Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
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.”
24 So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. (Exodus 18:13-24, NRSV)
Some years ago the Washington Post held a content wherein the older generation was asked to tell the younger generation how much harder they had it back in the day. Listen to a couple of the winning entries:
Back in my day we couldn’t afford shoes, so we went barefoot. In winter, we had to wrap our feet with barbed wire for traction.
Back in my day we didn’t have rocks. We had to go down to the creek and wash our clothes by beating them with our heads.
Back in my day we didn’t have fancy health-food restaurants. Every day we ate lots of easily recognizable animal parts, along with potatoes.
Back in my day, we didn’t have virtual reality. If a one-eyed razorback barbarian warrior was chasing you with an ax, you just had to hope you could outrun him.
Back in my day they hadn’t invented electricity. We had to watch television by candlelight.
It is a time-honored tradition that older generations are eager to tell younger generations what it was like yesterday and, therefore, what it should be like today. It’s a tradition I have to admit that I’m warming to the older I get.
Our story this morning begins when Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, shows up one day to give Moses some advice. Now, any story that begins with a father-in-law coming to give advice to his son-in-law is likely not to end well. But this one does. In fact, by the end we’re told that Moses not only listened to Jethro but did all that he said. Must have been pretty good advice.
Jethro recognized a problem. Moses was the sole leader of the newly-freed Israelite people. As leader, one of the things expected of him was that he would judge civil and criminal disputes which arose from among the people, a job that has traditionally been an expectation of political, military or religious leaders in the Middle East. The only problem was that Moses’ case load had become far too heavy. In fact, all Moses did from sun up to sun down was judge cases. This meant that not only was Moses neglecting his other duties as leader, but also frustration among the community was on the rise. Moses was frustrated because he was tremendously overworked. The people were frustrated because the job of justice was not being carried out as efficiently as it should have been.
The source of this problem was the fact that Moses had come to see himself as the sole conduit for the revelation of God to the people. In other words, Moses had come to believe that if God was going to speak or work, God would speak or work through him. He was the guru at the top of the mountain to whom everybody had to come if they wanted to hear God speak or see God work. When Jethro shows up and sees this he identifies the problem immediately. “What is this that you are doing for the people?” he asks Moses. “Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening? What you are doing is not good. The task is too heavy for you.”
It’s this phrase which grabs my attention. “The task is too heavy for you.” I know there are some of you sitting here this morning who desperately need a Jethro to come into your life and look at all that you are trying to take on yourself and say to you lovingly but firmly, “What you are doing is not good. The task is too heavy for you.”
How does the old saying go? If you want something done right… Do it yourself? Sometimes that’s true. But other times, lots of other times, if you want something done right you need to share the load. Some of you are carrying far too much responsibility and activity in your lives and it’s having two equally damaging effects. One, it’s burning you out, adversely affecting your health, your relationships, your attitude, even your faith. Two, it’s frustrating others because the important task you’re not sharing is not being done as well as it would be done if it were shared. And so for some of you, this is going to be the part of the message this morning that you need to hear. Is there somewhere in your life where you are hurting yourself and hurting others because to this point you have refused to share the load? Before it’s too late, why don’t you find a way this week to adjust things so that the task is no longer too heavy for you? If it’s a crucial task, find a way to share it. If it’s not, simply set it down and walk away.
Jethro’s observation of the weight Moses was carrying not only presents a personal challenge to many of us but also presents a challenge to the church as a whole. You see, there is a tendency within churches to do exactly what has happening within the Israelite community, to place the full load of leadership and responsibility on a few leaders or even one leader. I’m reminded of the old analogy that the church is too often like a football game where you have 50,000 people who are badly in need of exercise sitting up in the stands cheering for 22 people who are badly in need of rest. It’s not uncommon in churches to find that a few staff people and other key leaders are expected to do the majority of the work of the church while the rest of the people sit in the pews and cheer their success or, as the case may be, boo their failure.
