Why the Best Leaders Know How to Follow Like Joshua

While Moses is rightly understood as the key leader that brought Israel out of Egypt and to the promised land, Moses is not the one who actually took the Jewish people into the land of Canaan.

That would be Joshua.

Joshua is one of the great leaders of the people of Israel, and there is substantial wisdom that Christian leaders today can learn from the biblical account of Joshua’s life. Here are four valuable leadership lessons in following, from Joshua:

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1. Follow the Lord Fully (Numbers 32:12)

1. Follow the Lord Fully (Numbers 32:12)

Those in Christian leadership are surely familiar with the qualifications for leaders that Paul details in his letters to Timothy and Titus. The list of qualifications that Paul gives are specific and extensive, allowing Christian congregations the knowledge to wisely choose who shall lead.

Joshua exhibited such qualifications for leadership prior to these lists ever being written. In the book of Numbers, Joshua is described as a man who “wholly followed the Lord” (Num. 32:12).

This is the primary qualification for which every Christian leader must strive. For those who are in leadership, as well as for those who desire to be in leadership in the future, there is no more important trait than being someone who genuinely and wholly follows the Lord.

The reasoning is simple. Christian leaders are those who assist others in their ability to follow the Lord. To best equip others, one must be equipped already. If you seek to lead others in their journeys as Christ-followers, you must lead by example as Joshua did, following the Lord faithfully in all areas of your life.

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2. Encourage Others to Follow and Trust in the Lord (Numbers 14:7-9)

2. Encourage Others to Follow and Trust in the Lord (Numbers 14:7-9)

The first example of Joshua’s exceptional leadership is found in the book of Numbers, before he was appointed to be leader over the people of Israel. Moses had brought the Jewish people near the land of Canaan, and God commanded Moses to send a band of spies into the land of Canaan to assess the strength of the indwelling peoples and the quality of the land. Joshua was one of these spies.

After taking their journey into the land, the majority of the spies concluded that the people living in the land were too strong for the Jewish people to overtake, and they should not even make an attempt at seizing the land.

However, Joshua and Caleb stood against the rest of the spies, calling the people of Israel to trust in the strength and deliverance of the Lord, rather than in their own strength alone. They preached to the people this message of hope:

The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.Num. 14:7-9

A key lesson that all Christian leaders must learn from Joshua is to encourage those whom you lead to trust in the Lord above all else. Many leaders tend to attract followers for themselves, whereas a Christian leader must guide their followers to give their allegiance to Jesus.

Despite the rebellion of the people, Joshua and Caleb forsook the opportunity to get the Jewish people to like them, in favor of encouraging the people to trust in the Lord. 

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3. Expect the Lord’s Deliverance (Joshua 6)

3. Expect the Lord’s Deliverance (Joshua 6)

The falling of the walls of Jericho is one of the most well-loved and often-told Bible stories. The drama of these events is breathtaking, and one cannot help but rejoice when the walls fall as a result of nothing but the people of Israel marching around them.

Place yourself in Joshua’s shoes at this point in history. You have finally entered into the land of Canaan. The Lord has allowed the people of Israel to again cross over a major river on dry ground. You have finally come to the heavily fortified city of Jericho, described as “shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in” (Joshua 6:1). You encounter a strange figure among your camp. Not just a strange figure, but he who happens to be the commander of the Lord’s army!

What would you be thinking at this point? God must have glorious plans for how this city will be overtaken. Maybe God will send an army of angels to destroy the city. Or maybe God will rain down fire on the city like he did to Sodom and Gomorrah! If I were Joshua at this point, I would be eager to hear what God’s plan was for how we would take the city.

What were God’s commands for leading the army of Israel?

You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him. Joshua 6:3-5

How would you react to this command? Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be disappointed! We have the commander of God’s army with us and we’re supposed to just walk around Jericho?

It’s a good thing Joshua was the leader of Israel rather than me. Joshua showed neither dismay nor hesitation when the Lord gave this command. Joshua responded by calling forth the priests and the people of Israel to do exactly as the Lord had commanded.

Joshua expected that God would be faithful to his promise that the walls would fall without any form of combat whatsoever. Joshua displayed complete trust that God would be true to His word, rather than letting any prior expectations or hopes get in the way of his obedience to the Lord.

A godly leader trusts that God will be faithful, even when the manner through which God is working may not seem ideal. A godly leader fully expects that the Lord will protect and provide, even when all seems lost.

A godly leader expects that God will come through, despite the means through which God may work.

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4. Equip Successors for Godly Leadership (Joshua 23)

4. Equip Successors for Godly Leadership (Joshua 23)

A wise leader once told me that if your ministry falls apart after you leave leadership, you have failed as a leader. Godly leadership should never revolve around one person alone. Even Jesus had a band of twelve followers who he taught, trained, and equipped for their ministry after Jesus was gone.

Godly leaders not only lead, but intentionally equip their successors for leadership success once they are gone.

In Joshua 23, we see our leader doing just that. When Joshua became old, near the end of his life, he gathered together the elders and heads of all Israel to encourage them to remain faithful to their covenant with the Lord, and to warn them of the consequences of transgressing their covenant.

Joshua understood that, as leader of the nation of Israel, it is his responsibility to ensure that Israel is in good hands when he is gone. This is a model of godly leadership that all must follow.

The humility that this requires is tremendous, as it requires one to remove oneself from the pedestal of leadership, placing the fate of one’s flock into the hands of others, and ultimately into the hands of God.

As Joshua followed the Lord in obedience as he led the nation of Israel into the promised land, I pray that you will learn from the example that Joshua sets. As God equipped Joshua with the skills and gifts that he needed for the task at hand, so has God equipped you. Be encouraged, and go forth in confidence, following God in obedience, as you lead those whom God has called you to lead.

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