Campus Ministry Leadership Applications from Numbers and Deuteronomy
Leadership literature proliferates these days. On March 21, 2021, one-third of the New York Times’ best-selling non-fiction books focused on leadership skills (2021). Leadership was also an important theme in Numbers and Deuteronomy, and, not surprisingly, Moses’ take on leadership differed from that of Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill Gates, and the others on the New York Times’ list because Moses attributed leadership success to the Lord’s empowerment, rather than humanistic striving, as this work will discuss. In Numbers and Deuteronomy, Moses suggested a model for Spirit-empowered leadership that focused on communicating the word of God to the ensuing generations. This paper will apply Moses’ leadership model to campus ministry at secular American universities, pertaining to prophetic empowerment, the necessity of delegated leadership, and training the next generation.
One principle of Pentateuchal leadership was the necessity of Spirit-empowerment. James Bruckner observed, “The hero of one circumstance is often the heel of the next” (2003, 230). Thus, the narratives contrasted the fallibility of human leaders with the effectiveness of Spirit-empowerment. In Numbers 11, Moses discussed the elevation of seventy elders to leadership positions (ESV). Roger Cotton observed that since “God put the Spirit that was on Moses on the 70 and they prophesied…Moses had had the Spirit upon him for leadership ministry all along” (Cotton 2015, 80; Num. 11:25). Cotton further offered, as leaders of God’s people, “there will be problems,” and “the answer is not in our resources or us but in God and his Spirit working in and through us” (2015, 120). When Israel faced crises, Moses modeled the behavior Cotton described by praying, rather than immediately reacting (e.g. Num. 14:13–19; 16:4; 20:3–5). In Numbers and Deuteronomy, godly leaders sought and communicated God’s will, which essentially made them prophets.
Bob Buller defined prophecy as “communication-based intermediation between the divine world and human society” (2003, 662). Buller’s definition seemed to agree with the Mosaic worldview regarding prophecy, which Moses abridged, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Deut. 18:15). Moses represented the “prophet par excellence,” since he faithfully disseminated God’s message to the people in his care (Buller 2003, 665). For that reason, God commended him, extolling, “My servant Moses…is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles” (Num. 12:7–8).
Since prophecy is about communicating God’s word to His people, Yahweh “prohibits activity that seeks to exercise power or control over” prophecy (Deut. 18:9–14; Buller 2003, 665–666). God warned, “The prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die” (Deut. 18:20). Furthermore, the prophet who “says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’…shall be put to death” (Deut. 13:2, 5). Buller concluded, “The defining characteristic of a genuine prophet of God is…faithful communication of God’s word to his people” (2003, 665), which sounds like the definition of a godly leader.
God acknowledged His prophet-leaders with supernatural attestation. In Numbers 11, the seventy elders prophesied, which attested to “their divine enablement for service alongside Moses” (Buller 2003, 663). Moses relayed, “As soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it” (Num. 11:25). Cotton noted, “God used a visible, Spirit-empowering, prophetic event to publicly confirm his authorization of power upon, and intimate involvement in, these leaders’ ministries” (2015, 81). Spirit-empowered leaders should expect the Holy Spirit’s continued empowerment. Throughout the Pentateuch, “Moses performs divinely empowered miracles and mighty deeds” (Buller 2003, 665). The writer of the epilogue of Deuteronomy testified to “the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and…all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel,” which corroborated Moses’ prophetic credentials (34:11–12). However, although Moses was the primary leader during the wilderness travels, “in Israel, power would not be concentrated in an individual” (McConville 2003, 188).
Moses described a model of delegated leadership under Yahweh’s sovereignty. From the outset, Aaron and Miriam served alongside Moses as leader-prophets (Num. 12:2). When the burden exceeded the capacities of the three of them, God empowered more leaders to help (Num. 11). Cotton averred, “God…can empower the full number we need” (2015, 121), and, apparently, further delegation was needed. According to Gary Schnittjer, in Deuteronomy 1:9–18, “Moses explains the leadership structure that was established” (2006, 464). This passage depicted delegated leadership roles among the individual tribes. Regarding future leadership, Moses described a king on the sidelines with various delegates serving the people (Deut. 16:18–18:22; McConville 2003, 187). Ultimately, Moses visualized a future when human leadership would become unnecessary, when “all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them” (Num. 11:29).
This need for future leaders required a focus on the ensuing generations. The key to understanding the book of Numbers is to view it as “generational transition” (Olson 2003, 612). Moreover, a major theme of Deuteronomy was that “if one wishes to measure the ‘success’ of one’s own, or the community’s, religious devotion, the standard of measurement must be the generation that comes afterward” (Schnittjer 2006, 458). Hence, the books also included discussions on training successors and training children.
