Summary: Message 15 shows Jethro's advice to Mose about his administration as a warning to pastors who try to do too much, without delegating some of the work to others,, especially lay church leaders



Exodus 18

D. The Steps to Sinai

3. The Management Problem

There was a certain pastor who disappeared every Friday afternoon around four o’clock. He would get in his car, drive off, and come back in about an hour. His wife was a little worried and was more than a little curious. And so, one Friday, she followed him.

He drove up a mountain on a small winding road, got out of his car and sat on a huge rock overlooking the valley below. In a little while he walked back to his car and there stood his wife. Honey, what in the world are you doing?, asked his wife. He pointed in the distance to the train that had just passed through the valley and said – every week I like to see something move without me having to promote and push it,

Like most modern ministers he spent a lot of time and effort getting nowhere except to the verge of a nervous breakdown or the trash dump of burnout. Well, this problem is far from modern. Moses, God’s pastor for Israel, was headed in the same direction, until he was confronted with some sound advice from Jethro, his father-in-law.

You remember the setting. Moses had led the people of God out of Israel. They had passed through the Red Sea, defeated the Amalekites, and were on their way south to Sinai. Jethro brought Moses’ wife and two sons - his daughter and grandsons - to be with Moses. Moses told him about the mighty acts of God and this Midianite priest (Ex. 2:7) became a believer and sacrificed to the Lord (Ex. 18:1-13).

The next day Jethro saw something that disturbed him. He saw Moses, the leader of several million people, sit down and from morning until night, settle disputes and make judgments, as the people came to him with their problems.

Now most in-laws are wise to keep their opinions to themselves, but this was one time when advice was needed and wisely heeded. Jethro said, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out” (18:17-18). Then he went on and told him to select some good and godly men to help him.

He could judge the serious matters, but he should delegate most of what he was doing to others. Moses did just that. And what a tribute to him! Here was a wise pastor with the humility and the common sense to listen not only to his father-in-law, but to a new convert. We pastors who are so slow to take advice should remember the words of Harry Truman - it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.

Now an amazing thing about this passage is that the same thing happened again in the New Testament. When the church, led by the Apostles, moved out to turn the world right side up, the devil saw to it that the Apostles, like Moses, were burdened down with things other people could and should be doing.

You remember the setting in Acts six. The huge Jerusalem church, numbering probably in the thousands, had a ministry of distributing food to poorer widows. One group, the Greek speaking widows, felt they were not being treated fairly and brought their complaints to the church.

The Apostles did not correct the problem, they delegated it to others. They said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2b-4).

The men elected may not have been deacons in the strict meaning of the word, but certainly they were the forerunners of deacons, teachers, committee members and all other laymen who work with the Pastor to fulfill the ministries of the church. Many a burdened pastor, like that poor man watching the train, would be wise to follow the principles and practices of these two passages.


The first thing these passages reveal is a serious problem. These are not trivial. Ministerial burnout is a life and death matter. It leaves in its trail, broken hearts, broken homes, blasted dreams, and broken bodies. Even with the help of his mighty men, the ministry was almost too much for Moses to bear.

Listen to his agony in Numbers 11: “Moses said to the Lord, Why pick on me to give me the burden of a people like this? . . . I can’t carry this nation by myself. The load is far too heavy. If you are going to treat me like this, please tell me right now; it will be a kindness! Let me out of this impossible situation!” (Nu. 11:11; 14-15, Living Bible).

1. It Will Hurt the Pastor

When a man serves as some kind of super pastor it will hurt his health. Work itself, especially when it is seen as purposeful and fulfilling, will not hurt. But worry and hurry and frustration will. The body will always register the soul’s anxiety.

Burnout will hurt the pastor’s heart and soul. Many years ago a study was done on the way pastors spend their time. A group of seminary students were told to think about the four areas of ministry and list what they felt God had called them to do first, second, third, and last. The results were: preaching first; evangelism second; pastoral work third and administration fourth.

Then, pastors who had been on the church field for ten years or more were asked to think about these four and list how they spent their time.The results were devastating.

First was administration and last was preaching. What they felt the most called of God to do, they worked on the least. And what they felt least called to do, they worked on the most. When this happens, something dies in the soul of the preacher. He feels more like a sheep dog than a shepherd. He who is called to an office winds up running an office.

This sheep dog kind of “busy-ness” will also hurt the pastor’s home. Maybe Jethro had a personal interest as he watched his daughter’s husband and his grandsons’ father burn himself out.

A burned out preacher will bring his anger and frustration home with him and dribble it out in irritability to those who love him the most. He will be so busy with church problems and church people and church priorities that his family has no pastor, no father and no husband.

Many a pastor’s son and daughter have little to do with church when they are grown because they watched it steal their daddy from them and destroy him in the process. Over the door of many a shattered pastorium we could write these words from the Song of Solomon - they “made me take care of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard I have neglected” (1:6, Personal Translation).

