As you scan the records of history there are few leaders who measure up to Moses. Who else could lead 2 1/2 million complaining and carnal Israelites out of Egypt and across a blazing hot desert for 40 years without imploding?
What a lot of Christians may not know is that Moses probably would have imploded if it wasn’t for his Father-in-law Jethro. Once Moses settled into his desert rhythm of leadership he invited Jethro out to the sand dunes to catch up on life. After all, a lot had happened since the burning bush. From 10 plagues to to walls of water to lots of manna and mayhem.
After Moses and Jethro spent time catching up and praising God for all He had done here’s what happened next,
“The next day Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?’ Moses answered him, ‘Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.’” Exodus 18:13-16
Moses was a hands-on leader. He liked to be in the thick of it and to lead from the front. What some would call micro-management he called his daily task list. But Jethro saw something different in Moses. He saw a leader whose potential was being throttled by “the tyranny of the urgent.” And so he did what any good father-in-law would do. He called him on it.
“Moses’ father-in-law replied, ‘What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.’” Exodus 18:17,18
The kind of leadership that Moses was exercising makes an impact but not a maximum one. This brand of leader is so busy tackling the urgent they have no time for the important. They don’t delegate and so they become the bottleneck for getting anything done. The result is exhaustion. Not only are the people tired, the leaders are tired too.
Suffice it to say that this kind of leadership doesn’t end well. Burn-out or bail-out are the only realistic long-term options.
But Jethro doesn’t just rebuke Moses, he gives him some priceless wisdom:
“Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” Exodus 18:19-23
Jethro gives him 3 pieces of advice that you and I can apply as leaders in our particular ministry context. These action steps can turn us from good leaders into great ones:
1. Pray like your ministry depends on it (because it does!)
“You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.”
The primary job of a spiritual leader is prayer. Whether you are a pastor, youth pastor or director of a Christian non-profit, your first and foremost job is prayer. Praying for the people you are ministering to and with. Prayer for wisdom, direction, provision and results. Praying down strongholds and praying up opportunities.
Many spiritual leaders, like Moses, are surrounded by people clamoring for their time, attention and priorities. When leaders cave in to these demands and let others dictate their schedules they actually do the people they are ministering to and with a disservice. Ten minutes in prayer is worth ten hours at the plow. Because after you pray it up and put your hand to the plow it will be propelled by limitless divine power and not paltry human strength. You’ll get more done in less time because your energy is flowing from the throne of God.
The apostles applied this same principle when the tyranny of the urgent was distracting them from their bigger priorities. In Acts 6:3,4 Luke wrote, “Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Let’s learn from Moses and the apostles about the centrality of prayer in our job descriptions. Let’s make prayer our first priority.
2. Preach until they get it and live it!
“Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.”
The second priority Jethro challenged Moses to make in his leadership was to preach and teach. He was to inspire and instruct God’s people to live out God’s truths in real and practical ways.
As the leader of a ministry called Dare 2 Share I’m growing to see the power of this principle, not just externally but internally. Externally I preach to thousands of youth leaders and tens of thousands of teenagers every year. But internally, with our small staff of 27 people at Dare 2 Share, I consistently preach and teach in our weekly staff chapel.
It’s during this time I cast our vision and teach God’s truth. I constantly remind our team the urgency of the mission before us and the principles we operate by. This is crucial to keep everyone pushing in the same direction for the same goal. It helps to align our ministry for the cause God has called us to accomplish.
As a spiritual leader your preaching/teaching counts. It needs to be thought through, fought through and talked through until your people have mastered the mantra and are living the vision.
3. Pick leaders who are already getting it done!
“But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves.”
This is not leadership development as much as it is leadership identification. Jethro tells Moses to identify the leaders who are already getting it done and then appoint them to official leadership positions. Their level of leadership depended on their level of integrity, ability and maturity. We see Moses developing leaders as he went but the initial work went into identifying who these leaders should be.
Who are the people in your ministry who are getting “it” (whatever that means in your ministry context) done? Pick them to become your leaders. Put them in charge of something, give them authority, publicly recognize them and develop them along the way.
WARNING: These leaders may not be the clean and shiny ones. They could be the rag-tag blue collar who are just really rocking it when it comes to actually getting ministry accomplished. Remember this described most of the early disciples.
Don’t choose leaders who could be leaders. Choose ones who are leaders…just without the title. And then give them the title.
“Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said.” Moses 18:24
In the same way, will you listen to God’s Word and then do it when it comes to your leadership?