Hacking the Hexateuch* to Finish Well

‘Crossing the Jordan’ to the Promised…Office Space

Where there is no vision, the people perish.
Proverbs 29:18a (KJV)

These past several weeks, I’ve been doing some reading and reflecting on why it is that God’s faithful people – particularly His more “visible” disciples – can be faithful for decades and then go seriously astray later in life, making a shipwreck of their faith, their ministry, their personal life and (typically) screwing up the lives of many other people along the way.

Joshua Fights Amelek by Nicholas Pousin, 1625

When a “secular” politician or business leader is exposed as an adulterer, cheat or criminal, the collective feeling of betrayal is often tempered by the numbness/ordinariness that goes along with it; personal lust or unfettered ambition cause someone to run amok in finance or politics, and we tend to shrug our shoulders, check our bank balances really quick and chalk the episode up to yet another crooked “servant” of the public. There is an accompanying sense of betrayal, yes, but we more or less expect temptations of sex, power and money to breed corruption; the shock value of high-profile failures lost most of its punch sometime after the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s.

What makes the fall of a Christian ministry leader so much more devastating, in my opinion, is the gut-level sense of being emotionally betrayed by someone to whom so many had opened up the more intimate details of their lives.

Ministry is, by its very nature, deeply relational. Despite how cynical we have become, our culture yet demands (rightly) that Christian ministers be held to a higher standard of conduct (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:2). For example, someone who is working through a compulsive addiction – but wishes to do so without their issues going public – can rightly wonder if they ever really knew the pastor with whom they shared so many potentially-embarrassing details. The key difference, and what makes ministry failures so painful, is the pervasive sense of disorientation; “Who exactly have I been confessing my sins to all this time? How much of what we shared is going to come out in the ensuing investigation?” Empty my bank accounts, if you must, but please don’t expose my weaknesses to a watching world! (Proverbs 22:1)

Research and ministry experience have all proven to me that a spousal betrayal is the single most painful event a human being can endure; betrayal by a pastor with whom we have shared our confidences isn’t quite that devastating, perhaps…but it’s close, probably at least in the Top Five. Taking stock of a fallen ministry leader often feels like a formerly-trusted individual – with “photos” of our dirty, naked souls – has demonstrated no sense of appropriate boundaries…so maybe he or she might harbor a willingness to “post our information to the Internet.”

As I write this, at the age of 55, it’s only natural that my concern for “finishing well” would begin to take on an added importance; the strong likelihood is that I have many more years behind me than ahead. Christian ministry failures, in particular, tend to attract a lot more of my attention nowadays: “What the heck?! Oh, no…that guy has been serving the Lord since he was in short pants! How could this possibly have happened?” Given that every Christian – not just those employed in full-time ministry – is called of God to serve as a “priest” (1 Peter 2:9), the logical outworking of that indicative statement is that Jesus calls us to minister wherever we are and to whomever we touch. Seeking to apply biblical principles to the realm of business, two authors, in particular, have gone to some lengths to help us understand how the 1st-century ministry of Jesus ought to show up in our 21st-century work lives:

While both of these books have much to offer with regard to cultivating a biblically-informed management style in the boardroom as well as on the shop floor, the authors have chosen to take slightly-different approaches.

The Joshua Factor by Jonathan B. KroghAt the risk of gross over-simplification, where Krogh places his primary emphasis on how a Bible-saturated individual applies the Lord’s instruction to his or her place of work, Woolfe seems rather to place his primary emphasis on the workplace – and how Christians ought to incorporate Scriptural wisdom to boost success (and avoid potholes). Both authors are deeply interested in promoting human flourishing, but where Krogh places his emphasis on “salt and light” transforming darkness (Matthew 5:13-14), Woolfe tends to skew many of the identical principles to “how salt makes the water taste better,” a subtle shift of focus from transformation of the soul to transformation of the Policy and Procedures manual. Of course, there is a great deal of crossover; both authors are speaking to the topic of bringing the Lord’s shalom to work with us on Monday, Krogh from the inside-out and Woolfe more from the outside-in. They both work. They are both helpful.

