I once worked for a man who had a deep sigh. On many days his default reaction was to look slightly tired and say, “Oh, dear.”
A bad leader? A weak leader? A good man in the wrong place? Nope. I’m convinced he was the right man in the right place, and his experience was common to anyone who is exercising their God-given leadership properly.
There’s a famous episode in the life of Moses (Exodus 18), where his father-in-law, Jethro, comes to visit. The moment is profoundly grace-filled, and Moses tells Jethro of the wonderful saving work God has done.
And then comes the scene where Jethro saw the enormous administrative burden placed on Moses, the prophet/priest/judge, and seems to recommend the simple leadership lesson of delegation – and it worked.
It’s used as a standard example in many Christian leadership books, even serving as an example of learning from non-Christians (although I think it’s clear that Jethro is, in some sense at least, a believer in the story).
Even as I type that, I can imagine many readers muttering, “Just one cotton-picking minute…” And I’m dabbing my foot on the brake as well.
Because this is Moses. In the scene before Sinai. Would it really be appropriate, at this moment, for the great redeemer to be talking time-management and inbox zero?
No. And then, yes. But then again, no. Although finally, yes. Let me explain
No, first, because of who Moses is and when this occurs. He is, as I said, the prophet/priest/judge, and the first contour we trace must be along the covenantal line that ends up with Christ. So I notice that Moses, at the apex of the triangle of God’s people, is about to climb an even greater triangle, Mount Sinai, to receive God’s Law. All those cases and decisions are about to be reinterpreted by God, and always through the Law he was about to give to Moses. Moses is the great mediator between God and his people.
And that takes us to Christ as the even-greater prophet/priest/judge, who is also the mediator of an even-greater word from God.
So out first move is to move on from Moses to Christ.
And then, yes, we come back to Moses, because provided we have seen him point him to Christ, we can come back and learn secondary lessons. He also functions as a prototype of all the other prophets/priests/judge-kings who will follow, and provided we let any of them do that first role, we can secondarily learn from them how they led God’s people, and learn too from their bad as well as their good examples. They also have that function for us.
We can, therefore, learn that much more trivial lesson about delegation, teams, and time. There was an obvious logistical crisis being caused by Moses’ limited availability, and Jethro found a cure. Let’s use it.
But then again, no – because Moses points to Christ once more. Christ has no such limited availability, and in this scene we are more like the second, third, fourth or fifth line of capable leaders underneath. We always have someone to turn to, a great mediator, infinitely wise, loving and just, the real Shepherd King of his people, who will listen, advise, guide and provide. Our temptation is always to want to be the hero of the story, which makes us want to be Moses – but we’re not, and don’t need to be. Jesus has the broadest shoulders.
But finally, yes. There’s a verse at the end of this story which sums up the experience of being a leader in a most direct way, and which it’s worth pinning to your wall:
“They (the competent leaders) served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves .”(v26)
Look again at that second sentence.
Leadership decisions are the hard ones, because the easy ones have already been dealt with. The reason that issue is sitting on your desk is because, if anyone else could have cracked it, they would have done.
And that was after Moses did what Jethro suggested. What he was left with was the tough stuff. One simple reason that I think we can learn leadership lessons from someone like Moses, even given his covenantal significance, is that there is an almost audible ‘click’ of recognition as you and I read that verse. This is what your day feels like, isn’t it?
The longer you lead, and the better your team, the more you’ll be left with the really hard issues to deal with. And that’s why my friend had such a deep, godly, sigh. Because he, as an under-leader, was carrying a uniquely heavy load up to the Lord Jesus.
That’s what effective delegation looks like.
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