I’ve seen churches like this and I’m thankful that I don’t now serve one. In fact, I’ve never experienced our church in this way. As far as I can tell, there has always been a broadly held understanding here at Faith that the leaders of this church are not called to do themselves all the work of the church but are instead called to prepare and equip the whole church to do, together, the work of the church.
In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul articulates this timeless word of truth to the church: “[God gave gifts] that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” God has called the leaders of the church to equip the people of the church for the work of the church.
There are no gurus here at Faith. God has never intended that the pastors and other leaders of this church would be the sole conduits for the revelation of God in this place. Of course, pastors are to take the lead in teaching but are also to equip others to teach. Yes, elders are to take the lead in governing but also to help others envision and manage the ministry of the church themselves. Certainly deacons are to take the lead in caring for those who hurt but at the same time they are to invite and encourage us all to care for one another in times of need.
I used to know a church where it was the unspoken understanding that the pastors were the ones most capable, if not solely capable, of visiting people who were sick or dying. In fact, when a member of that particular congregation ended up in the hospital, that person could expect that a member of the pastoral staff would visit them every single day. It was quite an impressive commitment, especially considering that there were three pastors called to care for nearly 1,500 members.
Now, if old Jethro would have wandered into that church I have no trouble imagining him saying, “Back in my day, this is not how we did it. Back in my day I convinced Moses to share the heavy load of the work of God’s people with God’s people. Back in my day we found able people from among the people, people who feared God, who were trustworthy, who hated dishonest gain, and we set them in positions to share the vital work of God among the people.”
Here at Faith, if you find yourself in the hospital, one or more of our pastors may come to visit and pray with you. It’s something we often do. But it’s just as likely that it might be a deacon who shows up, or some members of your Life Group, or somebody who sings with you in the choir, or even a person you know simply because you sit near each other in worship. You see, even when we have a full pastoral staff, the three of us couldn’t possibly provide even a fraction of the care needed to insure that every single person in this church is cared for during difficult times of life. The work of the church is to be done by all the people of the church.
This morning is an especially important morning because we are ordaining and installing some very able men and women in our church who have been called by God to share the burden of the important work of this church. Our Book of Order, the constitution of our Presbyterian denomination, instructs us that such leaders should be “persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Their manner of life should be a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and in the world.”
That, I assure you, is an accurate description of the men and women who will stand before us this morning. The eleven people coming before the church today were put forth by our nominating committee after a diligent and prayerful process of discernment last fall, elected unanimously by the voice of this congregation in January, trained by our pastoral staff this spring, examined individually in their faith and calling by our ruling body of elders this past month, and now stand this day before God and the church to take their vows of ordination and installation. I am grateful for each one, for each one has faithfully responded to God’s call on their life. To a person, they are growing in the character and competence of Christ.
This morning I want us all to remember that they must not repeat Moses’ mistake. No, they are not being ordained this morning to go and do the work of Christ in this church all by themselves but to go and share the work of Christ in this church. In doing so, they model Christ himself. Remember, even though he was the very Son of God, when he came as a human even Christ did not do what Moses did. Christ called others to his side, able men and women with whom he could share his ministry. First he called the twelve disciples, and along with them other men and women who followed him wherever he went. Eventually he put the work of his Father’s kingdom in their hands. He sent them out to preach good news, to heal the sick, to welcome the outcast, to confront injustice, to make disciples themselves. Filled with the very presence of the Spirit of Christ, each disciple shared in the work of God’s kingdom in the world.
