It is widely recognized that pastors are too interested in numbers. Buildings, budgets, baptisms, bums on seats: If it can be measured, church leaders will count it. Many define their success by it—or at least they used to, until COVID-19 made the exercise somewhat less reassuring.
It is less recognized, however, that pastors are not interested enough in Numbers. At dozens of leadership conferences over the past 15 years, I have only heard two passages from the book referenced: Aaron’s blessing (Num. 6) and the boldness of Joshua and Caleb (Num. 14). Otherwise, crickets.
In itself, that is not a problem. But Numbers is a gold mine of pastoral wisdom, with more to offer church leaders today than perhaps any Old Testament book besides 1 and 2 Samuel. For pastors in particular, it richly repays careful study. I say that for three reasons.
One is typological. From the apostles’ perspective, the wilderness period is where the church lives now (1 Cor. 10; Heb. 3–4; Jude). We have been rescued from slavery, redeemed by blood, and baptized in the waters, but we have not reached the land flowing with milk and honey. We have all the blessings found in Numbers—the presence, provision, and promises of God—but we face similar problems: grumbling, pride, idolatry, immorality, opposition, and death.
Another benefit is illustrative. Other than David, no leader in Scripture is presented quite like Moses, with his inner life exposed, his family rivalries laid bare, his faults, fears, failures, and frustrations made plain. If David shows us the struggles of waiting and the temptations of money, sex, and power, Moses shows us the mundane challenges of ordinary congregational life: the arguments about decision-making ...1
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