Many of the ministry approaches that worked in the past won’t work the same in 2021. In this series on ministry innovation, we explore how to have Courage, Creativity, and Compassion in a new season of ministry. It’s based on the new book by Steven Argue and Caleb Roose called: Sticky Faith Innovation: How Your Compassion, Creativity, and Courage Can Support Teenagers’ Lasting Faith.
Part 1: Courage
Search for “Bible verses about courage” and the first hit will probably be a snippet of Joshua 1:9 – “Be strong and courageous.”
The full verse is, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
The full context is Joshua preparing to lead the tribes of Israel into the promised land — a task which had them quivering in their boots. Sandals. Whatever.*
We like to read this verse as though it were written for me. Right here. Right now. The demand is high for this type of interpretation. And the supply-chain responds. We can get the sound-byte version of Joshua 1:9 on t-shirts, stickers, wall hangings, mugs, water bottles, jewelry, floor mats, door mats, keychains, journals, and All The Things.
I think we love this verse because it evokes images of grandeur as we do Big and Amazing Things for Jesus. And who doesn’t want to do Big and Amazing Things for Jesus?
But maybe we’ve missed the point – which is so very easy to do.
In scripture we find “don’t be afraid” way more often than “be strong and courageous.” And though they may sound synonymous on the surface, we should perhaps hear them differently.
“Don’t be afraid” implies you are probably going to be afraid. Often. Because our battle isn’t against flesh and blood. It’s against unseen powers that are very real. Scripture’s most prescribed antidote to fear isn’t courage but rather strength and power. And those two things don’t come from the wellspring of our own awesome toughness. They come from the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus appeared to his disciples behind the locked door, where they were quivering in their boots-sandals-whatever, his response was not: “BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS!” It was: “Peace be with you,” and, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” after which he breathed on them. What a plot letdown.
Narnians-at-heart will recognize this move, for it is exactly what Aslan does throughout the Chronicles. He breathes on stone statues to bring them back to life. He breathes on Susan when she is paralyzed by her fears. He breathes on Eustace and Pole before they head back to horrid Experiment House. He breathes on Digory before sending him up to the high mountains to retrieve a golden apple. He breathes on Shasta when he is hopelessly lost in the fog-filled woods. And perhaps most familiar of all, he breathes on Lucy as the Dawn Treader strains to escape the dark island. And as he breathes on her, he whispers: “Courage, dear heart.”
Courage is something Jesus gives us, through his Spirit, when we are overcome with fear that may be earthly, may be worldly, but may just as easily (and perhaps more likely) be spiritual.
Fear is the stuff of death. Unless it is the “fear of the Lord,” in which case it is the beginning of wisdom.
In practical terms, i.e. in the field, day-in-day-out ministry to teenagers, we may think that “courage” is the thing we most need to move our ministries forward in fresh, inspiring, bold new ways.
Can I offer another perspective?
What we most need is not courage to implement fresh, inspiring, bold now things.
What we most need is courage to simply do the next right thing — when so often the next right thing isn’t flashy or edgy or bold. Courage to follow Jesus where he leads — when so often the place he leads isn’t exotic or stunning or filled with adoring crowds. Courage to be obedient — when so often obedience battles against me, myself, and all the things I wish for. Courage to be humble — when the world and sometimes even our missional context heralds flash and fame and shazam.
Do I think we all need courage? Indeed. Absolutely. Yes, we do. But the courage we most need comes from Christ, leads to Christ, and is for Christ.
Faithful obedience is the most courageous and daring thing we are called to do. It doesn’t offer a dashing adventurous storyline in which we look amazing because of our innovative courage. And that’s okay, because the adventurous storyline that we are all invited into is simply this: following King Jesus day after day after day with fierce and humble faithfulness.
That takes courage. And lots of it. Thanks be to God that his Spirit is more than up for the challenge.
*(By the way, this is a story we should all be familiar with. If you’re fuzzy on the details, read Exodus 13:17-20:21; Numbers 9-14; Deuteronomy 1-11; Deuteronomy 31.)
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