Good leaders prepare the way for their successors. Moses prayed, “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them” (Num. 27:16–17). The Lord responded by anointing Joshua (Num. 27:18). In Deuteronomy 31, Moses explained that he would “be replaced by Joshua and a book, the Torah scroll,” implying that that Joshua and subsequent leaders would guide the people, based off instruction from the Lord (Schnittjer 2006, 526).
The importance of training future leaders has as its corollary the need to train children in general. Moses wrote of God’s instructions, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:7). Moses framed much of his teaching in this section with a derivative of the phrase, “When your son asks you,” his point being that his hearers were responsible to know this material and to teach it to the ensuing generations (Deut. 6:20; Schnittjer 2006, 485). Schnittjer noted, “Many devout North American Christians miss this understanding because of the tendency to extreme individualism in the prevailing culture” (2006, 484).
Applications to Campus Ministry
The people of God still have a responsibility to teach the next generations, and secular American universities are possibly the most important field in which to fulfill that responsibility (Wondra 2017, 67). The time at the university is a unique time for students, many of whom reside somewhere between childhood and adulthood. Ellen Wondra claimed, “Higher education is a major point of passage in so many young people’s lives” because “institutions of higher education not only teach; they form” (2017, 68). The question becomes, what are they forming? According to J. P. Moreland, originally, American universities had “two mandates: the impartation of wisdom and knowledge and the tools needed to discover them, and the development of spiritually, morally, and politically virtuous graduates who could serve God, the state, and the church well” (2007, 69). However, a shift occurred.
Tim Keller identified the shift: “The conflict model of the relationship of science to religion was a deliberate exaggeration used by both scientists and educational leaders at the end of the nineteenth century to undermine the church’s control of their institutions and increase their own cultural power” (2018, 92). According to Moreland, “The universities are now the powerbase for the secular left, and the American university has become an indoctrination center for political correctness and its loathing for traditional values, the Judeo-Christian religion, and conservative ethical, religious, and political thought” (2007, 73). University students represent the future leaders of the world. Thus, Moreland prophesied, “As go the universities, so goes the culture” (2007, 76)
College ministers can correct the shift and mitigate its ramifications by training students in godliness. They should contextualize Moses’ counsel by injecting discussion of the Christian worldview back into the campus marketplace of ideas (Deut. 6:7). This discussion should involve apologetics, since purveyors of the “conflict model” deny the validity of the Christian worldview (Keller 2018, 92). Moreland advised, university clerics “must stop talking about ‘belief’ in life after death, heaven and hell, and must re-express their views on these and related matters as expressions of knowledge of reality” (2007, 94). Then, college students can confidently embrace the Christian worldview, despite the anti-Christian milieu of secularized universities.
Campus ministers should also apply Moses’ advice regarding organizational structure. Ministry requires coworkers, and, as God did for Moses, He “can empower the full number we need” (Cotton 2015, 121). Those who would venture into the university missions field should follow Moses in praying for helpers. They should also groom students for leadership roles as Moses did for Joshua. Some of the students can help lead campus Bible study groups, and some may transition into full-time ministry in their own right.
Lastly, and most importantly, Christian leaders must seek Spirit-empowerment. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this principle. In this age of the Holy Spirit, the empowerment for which Moses wished has become possible (Num. 11:29; Acts 2:16–18). Not only is prophetic empowerment possible, but it is crucial. Francis Schaeffer declared, “Preaching the gospel without the Holy Spirit is to miss the entire point of the command of Jesus Christ for our era” (1982, 266). It is God’s world people inhabit, and they are God’s programs that Christians lead. Christian leaders need to hear from their Leader.
In Numbers and Deuteronomy, Moses provided a timeless model for ministry leadership. The most important factor in Moses’ model was the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for leadership. Spirit-empowered leaders operate under the direction of the supreme Leader, effecting His will on earth. Pentateuchal leadership advice also includes grooming successors and democratization of the work. At secular American universities, this model requires operating under prophetic empowerment to defend the Christian worldview and groom future Christian leaders.
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Buller, Bob. 2003. “Prophets, Prophecy.” In Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, edited by T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, 662–666. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.
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McConville, J. Gordon. 2003. “Deuteronomy, Book of.” In Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, edited by T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker, 75–78. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.
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Wondra, Ellen K. 2017. “Mapping the ‘Greatest Domestic Mission Field’ in a New Educational Landscape.” Anglican Theological Review 99, no. 1 (Winter): 65–70. https://web.a. ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=54788a0f-7ac9-4e6d-a34e-b46d9e46e5ee%40sessionmgr4006.