Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

Shared Leadership: A Wilderness Experience (Part 1)


Scott Kronlund, Senior Consultant

Scott Kronlund

 Moses’ arms were killing him.  After all, he had been standing on top of the hill holding up the staff of God all day long and sunset was still a long way off.  As he struggled, his pre-battle words to Joshua kept racing through his head: “Tomorrow, I will stand on the hill with the staff of God in my hands…”  Even though he had taken Aaron and Hur with him, he still didn’t get it.  Finally, his companions couldn’t stand to watch the struggle any longer.  So they rolled up a stone under Moses, sat him down, and each took hold of one arm and held his hands into the air.  As a result, as Scripture says, “his hands remained steady until sunset.  So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (Exodus 17: 12 – 13, NIV).  Victory was achieved only through a process of shared leadership.  But, did Moses learn the lesson?

 A short time later, Moses was visited by his father-in-law, Jethro, his wife, and his two sons.  After a few days of good food, good fellowship, and delighting in “all the good things the Lord had done for Israel”, Moses headed off to work, taking his seat as judge for the people. As the story goes, the people stood around him from dawn to dusk each waiting for their time with Moses.  Concerned about what he was witnessing, Jethro approached Moses.  “What is this you are doing for the people?  Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you?”  Being the diligent leader, Moses replied, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.”  Not wanting Moses to miss the point, Jethro jumped right in.  “What you are doing here is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.  The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Exodus 18: 13 – 18, NIV).  So Moses took Jethro’s advice and appointed “capable men from all over Israel” to serve as “officials” and “judges” over smaller groups of people, resolving the lesser grievances, while bringing the more difficult cases to Moses.  So Moses learned another lesson in shared leadership.

 As leaders in our churches today, let’s explore these lessons, juxtaposed here in Exodus, in greater detail.  Quite simply, Moses (as well as the people of Israel) had become victims of the notion that leadership is primarily about positional authority and Jethro knew it.  What do I mean by that?  Let’s begin by considering the basic tenets of traditional leadership theory; that is, leadership is nothing more than using one’s position of authority to simply direct activity and wield influence.  Unfortunately, leadership defined this narrowly ultimately allows only two choices for a leader: either exercise power in order to coerce or seek authority in order to please (neither of which is healthy).  Although Moses may not have less inclined to practice the former, he clearly followed the latter course.  Specifically, the people of Israel had “authorized” Moses to do certain things for them, including settling all of their personal disputes.  As a result, the more he worked to meet these expectations, the more the people brought to him and the cycle continued.  Over time, Moses found himself inundated with requests to the point of exhaustion while the people stood ready to “scapegoat” Moses for his ineffectiveness as their leader.  After all, look at the long lines of people endlessly waiting for their time with Moses.  To make matters worse, Moses was left with very little time to attend to the more pressing strategic matters of leading a million people across the wilderness into the Promised Land.  Jethro couldn’t let this happen.  In short, by sharing his responsibilities as judge for the people with capable local leaders, Moses was able to free up the “mental space” necessary to address the larger responsibilities at hand.

 Clearly, Moses had to move beyond the conventional definition of leadership as merely “positional authority” focused only on meeting expectations and begin to concentrate on the role that leaders must play in bringing about the “adaptive changes” required of the people as they moved toward the Promised Land. In other words, for Moses, leadership would become an activity specifically focused on mobilizing the people of Israel for transformation from the position of common slaves into God’s chosen people.  Certainly, the people would need an “attitude adjustment” because God’s call was clear: “you yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession….you will be a for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19: 4 – 6, NIV).  This was certainly a tall order for just one man.  Fortunately, this time, having learned from these two prior occasions, Moses “summoned” the elders of the people, sat them down, and shared with them what the Lord had just shared with him.  As a result of actively involving the elders in this process, “the people all responded together, ‘we will do everything the Lord has said'” (Exodus 19: 7 – 8, NIV).  Now that’s shared leadership!

It’s often said that is the most lonely at the top.  As a leader in your church, have you ever had similar “wilderness experiences” that you’d like to share?  How did you utilize  shared leadership to help resolve your issue?  Feel free to jump into the discussion.  In Part 2 of this blog, we will explore just how Moses developed his model of shared leadership as well as the benefits of utilizing such a model.  Blessings, Scott









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