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I was reading Exodus 18 a while back and something about the passage struck me as odd: Moses was so busy helping people (day and night) that he sent his wife and kids away to his in-laws.

We don’t know for sure if that is why he sent them away, but it sure seems like it, as the passage mentions that Moses’ father-in-law Jethro was coming to see Moses and he was bringing back Moses’ family. Uh oh. Not a good move by Moses.

Here are some other thoughts on this passage:

Moses recounts his miraculous story of escape from slavery and Jethro worships God. What we overcome points people to God, but we can’t live on past accomplishments. Jethro saw that what Moses did was great (freeing his people from slavery), but also that what he was doing was bad (trying to help everyone by himself).

Moses believed in ministry leadership myths which burn out leaders and create unhealthy relationships:
“I have all the answers or at least I know more than the others around me do.”
“It’s just easier to do it all myself.”
“People need me to connect to God.”

Jethro encouraged him to raise up other leaders. Leaders who could oversee 10, 50, 100, and even 1000 people. More people are capable than we think!

Jethro encouraged Moses to teach them the scriptures (emphasis on why we do what we do), show them the way to live (emphasis on who they become), and show them how to do it (job description, more of the big picture). Moses could entrust to these new leaders how to do it (details—Moses never shared with these new leaders instructions on what to decide in each case), when, what, and where. We need to invest in leaders and entrust leaders.

Moses was still available for the hard cases (didn’t disappear). Sometimes the leader needs to make the hard decisions.

The result = the people were satisfied (the new leaders and those whose disputes were solved by these new leaders).

What changes do most leaders need to make to avoid burnout? What changes do you need to make?

Eric Michael Bryant serves as an elder, speaker, and navigator with the leadership team at Mosaic in Los Angeles, a church known for its creativity and diversity. Starting as a volunteer in the parking lot at Mosaic, Eric later worked with students and then helped catalyze new venues across Los Angeles. Eric serves as part of the core teams for the Mosaic Alliance and The Origins Project, a movement of people committed to Jesus, Humanity, and Innovation. Eric’s book, Peppermint-Filled Piñatas: Breaking Through Tolerance and Embracing Love, is a guide for overcoming the negative Christian stereotype by embracing the people Christians “love to hate.” Eric lives with his wife, Debbie, and two children, Caleb and Trevi in the middle of Los Angeles County.

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Andrew Moffatt

commented on Sep 12, 2011

Thanks Eric, empowerment, good article!

David Rice

commented on Sep 12, 2011

Your article is spot on. However, your exegesis of the background of this passage is incorrect. Moses and Zipporah were separated as they journeyed to Egypt in Exodus 4:24ff. Moses was about to get dead b/c he had not circumcised his own son. Zipp was not happy.

E L Zacharias

commented on Jun 4, 2018

Worse than a woman's fury, GOD wasn't happy. Moses had neglected the covenant sign of God's grace, circumcision, just as many neglect (or put off for many years) the covenant sign (Colossians 2:11-13 ... where Paul equated new covenant baptism as having replaced the covenant of the circumcision. Don't mess with God; don't grieve the Holy Spirit who desires for you to simply be born not of flesh but of the Spirit.

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