While Krogh’s book certainly could have used a far-more-serious editorial process – the final print is awash in annoying typographical errors – his take spoke to my soul at a far deeper level than Woolfe. It helped that Krogh was singularly focused on the biography of Joshua, Son of Nun, as recorded in the books of Exodus and Joshua. In Krogh’s estimation, Joshua was perhaps “greater” than Moses in that he learned from the leadership mistakes of his predecessor and was far more effective in mobilizing the tribes of Israel to make good on the promises the Lord had made to them throughout redemptive history. Avoiding the temper tantrums that were characteristic of Moses – one of which kept him from crossing the Jordan River into Canaan – Joshua was better able to make tough, life-or-death decisions with a clear head. Krogh is quick to point out that no one had ever before undertaken a “management task” as daunting as moving hundreds of thousands of people out of slavery in Egypt and keeping them alive as they traversed the desert of Sinai. Reluctantly called (Exodus 4:1) to serve the living God, Moses too often allowed his character flaws to interrupt the progress of the Israelites to the Promised Land.

The key management principle given to us by Joshua is one of maintaining clear vision.

Scripture tells us that Joshua failed to consult the Lord in the matter of the Gibeonites (Joshua 9), but it’s worth noting that the error is not repeated. Where Moses lost his cool on multiple occasions, Joshua did not allow himself the “luxury” of thinking that his ministry was primarily about himself or his efforts. Secure in his conviction that God was both all-powerful (Joshua 4:24) and all-knowing (Joshua 5:13-15), Joshua had the confidence that comes from being “appropriately detached” and the avoidance of cultivating desired personal outcomes. The Lord would do what He wished; Joshua had only to cooperate with what God was already doing.

The Bible on Leadership by Lorin WoolfeThroughout, Krogh emphasizes that biblical leadership (and ongoing faithfulness) is “simple but not easy.” Each chapter provides a simple, straightforward heading, then fleshes that out using both the biblical account and modern business examples that help make the point of wisdom’s timelessness. Were to read Krogh’s book over again, I think a valid approach would be to read his conclusion first, then back up to the introduction. Those wondering if this book is worthwhile can read these last ten pages and make an informed decision:

Living in the Promised Land does not mean we cease to struggle, it simply means we are home. We are in the place God wants us to be. To be oriented trans-Jordan does not change the amount of work to be done, it transforms the interpretation of that work. It does not shift the barriers to progress, it merely leaves the removal of those barriers to the work we are willing to do. (Page 177)

Though Woolfe does tend to focus on real-world (rather than spiritual) results, his examples are truly inspirational. His chapter on “Justice and Fairness” almost reads like a retread of God’s admonition to the exiles of Israel in Jeremiah 29:1-8:

New London, Connecticut, was another city in danger of becoming “a heap of rubble” in the 1990s. It had been declining for years due to loss of jobs in the city’s primary industry, defense. The housing stock in the city was deteriorating, and 61 percent of the schoolchildren qualified for free or reduced lunches.

The initial force for reviving the city was biblically inspired. Claire Gaudani, president of Connecticut College, realized that the college had a responsibility to its host city. “We looked to Deuteronomy, which tells us to ‘do justice, only justice, that you may thrive.'” Gaudani saw that the city, and the college, could thrive only if economic justice was served. So she revived the New London Development Corporation, which was dedicated to attracting new investment and rebuilding the city’s infrastructure. Within three months, she succeeded in convincing Pfizer to build a $280 million research facility employing 2,000 people. (Pages 192-193)

Just like New London in the 1990s, the city of Columbia, Mo., has suffered some fairly serious blows these past several months. Racial tensions soared on the Mizzou campus; enrollment at the University of Missouri is down as just one result. Several of our residents have suddenly found themselves out of work. While the Lord (obviously) does not promise that every municipality that seeks after His wisdom will be rewarded with a $280 million dollar research facility, He does promise that He will fight for those who give their hearts to Him (Joshua 6:6-7). Scripture is replete with examples of God asking us to trust Him without being assured of outcomes. Krogh and Woolfe both affirm that societies can expect to prosper – spiritually and economically – when the leadership vision turns away from short-term “results” and fixed steadily on long-term faithfulness.

*Hexateuch: The first six books of the Bible, Genesis to Joshua, collectively.

Hacking the Hexateuch* Three-Part Series

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