2. It Will Hurt the People of God

Jethro told Moses, “You AND THESE PEOPLE who come to you will only wear yourselves out.” The church, with its new workers in Acts six was pleased (6:6) and prospered spiritually (6:7). Delegation is best for the church.

Why? A super-pastor hurts his church because he creates a critical church. This is because he has a congregation of spectators. Spectators, on the sidelines, always seem to know how to do something better than those on the field. The picture of the average church is this - twenty percent of the people do the work and eighty percent criticize the way the twenty percent do it.

The more we do, the more we open the door to criticism. And after a man has worked hard, sacrificed time and pleasure, and neglected the family he loves, a negative word can take the heart out of him and the joy out of his work.

A sheep dog pastor also creates a crippled church. On his shoulders and that of a few others, the weight of the great commission rests, and these few cannot carry it. The saddest part of all this is that a dedicated, hard working pastor can be a deterrent to the forward progress of the kingdom of God.

The spiritual leader must realize not only that he CANNOT do the work of ten men, but that he SHOULD NOT do it. The church with brother super-pastor as its leader hobbles along while the church with an adequate staff and an involved corps of laymen marches forward like a mighty army. Israel with Moses and his mighty men went on to the promised land and the same will be true of the church that looks not only to God’s man but to God’s men and leadership.

One of Satan’s greatest and most destructive works in the church is that he has pulled God’s pastors away from essential ministries and enticed them to bury themselves under a load of things laymen can do better. The more a man of God evades the call of God, the more guilty he becomes and the busier he gets to cover up his shame.


Through Jethro and the Apostles God gives a sensible proposal to the serious problem.

1. Set Priorities (18:20; Acts 6:2-4)

Like the Apostles we must look at the 1001 things we are asked to do and say of them, “It is not right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God.” Delegation is not abdication. Moses and the Apostles presided, prayed and preached. Jethro told Moses, “Teach them. . .and show them the way to live” (18:20). We are to preside and to preach, and to do this we must pray.

Setting and sticking to God’s priorities will take courage. Many times we will have to say NO to the church to say YES to God. But for our sakes and the church’s we must do it. Setting God’s priorities will also take commitment. We may have to ask forgiveness for wanting the burden of busy-ness because it is more visible and less strenuous than the battlefield of prayer and study. It is easier to promote than to pray until the power comes. It is easier to serve on a committee than to face honestly the question of one’s commitment to Christ or study until you have a word from on high. It is easier to move tables and run errands than to be a leader planning, motivating, organizing and evaluating. We may be the real problem in our problem. If this is true, then we are the solution.

2. Select Partners

To do this we must pray for and select capable and Godly men and women to work with us in ministry. Listen to Jethro’s qualifications - capable, God fearing, trustworthy, and honest (Ex. 18:21). Then the New Testament adds - full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom and faith (Acts 6:3, 5).

No one completely lives up to these grand virtues. But the important fact here, and one that is consistently neglected in our churches, is that only those godly souls who press on toward the high calling of God in Christ, should be elected to serve in the church of God. And this does not simply apply to deacons and teachers but to every single committee and task in the church.

We will have carnal Corinthian Christians and Lukewarm Laodicean Christians in our churches, but care must ever be taken to keep them away from places of service until they start pressing on to a higher walk with God. If we don’t the work of the church winds up in the hands of carnal members.

One mistake we pastors will answer for before God is that we have failed to recognize and to enlist the brave hearts of our laypeople in vital, costly work for Jesus Christ. I know my own shyness in this area. I know my own natural disposition to “tread the winepress alone.” But I believe deeply that Dr. J.B. Gambrell was right when he said, “You cannot get many people to help you kill a mouse, but you can get a lot of them to go with you on a bear hunt.”

I thank God for our church’s deacons and teachers and other servants. Pray that I will have the sense to keep on looking to you as my partners in ministry.

Application to Deacons: The helpful position and high qualifications in these two passages are especially applicable to deacons, servants of the people with and for the pastor. How I thank God for them.

It is especially in the sticky matters that are highly volatile that I praise God for my deacons. I handle every problem I can as best as I can for the good of the church, but when I get a hot potato, I carry it to my deacons. I believe that twenty heads are better than one. And if I stick my neck out, I like to have twenty others stuck out right beside me.

I do not see this as abdication of the office of overseer. I am the Pastor of this church and I believe every deacon and every member knows it and wants it that way. Whenever I feel that I do not hold the reins I will move on because the church will have left the New Testament pattern and I would be afraid to pastor such a church.

Going to deacons for advice and help and prayer and encouragement to me has not been abdication. It has been a sharing of the load. And I can say that in the vast majority of cases the deacons have backed my decisions and requests. And when they have been denied, in the vast majority of those cases, their decision has proved to be right and mine wrong. So always when you vote, give me and this church noble, godly men who fear the Lord and love the church and seek only its benefit. We don’t need “yes men” for the Pastor or for the carnal critical crowd, but “yes men” for the Lord.