In Exodus 18, shortly after God liberated Israel from Egypt and led them into the desert of Sinai, we find leader Moses contending with all of the conflicts and concerns that these new pilgrims faced.
There were disputes over limited resources, complaints about living conditions, and doubt about whether God was going to pull through for the nation. They knew God had a plan to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey; the question was when? Frustration and anticipation raised great angst among the people. Only Moses was able to intercede.
Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, recognized the deep needs of the people and Moses’ own frustration. As a patriarch over a tribe, Jethro was sensitive to the needs of leader and followers alike.
“What is this that you are doing for the people?” Jethro asked Moses, “Why do you sit and lead alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening” (v. 14)?
Jethro’s question hinted at Moses’ crisis of leadership: Moses’ issue did not relate to anointing or authority, it related to his inability to delegate. And lack of delegation eventually causes burn-out.
“What you are doing is not good; you will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you,” Jethro lamented (v. 17-18).
Ours is a culture of independence and the self-made man, a culture in which we go it alone and not ask for help. We too have a problem with delegation, and we face the same kind of burn-out that threatened Moses.
Our reasons for not delegating are many. For one, we have trouble delegating because we over commit. We have trouble saying “No” and setting boundaries. We fill our schedules with things we think we ought to do or should do.
Before we know it, we are exhausted by week’s end, and even church attendance suffers as a result.
Another reason is that we don’t trust others to do the work that needs to get done. We have two sayings in society that communicate this issue: “It’s easier to do things myself,” and “If you want something done right, you need to do it yourself.”
It may be true that, when you delegate, the task at hand may not get done to your standards or just as you would have it done. In most cases, however, the task at hand will get accomplished one way or another.
Take laundry for instance. I used to do all of the laundry for our household–I’ve been doing it since I got married.
Now that my children are older, my wife wanted them to fold their own laundry. “It’s not going to get done right,” I argued; but my wife insisted.
Turns out that we were both right: My children do not fold the laundry perfectly, but it gave them a sense of responsibility and cut my laundry time in half.
I simply had to “let go,” and let my children do it their own way.
That brings up a third reason we can’t delegate: We like to have a sense of control.
Moses felt a great sense of burden and responsibility for Israel. As God’s representative, he led them out of Egypt and communicated God’s promises to them. If they all fail, it falls on him.
That’s a lot of pressure; and the more pressure assigned to someone, the more control is needed to maintain the status quo.
Jethro’s advice pointed out the obvious: The Israelites had to take responsibility for themselves and their accountability before God. Moses did his job, now the Israelites had to do theirs as a holy nation before the Lord.
Delegation is a learned art for sure. It doesn’t come either naturally or easily. Yet, it is a spiritual discipline that, if learned, can increase our stamina and vitality. It can encourage, rather than hinder, our very ability to lead and live according to God’s fullest potential for our lives.