Avoiding Burnout (And An Angry Father-in-Law) Through Empowering Leaders

I’ve been in Sacramento, the city where I was born, at the Thrive Conference speaking on “Not Like Me: Influencing a Diverse World” and “Innovators: Developing the Skills Necessary to Bring Significant Change.” During the breakout on Innovators, I shared the following story:

I was reading Exodus 18 awhile 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 what Moses did was great (freeing his people from slavery), but 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 the big picture). Moses could entrust to these new leaders how to do it (details – Moses never shared with these new leaders 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)

A full message on this topic can be found here. Click here for more on “Building Teams.”

  • John Williford

    I definitely relate to the second bullet point up there- it’s just easier to do it all myself. Living on past accomplishments is hard not to do- not only have you already done them, but others weren’t there to see you stumble through them so you can paint that picture in however flattering a light as you see fit. My Marine Corps experience definitely lends itself to this temptation as I’ll tell myself, “Well, nothing will ever be that hard,” or, “This isn’t the real world, it’s soft America,” etc. I have a little idol I worship called “control” and I fear to worship God instead of him because then I won’t be in control. Not only that, I have to trust other people? Let’s be honest, people let you down!

    I must, in these situations, remind myself to think outside of my own narrative. I must remember that relationships between people are the most important part of life; not setting up a church or studying theology. Ultimately I must remember God and His decision to give us some control. In giving human beings free will, you might say that God “gambled and lost that bet.” But it seems that there is something so much more powerful in seeing something choose to do the right thing instead of doing it out of obligation, persuasion or coercion. Apparently that makes God happy, so it should be more than enough for us with control issues.

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