Acts 2 records the very first sermon preached by one of these disciples. On the day of Pentecost, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, gets up in the middle of a huge crowd in Jerusalem and begins his sermon by quoting the prophet Joel:
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour our my spirit upon all flesh
and your sons and daughters shall prophesy
and your young men shall see visions
and your old men shall dream dreams
Even up on my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
Can you hear what the prophet was saying? God’s desire is to pour out his Spirit on all flesh! Young people, old people, sons and daughter, grandfathers and grandmothers, men and women, even slaves, all who are in Christ, no matter their standing otherwise, are called to join in what God is doing in this world. In the church there are not some people who are called to do God’s work and other people who are called to only support those who people in doing God’s work. No, all of us are called to join God in his work in one way or another. The job of leaders in the church is simply to help every person into whom God’s Spirit has been poured to discover how they are to serve. If you are a member of this community, you have a role to serve in this community to which God is calling you.
Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. When I train men and women like the ones who will come before you today to be leaders in our church I do my best to teach them that their main job during their time in leadership is not to do the work of the church by themselves but to find ways to encourage and equip all of you to do the work of the church together. Like Jethro did for Moses, I will urge them to look for able men and women from among the rest of you and give to you appropriate levels of responsibility and leadership within our ministry. Nobody in this church is called by God to forever sit in the bleachers. Every one of us, in one a way or another, is called to get into the game. In part, this is what it means to be a part of the church.
A couple of weeks ago during our Compassion Weekend, I went Sunday morning with a group from our church to do some work at Garcia Bend. Mostly we picked up garbage and did weeding and trimming around the park. A bonus for me was that the city worker who was supervising our work that morning, a very friendly guy by the name of Javier, misjudged me as somebody who was competent with power tools and turned me loose with a brand new power edger. Let me tell you, I did some serious damage with that bad boy.
Now, I have enjoyed GarciaBendPark many, many times over the years I’ve lived here in the Pocket. I’ve enjoyed it regularly and yet never once before that day had I done anything to help take care of it. And so an unexpected result for me of that work project was that something shifted in me that Sunday morning as I ran that machine around the edge of the lawn of that park. You see, Garcia Bend has always been a park I’ve enjoyed, but now it feels like it’s my park. I share some ownership in that place because I’ve participated in taking care of that place. Next time you’re there, check out how nice the edges of the lawn look!
Here’s my theory. I don’t think that people in the church ever really feel as if they connect or belong to the church until they discover some way to serve within the church. Now certainly God calls us to serve him wherever we go, not just within the confines of the building or programs of the church. At the same time, I believe it’s important that every person who considers Faith Presbyterian Church their community needs to find some way to serve within, or as a part of this community. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing; for some of you something small is all you could do at this point. That’s okay. Either way, I would encourage each of you to find some way to serve here at Faith. Trust me, there are no shortage of opportunities. And the people we are ordaining this morning are being ordained, in part, to help you find your calling to serve.
In the end, I have to tell you that I am so encouraged because ever since I have been here at Faith I have been continually impressed by the great number of you who take seriously your calling to serve God however he calls you to serve in this place and beyond. We have leaders here at Faith but those leaders have never expected, or been expected, to take the load solely upon themselves. In fact, I like to imagine old Jethro showing up here at Faith one day and after taking a look around our church saying in to us all, “You know, back in my day we did things just the way you’re doing them here. Well done.”
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Re-read the passage from Exodus 18:13-24. Pay attention to what grabs your attention in these verses.
Moses had taken on quite a load? Why? What was his motivation?
Jethro tells Moses at the end of his instructions that if Moses takes his advice and does what he says then “the people will go to their home in peace.” What do you think he means? What will lead to this peace?
What is the most common reason people take on too much responsibility and resist sharing that responsibility with others? Has this been your pattern?
If Jethro showed up today and took a look at your life would he see something that you are doing and say to you, “The task is too heavy for you.”? Would he be right?
In your own life, how do you decide when to delegate and when to do it yourself? How do you feel about releasing control over details for which you are still ultimately responsible?
What would you say is the job of leaders (i.e. pastors, elders and deacons) in our church?
How do you believe God is calling you at this time to serve in ministry here at Faith? Are you responding to that call? Why or why not?