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. 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. Let them serve as judges for the people at all times, but let 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 18:17-23 (NIV)
Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit Moses and the people of Israel after they had escaped from Egypt. Moses recounted to him what God had done for them and we are told (18:9) that Jethro was delighted to hear how God had delieverd them.
However, his delight was shortlived, as he observed a situation where he recognised that it was impossible for Moses to do everything both he and the people wanted him to do. Jethro saw something that even Moses was blind to – overwork! Moses was expected to act as judge for settling any disputes that arose amongst the Israelites. Jethro saw a situation that would very quickly ‘wear out’ Moses.
Having identified the problem, Jethro spoke up and gave Moses some advice – spread the load! Jethro advised Moses to break the workload done into manageable chunks and appoint others to take responsibility for settling any disputes that might arise.
This was sound advice because:
- it would free up Moses to act as God’s representative in prayer;
- it would train up others in the community to take responsibility for setting disputes;
- Moses could decide on any difficult cases brought to him;
- settling disputes would be quicker as there would be more judges involved.
Moses could have been offended by his father-in-law’s advice, but instead he chose to follow it and spread the load.
In church communities we often see ministers and pastors burned out by the load they have to carry. Some of this load is self-inflicted, as some leaders feel unable to share the burden of responsibility. Some of it is inflicted by the congregation, because they see the pastor as the only one they can take their problems to.
The lesson from Moses and Jethro is to identify the problem and have the courage to deal with it. This will involve developing the congregation’s gifts so that they can share the load with their leaders.
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