When Olu Brown imagines the conversation between Moses and the leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad, it’s a poignant scene. These two tribes, who had traveled through the wilderness on the promise of a new land, were stopping short of the goal, requesting to remain behind as Israel moved on across the Jordan.
“Moses looked at the two tribal leaders with tear-filled eyes and a scratchy throat and said, ‘Goodbye.’ In all the years of his leadership, this was one of the most trying farewells for him despite it being a simple combination of two words, good and bye. The more he thought about these words individually, the more conflicted he became on the inside. How can a ‘bye’ be good?” (40)
Leadership Directions from Moses: On the Way to a Promised Land [Abingdon, 2017] is the rare leadership book that deals with the pain of loss. Olu Brown is, by all accounts, a transformational pastor, leading the fast-growing, multi-cultural, multi-campus Impact Church in Atlanta. But Brown knows that every journey, even toward fantastic church growth, has its grief.
Numbers 32 is not well-trodden turf for leadership lessons. Moses’s decision to let the Gadites and Reubenites go their own way seems like a minor chapter in the story of the Israelites. But Brown discovered it in his devotional reading and builds a case for its usefulness to leaders.
Leaders will face times when their focus will be tested by those who hear different dreams and promises. They will have to choose to confront these competing visions and make tough decisions. They will have to have difficult conversations, more and more as they get closer to the goal. When others choose a different promise, leaders will have to let them leave. And they will have to face the consequent void as a space with the potential for new life.
“For most of my vocational life,” Brown says, “I have described these places and spaces as being empty and powerless. However, I now know that what I was actually experiencing was the divine transformative dynamic of being available.” (66)
Every seasoned leader knows that sometimes subtraction is addition. Olu Brown plumbs the depth of this truism with new eyes and a creative appropriation of an old story. This slim book is not a compendium of lists and ‘to do’s for anxious pastors seeking a promised land. It is an honest reflection on what you lose and gain along the way.