“We’ve always done it that way!” How often do we hear these words within the walls of the church? Moving forward creates difficulty for many congregations who find it much easier to remain in one place or to step backwards to a familiar place of yesteryear.
How does a congregation move forward? In Numbers 13-14:9, the Israelites struggled with the same question as they wandered in the wilderness and came to the doorstep of the Promised Land. The passage outlines several important factors needed for a congregation to move forward.
FACTOR #1: EVALUATE WHO THE LEADERS ARE (Numbers 13:1-16). Without leadership, a congregation will not likely move forward. Before the exploration of the land and the development of a strategy to enter the land, a team of leaders representing the various tribes gathered to begin the process. A congregation would do well to identify and evaluate its leaders before moving forward. A leader may participate in a governing board, but often someone else has a great deal of influence in the congregation regardless of his or her function.
FACTOR #2: EXAMINE THE LANDSCAPE (Numbers 13:17-24). Moving forward requires an understanding of the landscape or ministry setting. When the spies entered the land, they thoroughly examined the land God had promised and the people who lived there. Likewise, congregations need to understand their own communities and to understand the opportunities and obstacles that await them. A congregation may find it helpful to have an outside “set of eyes” such as a consultant to assist in this process.
FACTOR #3: EXPLAIN TO THE CONGREGATION THE OPPORTUNITIES AND OBSTACLES (Numbers 13:25-29). The report brought back to the Israelites spoke of the fruit and fertility of the land but also spoke of some of the threats. Moving forward requires an honest look at the landscape that must be communicated with the congregation. Churches often fail either by moving forward without looking at the obstacles (with the result that they are not prepared) or by being so focused on the obstacles they do not move forward.
FACTOR #4: EMBRACE THE VISION OF GOD’S PROMISES (Numbers 13:30). In the midst of much discussion, Caleb knew God would lead His people into the land. While open communication is important, in order to move forward, a congregation must move beyond the “talking phase” and embrace God’s vision for the church.
FACTOR #5: EXPECT OPPOSITION (Numbers 13:31-14:4). Opposition begins with a “We can’t” attitude that really means, “We won’t” and begins the process of disobedience and unbelief in God’s promises. Opposition continued to grow into grumbling, which in the Hebrew text suggests the people became set in their ways. Opposition continued to grow into a desire to turn back, and culminated in outright rebellion with the Israelites demanding their leaders be replaced. Whenever a congregation moves forward, expect opposition.
FACTOR #6: ENERGIZE THE VISION BY STAYING FOCUSED ON GOD (Numbers 14:5-9). While the opposition continued, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb stayed focused on God and His promises with prayerful humility, sorrow and conviction. Moving forward centers itself in the fact that God will faithfully lead his church through the opportunities and obstacles.
Moving forward may mean a difficult road to follow and the Israelites showed how fear, anxiety, and outright rebellion could thwart a congregation. Yet overcoming these obstacles and with the Lord’s leading, the Israelites entered into the Promised Land and celebrated God’s blessings. The rebellion of Numbers 14 eventually turns into the victory of Joshua 3-4! Congregations need not remain in a state of decline or stagnation, but can move forward empowered by the Lord who leads His people.