Friday, December 11, 2020

Devotionals for the Heart: Leadership

Shifts and Stages: My Reflections on Leadership 
A devotional by Chaplain Paul Anderson

“Moses and Aaron walked from the assembled congregation to the Tent of Meeting and threw themselves face down on the ground. And they saw the Glory of God.”
—Numbers 20:6 (The Message)

As a leader, I have been ruminating on two topics: Succession Planning and Generational shifts.

While pondering these topics, I was inspired to consider the leadership of the Old Testament patriarch, Moses. He was challenged by the privilege of leading over a million people through epochs of emancipation, the storming and norming flow of freedom and the responsibilities that come with sovereignty. He then led them into a renewal of spiritual singularity and prepared them for the conquests of nation building.

Over forty years, two generations, Moses led with divinely guided vision. His successes were not without frustration. When his frustrations peaked, there was always a calming conversation with divinity, until one day the conversation came before the conflict.

The fourth book of the Hebrew Pentateuch, Numbers 20:1-12, tells the story of a crucial conversation between Moses and the congregation of the nomadic Israelites. Miriam had died recently so the setting of this conflict is during a time of national grief and literal drought.

Once again, without water, the hoard of people hurled accusations against Moses instead of trusting God to provide for them as He had done previously. The story says that Moses and Aaron retreated to the temple to pray and the presence of God met them there with clear guidance. God said to Moses “Take the staff. Assemble the community, you and your brother Aaron. Speak to that rock that’s right in front of them and it will give water. You will bring water out of the rock for them; congregation and cattle will both drink.” (The Message)

Dutifully Moses calls the community together. Once assembled, for some ungodly reason, Moses deviated from the clear guidance of God. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses verbally accosted the people, then he struck the rock twice with his staff. Water flowed, but God was not pleased.

In a subsequent and more crucial conversation, God informs Moses and Aaron that they had failed the test of faith by acting with public irreverence. Because of that mistake, they would not be anointed to lead the people into the new phase of their national development.

Ouch! Forty years, two generations of enduring the heights, depth and breadth of leadership were truncated by an inordinate display of old school leadership. I was taught, in my youth, to believe that God is good all the time, but I struggled to see the goodness of God in this situation. I always thought that it was cruel of God, to dispossess a man from the vision that He had given.

Wasn’t it God who put this mantle upon the reluctant Moses? Now, after leading people, many of whom were two generations younger than he was, who did not grow up how and where he did, whose relationship with Egypt was history rather than biography, his moment of frustration was unforgivable? That did not seem good to me, until I read it with different eyes.

Harold Kushner, a prominent rabbi and author of the book titled, Overcoming Life's Disappointments: Learning from Moses How to Cope with Frustration, suggested that God was actually blessing Moses and Aaron. He was protecting them from the inevitable disappointment of seeing fantasy become experience. Rarely does reality match the verdant colors and contours of imagination. Fulfilled fantasies are often accompanied by disillusionment.

No doubt, Moses and Aaron were disappointed, but Rabbi Kushner paints the blessing of disappointment in the following phrase:

“…Moses had been the right leader to bring a nation of slaves out of Egypt and lead them to Sinai, but he would be the wrong leader to take them into the battle for the Promised Land. He was too old, too tied to the way things had been done in the past. God was saying to Moses as He had once bid Moses say to Pharaoh, “It is time to let my people go.” (Kushner 2006 pg. 157)

The moment at the rock near Kadesh is an apt illustration of transitional awareness. God knew that Moses had become old and though physically strong had become worn down and emotionally depleted by burn out. His leadership style was probably three generations removed from the people he was leading. Burned out, and angry, perhaps more with God than the people, Moses defaulted to the same tactic that had worked miraculously with the first generation assuming that it would be as effective for the third generation.

What force had accomplished 40 years before, was no longer an effective motivator. God wanted him to model a kinder, gentler, contemporary and forward leaning modality of leadership. Speaking to the rock, might have been a metaphor for praying with anticipation. Seeing the water flow in response to the conversation may have been God’s method of manifesting effective human connection to His power, much like when Jesus taught the disciples how to pray.

It is always good to know what time it is. It was time for a generational shift. Fortunately, Moses had been grooming some younger people for leadership. He may not have anticipated that the change would come so soon, but he was prepared.

Who and how are you preparing people in your family and field for their turns to lead?

If you are younger, who and how are you choosing and serving your mentors?

Succession planning requires a balance of remembering and forgetting. Generational shifting requires a balance of dreaming and doing. In a subsequent devotional, I will share some thoughts on how those four poles of preparation can be applied in your life. 

For today, I’m leaving you with this nugget of wisdom: Listen to the voice of Divinity (God) and do what you hear.

Author Bio:

Chaplain Anderson served for 20 years as a U.S. Navy Chaplain. Over 26 years of active duty, he was promoted through the ranks from Seaman Apprentice (E2) to his final rank as Commander (O5) in the Chaplain’s Corps.

Prior to his Naval career, Chaplain Anderson pastored in the Allegheny East and Potomac Conferences of Seventh-day Adventists. His undergraduate preparation for ministry was completed at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Md.

He has subsequently earned four graduate degrees: a Master of Divinity from Andrews University in Michigan, a Master of Education in Counseling and Personnel Services from the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland and a Masters of Sacred Theology in Religion and Culture from Boston University. His Doctor of Ministry degree was conferred by Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

Chaplain Anderson also completed four units of Clinical Pastoral Education at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He also holds certifications in Suicide Awareness and Prevention, Civil Mediation, Alternative Workplace Dispute Resolution, Temperament Analysis, Marriage Enrichment, Workforce Diversity, and is a certified Life Coach.

You may connect with Chaplain Anderson via email at this address,

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