Here are some lessons that I have drawn from Numbers 16 relating to leadership. To read the passage in its entirety please click here Numbers 16.
1. If you are in a position of lay leadership in a church, be very sure of what you're doing before trying to bring charges against the pastor. If you are a deacon, or on the administrative council, or a trustee, or whatever they call the lay leadership at your church be wary of trying to undo your pastor. This passage tells us that Korah and some 250 leaders among Israelites, "took action and they rose up before Moses." We know from the other narratives about Moses' life and the wanderings in the desert that this was not his first rodeo with unhappy people. Their complaint is found in verse 3, "You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?" Now, this in itself is not the problem. The problem is, it wasn't true and they were maliciously attacking the leadership of Moses and Aaron, God's appointed men. Here is what it may sound like today in our churches. "Hey pastor, you've gone too far. Who are you to say that the church needs to go in a different direction?" Or, "Who are you to preach against sin? We want to hear messages that make us feel like God likes us." What about, "Hey youth pastor, why are you teaching so much of the Bible and not just having fun with the youth group. Isn't it supposed to be about fellowship?" I'm not going to give any more examples because we all know what this type of accusation sounds like and we've all got our own specific examples. Any time we try to supersede God's leadership, whether it be His personal leadership in our lives, or the people that God has appointed as leaders over us we are treading on very thin ice. In essence, we are saying that we know better than God and have a better plan than He does. Now, let me say this. There are times when those in leadership need to be held accountable. If they are clearly straying from Biblical principles and are found to be in error then they must be approached. However, before we accuse our godly leaders we must be absolutely sure it is true and for the right reasons. This leads me to point 2 and it is for the leaders.
2. Leaders must be faithful to God's leadership. Look at Moses' reaction and words to God in verse 15. He says, "Do not regard their offering! I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them." As leaders we must be able to go before God and claim our innocence of what we are being accused of. One thing that I've heard many people say is, if you are innocent then you need no defense and if you are guilty you have no defense. If we are guilty of what we are being accused of then there is no sense in fighting the truth. However, if we are innocent we need only be so before God and He will take care of the outcome of the situation. Moses knew that he was being faithful to the commands he received from the Lord and so he left the results up to Him.
3. Leave the judgment to the Lord. If we look at what happens to Korah and his rebellious cronies we see that Moses did not mete out the justice. After proclaiming his innocence before God he did not call an army of the faithful to go and slay the rebels. Instead, he allowed God to show His judgment to the real trespassers. This serves two purposes. First, it doesn't allow anyone to have further problems with Moses. After the judgment was levied there was no doubt who did it. Other people couldn't look on and say, "Gee wiz, look how Moses opened up the ground and made it swallow those people." By allowing God to take care of the problem Moses left no doubt in the people's minds that it was divine justice and not human revenge. Secondly, and this is related to the first, by allowing God to address the situation His power and will on display for all to see. This served to confirm Moses' anointed leadership. The solution to false accusations against God's leaders is to continue being faithful to His call and His direction and the chaff will be sifted out by God. Thankfully, under the New Covenant there is also the chance for the misguided to see the error of their ways and repent. Unfortunately, Korah and his rebels had no second chance.
4. Do not allow the poison to spread. God tells Moses that He is going to solve this little problem and He also tells him to separate the good from the bad. In verse 24 God says, "Speak to the congregation, saying 'Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.'" There was a reason that God eliminated the influence of Korah and it was because He knew that that kind of thinking could easily spread throughout the entire assembly and compromise their faithfulness to God. If we look ahead to the Gospels we see Christ warning the people to beware of the leaven of the pharisees. Why? Because bad attitudes and rebellion have a nasty habit of spreading among the family of God. If a leader senses poison and leaven in the congregation it is imperative that it not be allowed to spread and infect others. This does work both ways though. If people in the congregation sense poisonous and unbiblical doctrine coming from the pulpit it must not be allowed to spread either.
5. Clean up afterwards. After the judgment of the Lord came down He commanded that the censers and firepans be hammered into sheeting for the altar as a reminder to the people. If we have an incident in our midst then it is important for us to explain what happened to those who may not have been privy to the goings on. If the issue is not addressed then it will only lead to further speculation and potential harm. If discipline occurs in the house of God it is best to be honest about it. That doesn't mean that we share every gory detail because that may not be edifying and may hinder a person or groups ability to be welcomed back into the community. However, if we leave it all hush-hush then that can lead to all kinds of conspiracy theories and additional problems later on. This is where there are some differences between Numbers 16 and what I'm saying because what happened to Korah and his followers was certainly out in the open for all to see from beginning to end. The situation was slightly different though and may not match up to what we experience in our own churches. I suppose the level of disclosure should be consistent with the openness of the situation.
These are just a few lessons on leadership that I have drawn from this particularly interesting passage of scripture. To be sure, there is more to be learned from this passage and the Bible as a whole on the subject. As a conclusion I would simply say this. To the lay leadership of the Church, be very careful before accusing or attacking the leadership of the pastor and staff. They have been appointed by God as undershepherds of the flock. Their leadership does not stand apart from God but underneath God. To pastors, be sure to remain blameless before the Lord regarding your decisions in the Church. You have been appointed by God and fall directly under His divine command, never forget that. It is not your church, it is His and your job is to lead according to His will and plan.