Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Exodus 18:13-27


I have noticed that when men who serve as President of the United States typically leave the Oval Office, they do so with much more grey hair than when they began service. The weight of leadership is demanding and taxing. 

Faced with making important decision after important decision for a nation, for a state, for a city, or for a congregation, can wear down an individual if he or she is not careful. Moses' father-in-law Jethro immediately observes such a danger when he met Moses in the wilderness near the mountain of God (Ex. 18:5; 17-18). 

The word of Jethro is wise and simple: Moses should delegate some of the responsibilities to other godly, trustworthy individuals (Ex. 18:21-23). That counsel remains important for leaders today.

On an exegetical note, a congregant asked me a difficult question. Why would Moses accept advice from a new convert to Yahweh (Ex. 18:10-12), especially considering the direct communication that Moses had with the Lord thus far? 

The question is not one easily answered, if an answer is even truly possible. Peter Enns points out, "From one perspective, Jethro is returning a favor. In 2:16-20, Moses comes to Jethro's aid by driving away shepherds from the well. Now, Jethro comes to Moses' aid. It is worth noting again that both incidents are accompanied by a meal and both acts of kindness result in making 'shepherding' more effective - for the former the shepherding of a flock, for the latter the shepherding of God's people."

I think Enns may get close to the answer (even though he admits to not knowing why God did not just directly reveal to Moses the need for a division of labor). The biblical text is known for inclusios - for bringing closure to relationships and/or events through thematic and literary developments (Ex. 18:27). In fact, God reveals Himself most frequently to people through human relationships and human events. Although Moses is atypical in this regard because God most frequently shows Himself to him through direct, intimate contact, it does not mean that the Lord would never speak to Moses via other people and/or via circumstances. 

No doubt, too, Moses respects Jethro and the place Jethro holds in his life. Remember that he had asked his father-in-law's permission to return to Egypt in Exodus 4:18. Respect for the counsel of elders in family seems to run through Israel's history (think, for instance, of Naomi and Ruth or Mordecai and Esther, etc.). Plus, although Jethro is definitely a new convert, Moses would have had 40 years before this point to observe the practical wisdom of Jethro. 

Perhaps it is also important to recognize that Moses is in tune to the Lord's counsel whether it comes from a human agent like Jethro or from the direct voice of God. No doubt, Moses was a humble servant. We see such humility in listening so intently to the voice of an elder priest - his father-in-law, no less! (Ex. 18:24)

The difficult exegetical matter aside, the central lesson for us is to recognize that good leaders delegate wisely (Ex. 18:25-26). 

Several benefits emerge from a proper delegation of responsibilities:
1. The leader does not wear him or herself out.
2. The leader enables others to develop and advance their giftedness.
3. The leader ensures that the mission with which he or she has been tasked carries on after he or she is gone.

Such a leadership principle that emerges in Exodus 18 through Jethro's advice to Moses also appears in the New Testament with Christ and then the apostles. 

As to Christ, I suppose we cannot actually say that Jesus did not wear Himself out. In a sense, it was demanding and taxing for Christ just to train His disciples so that He could delegate matters to them (cf. Matt. 8:25-27; 17:15-17). Beyond that, no one could help to carry out His mission of the cross: it was a task of leadership only He could perform, and it cost Him everything.

Yet, Jesus did invest in developing leaders and advancing their giftedness so that they would carry on the message and mission of the Gospel after His resurrection and ascension. And those leaders would further demonstrate the wisdom of delegation.

We see such delegation in Acts 6, when the apostles appointed godly men to help serve the needs of people. We see such delegation in Paul's training of young men like Timothy and Titus, who he instructs to delegate matters to others as well (cf. Titus 1:5).

Good leaders indeed delegate, and such delegation requires traits of trust and humility. Some leaders fear handing over responsibilities because either they do not trust others to handle matters appropriately or they fear how people might perceive them if they are not doing all the heavy lifting. Plus, what if a protege is better at something than the mentor?

In the church, I am convinced that the best senior pastors do not fear shared responsibilities. Conversely, they delegate tasks and work to ensure that individuals are given opportunities to develop their God-given leadership abilities and grow in their spiritual gifts. Such a mindset not only helps to prevent burn-out, but it can even guard a lead pastor from hubris and a spirit of unhealthy control. 


What are some areas in your leadership role that you need to begin to delegate to others for your well-being and for their development:


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