The Gideon story from Judges 6-8 is among the best-loved Old Testament narratives. After years of Midianite intimidation that has driven Israel into caves, God raises up an unlikely leader to beat back the oppressor. Gideon musters an army of 32,000. God says, “too big.” He whittles them down to 10,000. God says, “too big.” Finally, the army becomes 300. God says, “perfect.” The reason for this whittling down is found in Judges 7:2 where the Lord says that a large army will lead Israel to say, “My own strength has saved me.”
During this pandemic it feels like God has been whittling down renewal congregations to Gideon-size. A church I’m coaching has 75 members but is worshipping with 25. They have sufficient resources in the bank but insufficient butts in the pews. They asked, “Can we make it?” To a greater or lesser extent, every church is struggling with the questions: Who is left? Who will return? Can we make it? All this reminds me of some important lessons from the Gideon story.
Here are 7 lessons for Gideon-sized congregations:
Lesson 1: Recognize the Lord’s Hand
The whittling down of Israel’s army was part of God’s plan to increase dependence and guarantee that all good outcomes are attributed to Him. We should recognize that being whittled down is more than collateral damage from COVID-19. This is part of God’s greater plan to increase dependence on Him.
Lesson 2: Eliminate Fear
The Gideon story is about decreasing fear and increasing trust. When the angel appeared to cowering Gideon, he said “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” When 32,000 were whittled down to 10,000, those sent home were folk filled with fear. The LORD is saying to us, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.”
Lesson 3: Begin With What You Have
Gideon began with what he had; namely, 300 fighting men. Against a Midianite army that were “thick as locusts”, that wasn’t much. Without complaint, Gideon began with what he had and trusted God for the resources to see him through. We, too, must begin with what we have and trust God to see us through.
Lesson 4: Infuse the Community With Purpose
What emboldened Gideon on the eve of battle was overhearing two friends talking about a dream in which God gave the Midianites into Gideon’s hands (Judges 7:13-15). Fresh vision for a greater calling will stir churches to reengage in mission and ministry. Sharing dreams and casting vision is essential work.
Lesson 5: Provide Resources and Training
Gideon was a strategist. He divided the 300 into three companies giving them trumpets (shofars) and empty jars with torches inside. He was clear about when to blow the trumpets and when to break the jars. For churches to have maximum impact with fewer numbers, strategy and training are essential.
Lesson 6: Go Where the Spirit Leads
The story of Gideon’s victory is about a middle-of-a-dark-night terror God caused in the Midianite camp such that soldiers turned on soldiers believing they were enemies. The victory was about Israel’s courage to go where the Spirit was leading. Gideon-sized churches must be Spirit-following communities.
Lesson 7: Give God the Glory
Gideon’s story is about who received the glory for a “win” over Midian. In the end, God received the glory. In future days when the pandemic is long behind us and our churches are again clearly on mission, we will look back and remember that it was Christ, the Lord of the church, who got us through.