) about how much time should be allotted to eleven different responsibilities such as sermon preparation, evangelism, counseling, etc. When compiled, the minimum work-week for this pastor was to be a 114-hour week. (2) Is it any wonder that pastors burn out?
So, how does this relate to Fairfax Baptist Church being a hub?
No organization can truly outgrow the leader of that organization. Of course, our true leader is Jesus. But, as His body, we are the functioning part of what He wants to do, and if our structure is not sound, that is, if our bones are not solid, then we will fail. The biggest and strongest of the bones are in the center of our body to provide support to the top half (pelvis) and extend the power to the bottom half (femur). And, we know people who break their hip and lose all mobility. In fact, the CDC estimates that 1:5 people who break their hip die within one year. (3) If the body is only as strong as its strongest bones, it is important to ensure those bones remain strong. Transporting the idea back to the text, that means, sharing responsibilities across the spectrum of opportunities.
In some ways, our church does this well. In other ways, we need to improve. For instance, I can go to Kenya without any reservation of how the church will respond while gone. In fact, Roger can go to. Two key leaders of the church are gone and the church survives. Furthermore, in the last six months, we have lost two long-time leaders in this church. Ferd has passed from this life to the next, and Doyne’s health has forced him to move so his attendance will be sporadic, at best. But the church will go on just as it has when other long-time leaders have left for any number of reasons. The key is to raise up new leaders all the time. That is not my responsibility alone – it is the responsibility of everyone who claims to follow Jesus. Again, the commission is for all disciples to make disciples. Of course, as the one you have chosen to lead you, a significant part of my responsibility is to ensure that you are equipped to make disciples – and that begins with teaching the Bible. Because one day you will be gone, and one day I will be gone, and what is left then will be based upon what we do now. And that is why the concept of having a strong hub, a strong core if you will, matters.
The title of this message is: Is Bigger Better? I have come a long way without answering that. Many believe that a bigger church is better because it means more opportunities for ministry, more and different types of events, etc. And that may be true. But the Pareto Principle is true in most any area of our lives, and that means it is true in most every church as well. The principle: 20% of the people do 80% of the work. 20% of the people give 80% of the money. Etc. That principle holds true if the church has 50, 500, or 5000 people. Yes, more opportunities may exist in some ways because instead of 10 people (of 50) working, you have 1000 (of 5000) involved. But the reality is that the bigger problem is that 4000 people can hide (and many think going to a larger church is an opportunity to hide!).
So, is bigger better? Not necessarily. But it is different. Some bones may be bigger, but that doesn’t make them better. They are just designed to support more – by God’s design. But whether you might think bigger is better or not, bigger is not possible without a stronger core – a stronger hub. And the stronger the hub (or base) the more that can be supported. This is the essence of Exodus 18. And the same holds true today.
And that is why our…
JOURNEY letter for today is: E – ENGAGE.
Bigger is not better. Engaged is better. The more that are engaged, the more that can be done. But to have more engaged, means to have a stronger center and a strong foundation. That is why we are looking at what it means to be a healthy church on Sunday nights this year. That is why we are doing teacher training and exploring what the Bible says about leadership on Wednesday nights. And that is why we are doing this series on the body on Sunday mornings this year – because all of us have a role as designed, and defined, by God. And just as the body cannot be healthy without all parts working properly, the church will never be at its best if we have people who limit their engagement.
So, the question for each of us today as we consider being a part of the hub is: How can I be better engaged in following Jesus, serving His church, and leading others to do the same? Because that is what being part of a hub is all about!
(1) Source: https://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/
(3) https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/1-12-15-breaking-hip-death-risk/ (The original source has changed its site, so I am posting this link.)