There is nothing worse for a society than an entire group of people with nothing to do. While that assertion can likely be argued by sociologists to be true or false, I think it is verifiable as an historical reality. Either the desire to do nothing corrupts a society into slavery and oppression, or the idle put their effort into devising ways to control society.
Even in microcosm, we see this to be true. Take a school and look at who becomes the troubled students: it is the ones who have nothing to do. Either because they are not expected to do more or whose learning styles do not match with the way things are presented, leading to them not be able to work within the system. Or it is the intelligent who get done and have nothing to do…
Or within a church: those who have nothing to do, no service to participate in, no freedom to do what they are best at—these folks either drift away or sit and get bored. This is why the organized worship services of many churches are not effective—idleness leads to boredom.
We come, then, to Numbers 4. Within Numbers 4 appear to be the mundane duties assigned to individual families within the Levites, giving their roles. Some were to carry this, some were to carry that. Others cover this material while another gathers that one.
In short, everyone has something to do. There is neither the exclusion of a family as too insignificant, nor the exaltation of a group as too important to do anything. Everyone needed something to do, and everyone had something to do.
What do we do with this?
First, we do not allow ourselves to think so highly of ourselves that we think we do not need to do anything. No one is too important to take out the trash or mow the lawn. Some may not have the ability, others the opportunity, but no one is above the work. Whatever you may good at, whatever your gifts and abilities may be, there are times that certain things just need done. Do it.
Second, we need to consider paying attention to the breakdown of tasks. It is possible, at times, to break down a major task, like moving the Tabernacle, into small units. By doing so, everyone can be involved. This keeps people connected to each other and focused on the task. This impacts especially strongly in churches: find ways for the work to be available to all. Part of our problem as Southern Baptists is that one group has this work, another that, but there is no unity of purpose.
Third, we need to be clear on expectations. The Gershonites had no doubts about their job. What about you? Do you know what you should do? Do you, if you lead, make it clear what you need others to do? Make it clear: this is what we need to do.
Clarity of need, clarity of purpose. These things help us know what we are doing. Division of labor? That’s as critical: this keeps us unified in doing.