And say hello to the right priorities
“What you are doing is not good.”
Jethro said it to Moses in Exodus 18. God said it to me at a time when I was experiencing major leadership overload. “You’re going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself” (Exodus 18:18).
Moses had lived for decades on the back side of the desert. Now he led a people who had been slaves for generations. They had no clue how to govern themselves or to do God’s will. They faced dire situations. And they couldn’t get along.
Fresh from the Red Sea crossing, Moses tried to lead the people by himself. Everyone who had a problem came to him. Moses found himself arbitrating all day, every day.
When Moses’ father-in-law came to visit, Jethro accurately assessed the situation: “This is not good” (Exodus 18:17). Jethro suggested three new priorities. He urged Moses to confirm that these priorities were God’s (Exodus 18:19-23). In response, Moses did a wonderful thing. The man who met face-to-face with God listened and acted when the Lord spoke to him through someone else.
As I read Jethro’s counsel to Moses, I realized it was God’s counsel for me. Yet some of it didn’t seem logical or practical, and I knew I couldn’t do any of it in my own strength.
Desperate, I told the Lord I believed his word. I asked his Spirit to empower me to obey. In the years since, God has consistently affirmed: As we walk out these three principles, we say goodbye to leadership overload.
Let’s look at each briefly, from last to first.
Priority 3: Select capable people to work alongside you (verses 21-22).
Like Moses, I wasn’t born with a default setting to delegate. When I was 20-something, a woman told me, “You’re doing everything for everybody.” Taking her words to heart, I set out to learn the skill of delegating wisely. Faithfully, God continues to teach me.
Delegating takes effort. It requires trust to hand over authority and responsibility to someone else. It requires wisdom to choose the right people and humility to admit when you did not. It takes courage to hold people accountable and selflessness to affirm a job well done. But the effort you expend will more than pay for itself as other leaders step up to help share the load.
Don’t stop there, though! Often people who read this story in Scripture see only the call to delegate—and miss priorities 1 and 2.
Priority 2: Cultivate spiritual adults (verse 20).
Moses was deciding everything for everyone. He was discerning God’s will for people in many matters they should have discerned for themselves. In so doing, he unwittingly reinforced a lie the people had learned in slavery: that even as adults, they would always have to be told what to do.
Jethro urged Moses: Before people fall into the ditch, teach them God’s ways. Teach with words and by your life. Implicit in this priority is a challenge: Expect them to learn. Expect them to grow up.
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Inadvertently, we too may lead in a way that keeps people perennial children, rather than grow them into spiritual adults. We may communicate, “You need me to step in and fix your every woe.” That hurts everyone. Enabled to live irresponsibly, people keep getting stuck in ditches and always expect someone else to pull them out. Goaded by a false sense of importance, we take on far too much responsibility, to the point of collapse.
I’ve sinned in this way, as did Moses, before Jethro showed him his error. But when we change course—when we truly help people toward adulthood and strongly affirm those acting like adults—we dramatically change the dynamic.
It’s not an instant fix, but ultimately it makes a profound difference. Consider the phenomenal results after Moses taught God’s ways for 40 years. The first time the nation stood at the edge of the Promised Land, a very few leaders tried unsuccessfully to pull along a terrified, rebellious crowd. The second time, all moved together as one.
Priority 1: Stand before God for the people.
Spend time with the Lord. Talk to him about people’s needs. Even more important, learn to know his voice, listen closely to what he says, and act on it.
Remember: Moses wasn’t a priest. He was a government leader of a struggling, wandering nation. He might have believed that taking time out to “stand before God for the people” would only increase his overload. He might have thought that prayer was one task he could delegate to a hand-picked team. Yet Jethro told Moses, “This is your number-one job,” and God himself affirmed it.
Repeatedly, the Lord called Moses to meet with him. Consistently, Moses went, even when his responsibilities shouted, “No! You cannot go!” Twice he spent an entire six weeks alone with God. During their encounters, God listened as Moses spoke. More often, Moses listened as God spoke. That’s how Moses knew what to teach the people and who to call up to help lead. That’s where Moses learned God’s ways.
In our day, in your situation, you may think this priority impossible. Don’t be fooled. What’s impossible is leading the right way without it. Indeed, what have you accomplished if everyone moves together—but doesn’t go with God?
Be blessed to make this your first priority as a leader: to spend time before the Lord, listening and interceding. Trust him to accomplish it. In his strength, press in past seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I can attest: He will make the way.
A promise God will keep
Any time you’re living on leadership overload, what you’re doing isn’t good. Cry out to God. Agree that his priorities are wise and doable, by his power working mightily within. Actively cooperate as he teaches you to delegate, to grow people to maturity, and to stand before him in behalf of those you lead.
“If you handle the work this way, you’ll have the strength to carry out whatever God commands you, and the people in their settings will flourish”.
Deborah Brunt explores key truths for living life. She’s the author of eight books, including two e-books in the E-Blessings Series, The Elijah Blessing: An Undivided Heart and The Esther Blessing: Grace to Reign in Life. Visit Deborah at her website, www.keytruths.com, at facebook.com/keytruths, or @KeyTruths.
© 2015 Christianity Today & Gifted for Leadership