Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, August 17, 2018
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Shared Leadership

Exodus 18:1-12 and 13-27

 “If you want a job done right, do it yourself.”  We’ve all heard that, but is it true?  I mean, I know it’s true that sometimes we’re a little “disappointed” when someone else doesn’t do it the way we think it should be done.  But is it really best to do it all ourselves, just so it’s “done right?”  

 Before we get into that question, let’s go back to the beginning of our Scripture for today.  Moses and the Israelites have come out of Egypt.  They’ve come through the Red Sea.  They’ve experienced God’s provision of food and water in the desert, and they have arrived at the “mountain of God” in the wilderness of Sinai.  

 We learn that Moses had earlier sent his family, his wife and two sons, back to his father-in-law in Midian.  That was probably a precaution to protect them from Pharaoh’s wrath in Egypt.  They certainly would have been in danger, considering how arrogant and angry Pharaoh was.  

 Jethro comes to meet with Moses at Sinai.  We meet Jethro earlier in Exodus, and we learn that he is “the priest,” probably meaning the high priest, of Midian.  As a descendant of Abraham through the wife that Abraham took after Sarah’s death, a woman named Keturah, Jethro would probably know about Abraham’s God.  But he is not necessarily a priest of God.  Many ancient Near Eastern priests served multiple gods.  

 Jethro brings Moses’ family with him.  There is Jethro’s daughter, Moses’ wife, Zipporah.  And there are his two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.  Moses had his own reasons for the names he chose, but it has been pointed out, and I think it’s pretty interesting, that Moses’ sons’ names have relevance for all of God’s people.  Gershom means “stranger or alien.”  Eliezer means “God is my help.”  “EL” was the basic Hebrew word for God.  “EZER,” we learned a few months ago was the Hebrew word for “helper” or “companion.”  So Eliezer means God is my help.  And for all of God’s people, we are strangers, aliens on earth, who live only by God’s help.

 Moses goes out to greet Jethro and tells him of everything that God has done for the people of Israel in rescuing them from Egypt and guiding them through the wilderness.  It’s often been said that it’s more difficult for us to talk to family members about what God has done than it is to talk to strangers.  Maybe the best explanation of that is that our family knows us, and our failures, better than anyone else does.  

 But Moses’ testimony about God’s work is gladly received by Jethro.  And Jethro acknowledges that Yahweh is the greatest of all gods.  As I said before, Jethro may not believe that Yahweh is the only God, but he is on the path to knowing God because he acknowledges the superiority of God.  

 Is this perhaps a conversion experience?  Maybe.  We don’t know where Jethro went after this encounter, but it certainly looks like many other conversion experiences in Scripture.  Jethro hears what God has done for someone else, and he embraces the God who would do such things and gives glory to him.  At the most basic level, that’s what we’re called to do as evangelists:  To tell what God has done for us.  The work of convincing is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Our job is to tell.

 And together they worship God.  Jethro has been blessed by Moses’ testimony about what God has done for Israel.  But he’s not done.  Next Jethro gives a blessing to Israel.  

 The next day Moses goes out to hear cases.  It was common in that ancient Near East culture for the king or the governor or the tribal chief or whatever government official to hear civil and criminal cases, often at the gate of the city, or for those who didn’t live in permanent dwellings, at his own tent.  Moses is filling that role for Israel, as the leader chosen by God.  The problem is that he’s the only one doing it.  

 Leaders in general, and maybe very charismatic or successful leaders in particular, can often make the mistake of thinking that continued success can only happen if everything goes through them, that if they alone solve all the problems that arise along the way.  

 Some years ago, I went to seminar where we learned about how the size of a church influences its personality.  The smallest churches, called “family-oriented churches” are centered around a few key families, and “everything” tends to go through those families.  The next larger kind of churches are called “pastor-oriented churches.”  There, you guessed it, everything tends to go through the pastor.  The next larger churches are called “program-oriented churches.”  At a certain size, it becomes impractical for everything to go through a single person or single family.  Program churches often have multiple staff members.  And the focus becomes on different areas of church program.  And then the largest churches are “corporate churches or mega-churches.”  

 One of the things that I learned in this seminar is that it’s very difficult for a church to go from one size to the next.  Because it means letting go of control and instead entrusting and empowering other people.  The family must let go of control to the pastor.  Or the pastor has to let go of control to other staff or ministry leaders.  As you grow, you have to let go of control, and that’s not easy to do.  Not for anyone, and maybe especially not for pastors!  

 But no one really benefits from a system where people are not trusted with a share of leadership.  Was anyone benefiting at Sinai?  Moses wasn’t.  He was getting worn out with all the troubles and trials of the whole nation.  The people weren’t.  There were over a million people who came out of Egypt in the Exodus.  Moses couldn’t see to the needs of that many people.  They were sitting out in the sun all day waiting their turn.  And the other capable leaders among the nation were not benefiting because their gifts were not being developed.  

 For those of you who have joined us in reading the book Transforming Church, you may remember that there’s a chapter in it called “Shared Leadership.”  Healthy churches have shared leadership.  People are trusted to carry out their ministry in the Body in healthy churches.

 By its very nature, leadership is shared.  Leadership involves others in the task at hand.  But autocracy is clung to, held tight, not shared.  As Christians, we know that all believers are gifted by God’s Spirit with gifts for ministry, but many churches do not empower every member to do ministry.  In many places, God’s calling to ministry gets bogged down in procedure or committees or requests for approval to do what God is calling you to do.  Instead, church leaders should authorize and empower members to do ministry.  I believe that open communication is important.  I believe it’s important for every member to share with the church how God is calling them into ministry, but not for the sake of “approval.”  Rather open communication allows the whole church to empower and support the ministry of the individual.  You never need to come to me and ask, “Pastor, God is calling me to do _________.  Can I do it?”  Instead, come to me and say, “Pastor, God is leading me to ________,” and then I can say, “How can we help?”  

 Jethro sets Moses straight.  “Appoint some others to help you with all this!  Yeah, you should still go to God and seek his direction.  And you should still teach God’s word to the people.  But choose others to help you with all these matters of justice.”  

 Justice is important, after all.  The Exodus could only become a daily reality in the lives of the people if there was a system of justice that allowed for peace, shalom, wholeness among the people of God.  Moses didn’t have to take sole responsibility for that happening!  

 Instead, he should find others who met four qualifications:  1. They were capable, meaning wise, able to render sound decisions.  2. They were trustworthy and honest.  3. They feared God.  And 4. They hated dishonest gain.  They wouldn’t take bribes to pervert justice.  By the way, the list of qualifications has a lot of similarities to the qualifications for leaders in the Church found in 1st Timothy and Titus.  Good leadership is good leadership, no matter the time or place.

 With God’s approval, Moses accepts Jethro’s advice, even though Jethro wasn’t one of God’s “chosen people.”  Yes, but all truth is God’s truth.  Just because someone doesn’t belong to “our group” doesn’t mean that they don’t have any wisdom.  Sometimes the Church is wise to accept good advice from those outside the Church.  

 Moses blessed Jethro with the news of what God had done.  And Jethro in turn blessed Israel with wisdom and sound advice.  When we share what God has done, we are a blessing to others, and we are often blessed ourselves in the process.  And when we empower others to serve God, what we are able to accomplish is greatly multiplied.  If you want a job done right, do it yourself.  But if you want to be a blessing to the world, empower others to serve with you.    

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