Doing Less to do more

Our men’s group is studying Exodus 18 tonight. The story is a classic case in problem-solving. It opens with the back-story; how God had developed Moses’ the Leader. Then it moves to the crisis; the kind of crisis that most see, but nobody calls out. The final act is the resolution; it comes through a visit from the past that alters the future.

Act One:

Moses and the Israelites are out of reach of Egypt, free, and at the rendezvous point God pointed them toward earlier. The Hebrew count is at 600,000 men plus the women and children. It’s a crowd.

While they camp in the desert near the Mountain of God, Moses gets a visit from someone out of his past – Jethro, his father-in-law, the man whose sheep he watched for close to forty years. He comes for one purpose – the bring Moses’ family back now that they were free – but is surprised and used for another.

They throw a party and Moses tells the whole story, perhaps for the first time to one “outside the camp.” Moses the Leader had been God’s instrument to deliver the people. The Egyptian oppression was over; the people were alive and free.

Act Two:

Jethro gets an inside look into Moses the Leader and how his day-to-day work progressed, now that he (and 600,000 of his closest friends) were free. He sits down before all those with problems or disputes and hears them one-by-one, to infinity and beyond. All day and into the evening.

Three issues he faced that I see:

First, Moses created the mess he was in. He assumed the leadership God had given him was for him alone. That left him with long lines of complaints and issues, and little time to settle it all.

Second, Moses solved problems for others because that’s the way he’d always done it (remember the murdered Egyptian?) He kept doing it the same way because it had worked for him so far. At least, from where he sat.

Third, Moses led by himself. And leaders who lead alone lead blind. They don’t see what others see. Sure, he listened to the problems and bickering for hours on end; but he must have missed what the people had to endure, standing around, reliving everyone’s problems. And waiting.

Act Three:

Jethro reveals what Moses hadn’t seen before. The conversation seems a bit heated, or at least very honest. He presents the resolution – put leaders in place over 1000’s, 100’s, 50’s and 10’s and let them listen, negotiate, judge, and lead – and like a good problem-solver, leaves it in the hands of the leader; in this case, Moses. The timing was right and, after the sting of Jethro’s rebuke lessened, he began the process of raising up judges, and letting leaders lead. He no longer had to listen to every dispute – he just got the big ones; and the people had leaders they could turn to.

I have heard or read a bunch of teaching on this chapter. It’s a discipleship strategy. It’s a business model. It’s an organizational plan. But, mainly it was a rescue operation. Moses was in a fix. He was heading toward burn-out; so were the people.

Here are some applications:

1) Leading alone can be dangerous, no matter your organization. Jethro’s warning was four-fold:

  • It’s not good (as in, the plan won’t work in the long run.)
  • It will wear you and everyone else out (each hour will make you more and more tired.)
  • It is to heavy for you (the burden of everyone’s problems is too much for one set of shoulders.)
  • You can’t do it alone (you need some new levels of problem-solving to ease the burden.)

So, if you are leading alone, begin with one or two who are godly and honest, and train them up (how to live, how to behave, and how to wisely make decisions.)

2) Don’t fear the new voice. Someone with wisdom, humility and seeing things differently than “from where you sit” can take things to a new place. A new set of eyes can see the big picture and help pull the threads of a resolution together. In fact, though the visit was brief, Jethro changed the future for God’s people.

3) Raise the bar high, but not beyond reach. Let leaders lead. But don’t put a “50’s” leader over “1000.” Give them room to exercise their gifts, develop their leadership voice, and even make mistakes. But, give them a safety net. Be nearby, but don’t hover. They don’t need a daddy or mommy; they need a mentor.

The best part of the story, though, often gets lost. Jethro, already a priest from Midian, took the God of the Hebrews as Lord. He heard the good news of the deliverance, and declared with his voice and sacrifice, that the Lord is God above all gods. That should be the outcome of our own leadership.

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