Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them . . . I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:1-6, 9 (NRSV)
I have been honored to serve as vice moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It is a great pleasure to witness the mission and ministry of local congregations, presbyteries, and other ministry entities here in the United States and abroad. Although one does not necessarily hear about it, Presbyterians are doing great things. However as we move into a new decade it is my hope that we will be used by God to do greater things.
One of my favorite sermons is entitled “What Happens Next?” based on Joshua 1:1-9, which is the beginning of the prophet’s ministry.
One can imagine that Joshua had a lot of things to deal with. The people had been on a journey for years. They had lost a great leader of many years, Moses. Some doubted they were going to make it to the Promised Land. Others may or may not have trusted in Joshua’s leadership abilities.
However, Joshua and the people were now at the edge of a new beginning. They were about to cross over and possess the land. God had given Joshua explicit instructions as to what was going to happen and the words, “Be strong and courageous,” are repeated a few times.
These words really resonated with me and as we Presbyterians begin the task of listening to God’s direction for the next ten years. I believe that we are in a place much like Joshua at the edge of the river. Our denomination (like many others) is at a critical juncture and, as we ponder the future hope for the church, the question begs us, What Happens Next? as we prepare to enter into a new place.
My hope for the Presbyterian Church is centered on the overall ability to be “strong and courageous.” We live in a time of great upheaval both outside and inside the church. Denominations are faced with declining membership and finances, cutbacks of staff and resources, theological disagreements and debates, and a society that is becoming more secular, unchurched, and multi-faith. In the midst of this I believe God is calling us to have the hope to:
»Be strong and courageous in becoming a church that is diverse and inclusive of all God’s people.
»Be strong and courageous in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a broken and fearful world
»Be strong and courageous in believing that despite our differences we can live together as a denomination and not be fearful of what may divide us but to respect each other as persons made in God’s image.
»Be strong and courageous in discovering new ways of becoming authentic, hospitable, and welcoming communities of faith, where worship and communal life will be participatory, and engage our local communities in mission.
»Be strong and courageous in providing leadership opportunities for youth and young adults so they may grow in Christ.
We enter into the next decade poised to cross over into a new place God has for us. It is my prayer that whatever happens in this time of uncertainty we will heed God’s command to “be strong and courageous.”
BYRON WADE is pastor of Davie Street Church in Raleigh, N.C.