I have been thinking about the story of Moses watching the people he has led for 40 years enter the promised land without him and Joshua’s role in leading them into their future. What a hard thing to do! Moses has journeyed with these people, taught them, cared for them, celebrated with them, and now he must watch from a distance as someone else benefits from his hard work. I think Moses must have died with a broken heart.
This story has been on repeat in my head, and I am left asking if I am called to be Moses or Joshua. Am I the person to lead people into a future land, or am I called to prepare them for this new future without me?
With all the re-forming of the Church currently, it is difficult not to see mission as another thing to add to my already over-stretched to-do list; with time and resources already at a premium, where do I fit it in? Yes, I want to welcome people into the faith, but I am also realistic that with Presbytery Mission Plans, congregants living in anxiety, and communities struggling with a post-covid world, my time is already stretched. Is doing mission in the current context going to be something sustainable for the person we welcome in? If we can’t support them into the future, would this be detrimental to their faith journey?
When we in Kirkcaldy started our conversations around the future of our town centre churches, there was apprehension and fear about what the future would hold. Congregations were little Vatican’s, and our institutionalised distrust of the Church of Scotland meant that the task was not easy. But we slowly chipped away at this. The conversations were hard, tearful, and heated, but most importantly, productive. We started the process of looking at our structure so that we could have a mission in the community that was sustainable many years into the future. A four-way union became a necessary step to achieve this.
This was a good thing, but it needed (and still needs) leaders to push the conversation forward. This came at a personal cost to me, as slowly but surely, the pressures of life and ministry burnt me out. I was trying to be all things to all people, and it almost broke me and made me want to leave the Church. The task alone was too heavy for one person to carry. With some support from my wife, family, friends, 121, and the congregation of Abbotshall, I came back to work and started revaluating my role.
If mission is going to be sustainable, it needs to have suitable structures for the Church and the personnel. I realised my job was not to be Joshua but to be Moses. To work with my congregation and the other congregations to get them to a point where they were to take the following steps without me. This has been a hard realisation because I love my local congregation, and I love Kirkcaldy. We have seen great connections happen between the community and young families. Walking away would be challenging, but ultimately my job has been to get these congregations ready to walk into the promised land without me. They need to own their future and the mission of this new congregation without me because if mission is to be sustainable into the future, it needs to be owned by the local church, not just the Minister.
My question to you is the same question I asked myself: Are you a Moses or a Joshua?
I love this Indian proverb that speaks to the depth of this story. “Blessed is the one who plants trees under whose shade they will never sit.”
Rev Justin Taylor
Abbotshall Church, Kirkcaldy