The Pentecostal Answer To the 90-10 Dilemma From Numbers 11
By Roger D. Cotton
How many ministry leaders are on the verge of burnout because of the 90-10 dilemma among their people? That is, 90 percent of church work is done by only 10 percent of the people. Many of the leaders and workers who make up this 10 percent are stressed. They may frequently consider leaving their ministry responsibilities or the church altogether. To make matters worse, the church has also turned its view inward. The workers, along with the other 90 percent, have begun to squabble about mundane, internal matters. They have lost their vision for the hurting world around them. Stagnation has set in. Numbers 11 teaches that Pentecost is the answer to the problems caused by the 90-10 dilemma.
THE CONTEXT OF NUMBERS 11
Numbers 11 contains one of the most significant references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. This chapter is part of the account of Israel’s journey from Sinai — where they were established as God’s covenant nation — through the wilderness to the Promised Land, where God would use them to bring the Savior into the world. The Israelites were on a mission with an eternal purpose. As they began their journey with faith and enthusiasm, God, through Moses, instructed them concerning organization and holiness (Numbers 1–10).
In chapter 11, however, the trials and testing of their faith began. The people complained about their hardships, and God dealt with their rebellion. Moses interceded and the judgment ended. Then, the people stirred up by the dissatisfaction of some non-Israelites among them, wailed about the food they had left in Egypt and complained about the manna the Lord was graciously and miraculously providing for their journey. The Lord became angry and Moses, responding to both God and His people, became troubled.
Moses began to focus on the pressures from the people, the present circumstances, and his own limited ability (verses 11–15). The Hebrew word for “trouble” and “ruin” (verse 15) is the same word used to describe the hardships the people were complaining about in verse 11. In their pain and hardship, both leader and people complained against the goodness of God. Moses listened to the demands of the people, looked at his own limited ability and resources, and concluded that his burden was too great. He would rather die than continue toward his “own ruin.” Moses had forgotten his divine calling and enabling for mission. He even expressed unbelief that the Lord could provide enough meat to feed the people.
GOD’S ANSWER — PENTECOST
God’s answer was not simply to send meat, which He later did, nor was it to do what Moses requested — kill him (verse 15). God’s answer was not a quick fix for the immediate felt-need but a long-term solution to all such stresses in the ministry and missionary journey of God’s people. The Lord’s answer was to put His Spirit — which was on Moses — on 70 other leaders to help Moses bear the burden of the people so they could continue on their mission. This event has many implications for ministry today.
First, the answer is not in us, but in God and His Spirit who is working in and through us. We must keep turning our eyes to God, never losing the sense of awe of and dependence on His power and wisdom.
Second, God’s ministry and mission are always accomplished by the working of His Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). All along, the Spirit had enabled Moses to accomplish God’s purpose, even though nothing is said about the Spirit and Moses prior to this passage (Numbers 11:17). Perhaps, this was an ancient assumption reflected in the references to Joseph in Genesis 41:38 and Bezalel and Oholiab in Exodus 31:3 and 35:31. They had been given God’s Spirit for wisdom and the ability to carry out their important leadership functions. Thus, whether the Bible explicitly mentions the Spirit or not, God intends His people to assume the Pentecostal understanding that His work is to be done in the power of His Spirit.
Third, it is no problem for God to distribute the burden beyond the weary 10 percent and enable others also to carry the burden. Perhaps God waits until people realize their need and are willing to relinquish their exclusive hold on power, much like He waited to create Eve until Adam felt his need for companionship (Genesis 2:18).
Fourth, like Moses, leaders must gather workers for God from those already known to be leaders among the people. God did not force the people to accept new leaders who were strange to them. God calls for wisdom in the organization of His people for effective ministry and mission.
Fifth, there is an amazing prefiguring of Pentecostal empowerment for God’s mission. When the Lord put His Spirit on the Seventy, He gave them an observable sign so the people would know that God was working supernaturally by His Spirit in their lives, and that He had chosen them for ministry (Numbers 11:25). The form of the Hebrew verb, “to prophesy,” indicates that these men were speaking prophetically and were empowered by God (compare 1 Samuel 10:6; 19:20,24). Some scholars have suggested that the divine sign in Numbers 11 — prophetic speech — was basically the same experience as the speaking in tongues referred to in Acts 2,1 an event that was the beginning of what can happen for all believers.
The biblical idea of prophetic speech involves communication flowing out from intimate communion with the Lord. Prophets were allowed to be God’s spokespersons because they had such intimate contact with Him. God’s Spirit coming on a person for ministry and mission is a prophetic experience.
Sixth, God retains sovereign control over the gift of the Spirit. It is interesting to observe that not all who received the Spirit in Numbers 11 did so in the official way at the designated place. God had called the Seventy to come before the tabernacle, the place of His presence. But two did not come. God, however, still put His Spirit on these two while they remained in the camp. In verse 28, Joshua asked Moses to stop these two from prophesying. In contrast, Moses expressed no jealousy for his authority, but instead wished that all God’s people would be empowered by God’s Spirit and be prophets.
Like Moses, pastors need to relinquish any self-serving, narrow-minded restrictions over who may minister. Yes, all workers and leaders must be proven, solid disciples, but sometimes people are not released to the ministries God wants for them because of the pastor’s insecurities and his selfish control of the various ministries in his church. Sometimes only 10 percent are doing all the work because leadership has an unhealthy need to be indispensable. Ministers must be open to God working in ways that cut across their pride and rigid traditions.
Pentecost has always offended extremely controlling people. Real freedom from the stresses of ministry comes when God is given control. God uses leaders to bring order and direction to a group, but leaders should not make those decisions on their own or ever think or act as though they have the power in themselves. Pastors need to act as God’s obedient messengers. Furthermore, no human is given authority to control the transfer of the Spirit to others. God transferred the Spirit from Moses to the Seventy; Moses did not do it.
Finally, from Numbers 11 Moses looked ahead to Pentecost and expressed the heart of God in his wish that all God’s people would be prophets, have intimate communion with Him, and experience His power for His mission in the world. Joel prophesied that the fulfillment would come in the latter days. According to Peter, this fulfillment began at Pentecost (Acts 2).
Moses modeled a return to a faith that focuses on God’s promises and a return to leadership that helps people move toward God’s goals. If pastors will yield to the heart cry of God, they will desire all God’s people be empowered by His Spirit for ministry.
If this is truly a pastor’s heart desire, he will work to organize his church or ministry in a way that encourages a wide distribution of ministry. Pentecost is a grassroots, nonelitist movement. God’s goal is for all His people to participate in His work on earth. When we are truly Pentecostal, we expect God to empower people other than ourselves to accomplish His mission. That lifts the false burden of self-sufficiency. It also breaks the ministry out of the 90-10 dilemma and keeps it focused on God’s mission to reach the world with the gospel. Numbers 11 points to Pentecost as God’s answer to stresses in ministry.
Roger D. Cotton, Th.D., is professor of Old Testament at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri.
1. Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 105,106.