The Jethro Principle…

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Exodus 18:13 The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?” 15 Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. 19 Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; 20 teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. 21 You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.” 

I’ve heard this passage, and the lessons it contains, as the “Jethro Principle”. It applies when, like Moses, a leader takes on more than one person should. That said, I get the impulse. Moses had an important job and a unique relationship with God. He was trusted by the people to make judgment calls when disputes arose. I’m no Moses, but there have been seasons in life when I’ve tried to do too much myself instead of sharing the responsibility with others. Reflecting on my experience, there are at least two key assumptions that have kept me over-burdened as a leader:

  1. No one can do this but me: Most of the time this is not true, though it may take time to teach others to do it. It is definitely more work in the short-term to train others, but pays off in the long-term. Sometimes my real motivation is to keep control of something.
  2. A good leader should be able to bear this load: Doing “more” is not necessarily leadership. As a mentor once told me, “A good leader is not someone who can do the work of 10 people, but is someone who can get 10 people to do the work of 10 people.” Sometimes doing more is just my need to demonstrate my worth to others, especially to God.

Lord we live in a workaholic culture. We can be tempted to heap responsibilities on our shoulders that should be shared with others. Give us humility and wisdom to admit when we need to get others involved. Amen.

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