Tom Chappell is the CEO of the natural-toothpaste company Tom’s of Maine. When Chappell was 43, he had just guided his company through a period of aggressive growth, which resulted in him amassing a great amount of wealth.
One might think that such would have resulted in Chappell feeling satisfied and fulfilled, but not so. Rather than experiencing satisfaction and fulfillment, Chappell was feeling that he wasn’t doing all that he was called to do.
The usual advice for business leaders when they hit such a point is to sell the business, buy a sailboat and travel the world, but Chappell instead found direction from a question his pastor’s wife put to him. She asked, “What makes you think Tom’s of Maine isn’t your ministry?”
Because of that question Chappell didn’t sell his company and sail around the world— but he did do something rather obtuse—he enrolled in Harvard Divinity School. Chappell would spend half of each week in Kennebunk, Maine, doing the CEO stuff for his company, and the other half in Cambridge, Massachusetts, being a theological student.
Four years later, after graduating from Harvard Divinity, Chappell asked one of his professors to meet with his company board and help them draft a mission statement and business road map based on moral and ethical principles. As a result, the company adopted a plan based on a concept put forth by the theologian Martin Buber that committed the business to start three new partnerships, each year that would “promote the common good” These partnerships have included: saving America’s rivers, community gardening, and support of a local dental clinic for the poor.
In short, Chappell challenged his company to decide what sort of a business it would be. Would it be one driven only by the bottom line or would it be a company with allegiance to common-good values?
In the years since, other businesspeople with no intention of leaving the world of trade and commerce have also enrolled in divinity schools, seeking personal direction as well as input for importing the values and ethics of faith into their commercial dealings. It’s all an encouraging development. And it is the result of what some have come to call the Joshua Principle—that comes to us in our text for today.
In today’s text, Joshua, the leader of the Israelites and successor to Moses, challenges his people to decide what sort of a community they will now be—now that they have a homeland.
You’ll remember that Moses led God’s people through the wilderness, to the Promised Land. Moses died though before crossing over; and Joshua lead the Israelites into the land and defeated the people who were there. And now, here they are—in the Promised Land—established and ready to move forward into the bright future God promised. It was the fulfillment of the covenant God made with God’s people all the way back to Abraham.
They now have homes and homesteads, and all that comes with such a lifestyle— bills and tithing to make, a mortgage to keep up with, water heaters to get installed, children to raise and educate and feed, an SUV, smartphones, a dog a cat, and a white picket fence. Ok, maybe not those things specifically—but certainly what those things equated to back then.
The Joshua principle comes about when he asks them to decide to whom their allegiance would be given, but Joshua couched that challenge in a question about commitment, asking: “…Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living…”
And then it’s here where we get at the heart of the Joshua principle that great quote we often see in wall art, “…but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” The people responded that they would do the same: “The LORD our God we will serve; and him we will obey”
But of course that’s what they are going to say, right? You and I know that when a preacher asks you if you will serve the Lord the answer is always a resounding “YES!”
See, I’ll show you—“Church, will you serve the Lord!?”
Joshua was well aware of church folk’s inclination. He knew that though the people declared they were prepared to accept the responsibility of covenant fidelity to God, Joshua knew the people did not grasp the implications of serving “a jealous God” –a God who wanted their complete devotion.
So in an almost satirical/reverse psychology kind of manner, he questions and remonstrates them in verses nineteen and twenty, being overt in saying they cannot serve any deity besides Yahweh, that they must recognize Yahweh’s supremacy, and they must “put away the foreign gods” that they had preserved from their past or any new gods they had incorporated from their neighbors. It’s all in an effort to make sure the people knew what they were getting into and what is expected of them.
When the people insist a second time that they are able to withstand the rigors of what would later develop into monotheism, Joshua agrees to their request and begins equipping them for the covenant they are now making with God.
The challenge Joshua issued to the Israelites also confronts us today. We still must choose whom we will serve and what kind of people we will be.
Even in the church, we must still choose whom we will serve, and what kind of church we will be. Will we be a church that goes through the motions, saying what is supposed to be said, when it’s supposed to be said. Or will we be a church with allegiance to God and God’s values?
Today we will do our installation of church officers. We will do this with a rather formal sounding decree and covenant—but I wonder if the formality stops at what it sounds like?
When we commit to serve the church, what are we committing to? Are we committing to keeping the building operational and clean? Are we committing to serving communion and collecting the offering? Are we committing to being a Lay Leader for a month, while making a homebound visit now and then? Are we committing to being at a monthly meeting or two, maybe even leading one? Are we committing to our little part of the church—you know the part that is most important? Or are we committing to the whole church? Are we committing to God who blesses us with so much, yet has simple and reasonable expectations?
Now I realize I am no Joshua, but these questions are meant in the spirt in which he asked his people who they would commit to being. He knew their initial response would be a resounding “Yes!” and so he posed his question again, reframing it with emphasis that the people needed to fully understand what they were getting into.
We need to have this same understanding when we enter into covenant leadership. We need to know that the work we do, the service we offer, is a ministry. It is not about us. It’s not even about this church. It’s about serving God and God’s children.
But here’s the thing we all need to understand… Covenant leadership is not just for the folk’s whose name appears on this list of officers. All of us are asked everyday—every time we come to this building, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
Sure, covenant leadership is done in big ways, but it’s done in smaller, less obvious ways too. Covenant leadership is done when we show up, and are present. It’s done when we sign-up for Coffee Fellowship and even by going to Coffee Fellowship. It’s done when we go to Sunday School or volunteer at Loaves and Fishes. It’s done even when we fill out a Connection Card.
Everything we do here, all of it is a ministry because we are modeling and sharing our commitment to be engaged with God in the ways God invites us in. Everything we do as church can be, and should be seen, as a ministry.
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The Joshua principle, born out of the fulfilled covenant of God, and God’s covenant to continue to care for and lead God’s people
Tom Chappell applied this principle and in doing so showed that making a profit doesn’t have to be the only mission of business, or even the driving force in our own lives. And it was all born of a question that helped him discover the perspective that everything he did could be, and should be, his ministry.
We can decide the same, here today, right now. We can decide: my work, my presence, my words, my actions, my gifts, will be my ministry. We can decide that it’s not all about me, but it’s all about God and my relationship with God.
So may we all enter into covenant leadership this day. Be it as officers of the church, or even simply as those who say, every day, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”