By Bob Russell
The final account of Moses’ life is remarkable. After passing the baton to Joshua and making sure Israel had a competent leader to take his place, Moses climbed Mount Nebo to see the promised land. Although he had spent 40 years of his life trying to reach Canaan, God did not permit him to enter the land that “flowed with milk and honey.” Moses died alone and the Bible says God “buried him in the valley opposite of Beth Peor . . . but to this day no one knows where his grave is” (Deuteronomy 34:6).
An Unlikely Outcome
That’s kind of odd, don’t you think? The man who led two million people out of bondage is buried in an unmarked grave no one could ever find? A few of the Israelites were old enough to remember serving as teenage slaves in Egypt and helping to build grand monuments to the dead. There’s no concrete proof that Israelite slaves built the pyramids, but it’s reasonable to assume that their slave labor was the driving force in building those huge monuments to Egyptian leaders.
The Israelites had witnessed the importance the Pharaohs placed on providing an elaborate burial for themselves and making sure their legacy endured. To this day tourists from all over the world are still amazed at the incredible wealth found in those massive Egyptian tombs.
But Israel’s most notable leader did not demand an elaborate burial site as a testament to his accomplishments. There is no monument of any kind to Moses. Even in their deliverer’s death, God was teaching his people to have a different understanding of who they were, where they were going, and who was the real leader.
He was teaching them to differentiate themselves from the dominant culture they had lived in for hundreds of years and to be redefined by the God who called them out of Egyptian slavery into spiritual freedom. The New Testament says Moses “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11:26).
A Time for Humility
That’s a good reminder to Christian leaders who are growing older. When we pass the baton on to a successor, rather than demanding an important title or a continued voice in church governance, we should be willing to humbly step aside at the proper time and fade into the background. Hopefully, our willingness to be buried in an unmarked grave will serve as a subtle reminder to all that Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church.
Some leaders find it difficult to move out of the spotlight, and I understand why. After I had been gone from Southeast Christian Church for a couple of years I returned one Sunday to visit, and one man who saw me in the restroom blurted out, “Hey . . . uh . . . Bill! Good to see you back!” In two years he had forgotten my name!
That’s a huge blow to the ego. But at some point you have to go from being “the main man” to “the biggest fan,” rooting on the new senior minister and congregation. You had your time and your place—let it rest. Enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that while you’re no longer the focal point of people’s attention, you contributed to a ministry that continues on to God’s glory and honor. Why want for anything more?
Matt Chalfant served as chairman of the elders at Southeast Christian Church during the transition from my ministry to Dave Stone’s. One Sunday morning just prior to my departure, a long-time member confronted Matt and demanded, “I want to know what you elders are going to do when the man who built this church is gone!”
Matt kept his cool and calmly replied, “I want you to know that the man who built this church died 2,000 years ago and his church will continue to do quite well, thank you, because he’s alive and will still be with us.” Good answer.
Adapted from the book, Transition Plan by Bob Russell (Ministers Label Publishing, 2010). Bob Russell is the retired senior minister of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky. www.livingword.org