An Ancient Leadership Lesson


One leader can only effectively oversee a small number of people.

This was the lesson Jethro taught Moses. Follow the story in Exodus 18.

“Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people and they stood around him from morning till evening.” But Jethro asked him, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

Moses explained his dilemma, “… the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and laws.” Jethro correctly warned Moses, “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.”

What should Moses do? The people need leadership and he is called by God to provide it. Jethro came up with a wise plan for shared leadership.

“… 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. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves.” 

Don’t miss the emphasis on qualified leadership.

Moses must choose capable and trustworthy men. They must have a reputation for personal integrity and be known as men who fear God. Don’t miss the emphasis on fearing God because “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).

Such leaders are not in great supply today. But imagine what would have happened if Moses decided to fudge on the qualifications. What if he faced a lack of qualified men and lowered the bar for leadership?

It happens all the time. Pastors and people say, “He seems like a God-fearing man.” “I think he’ll be an honest leader.” “He runs a good business so I guess he’ll be a good leader in the Church.” But “seems like” and ”I guess” should never be the basis for leadership appointment in Christ’s Church! 

Perhaps the only thing worse for a pastor than having an inadequate number of leaders is working with unqualified leaders. Jethro’s idea is wise and one could argue that it’s God’s plan for New Testament Church leadership. 

I understand that there are no perfect people to appoint as leaders. I also realize that our expectations must be realistic. This is partly why I often remind our leadership team that leaders struggle with the issues common to humanity.

Leaders face temptations and become discouraged. Leaders must fight against sinful pride. James wrote, “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). The important part is how one responds to temptations, discouragement and pride. Leaders should be chief repenters in the Church.  So ask the following questions when considering potential leaders:

  1. What is the primary pattern of a potential leader’s life?
  2. Is the potential leader mature and secure in his identity in Christ?
  3. Is the potential leader grounded in sound teaching and able to apply the truth to himself and others (Titus 1:9).

I think leaders-in-training should spend at least a year studying the qualifications for leadership in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (see also: Calling to Ministry and Leadership training).

If a leader is self-serving and fears people more than God, his leadership will lack wisdom and hurt others. If a leader is interested in dishonest gain, he will not be true to the leadership team. He will serve his own interests. He will seek his own following and divide people from other leaders. If he lacks wisdom, he will apply the wrong solutions to problems.  

Many pastors today find themselves overwhelmed with issues in the Church because they lack wise leaders to share the work.

Should they train leaders? Yes. But this takes significant time and devotion. As a result, these pastors find themselves working with leaders who are not known for their wisdom.

In my interactions with pastors, I repeatedly hear of how difficult ministry is because of the unqualified leaders on their boards. Although church constitutions and by-laws require minimal quorums and term limits for governing boards, they often lack procedures for selecting leaders that respect the emphasis on qualification found in Titus 1 and I Timothy 3.

Steve Cornell

About Wisdomforlife

Just another worker in God's field.
This entry was posted in Church growth, Church Leadership, Ecclesiology 101, Elders, Leadership, Life of a pastor, Local Church, Pastors. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to An Ancient Leadership Lesson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s