by Frank and Wendy Parrish

“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; not as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1Pet 5:2-4).

In this eloquent passage the Bible sets forth timeless principles of godly church leadership. But how can we most effectively put these principles into practice? As always, Scripture itself supplies us with clear, specific, practical instruction.

Exodus 18:13-22 calls attention to some common problems in leadership and offers highly effective, God-honoring solutions.


As Moses began to lead the people out of Egypt, it was not long before he fell into a common leadership trap: He tried to be the only leader of a group of people. Moses might have assumed that since God had called him to do a task, he was supposed to fulfill the task by himself.

Fortunately for Moses and the children of Israel, God sent a wise servant – Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law – to counsel Moses. Jethro recognized the problems that were being created by the independent leadership style of Moses.

When Moses began to face challenges in his calling, God used Jethro to wisely instruct Moses as to how to fix the problems. Let us now read portions of the Bible passage that tells that story:

“And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?’… So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself…Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you… select from all the people able men…for they will bear the burden with you’” (excerpts from Exodus 18:13-22).

Jethro pointed out a serious flaw in Moses’ leadership: Moses was trying to do the work God had called him to accomplish by himself, without the help of others. One who gets caught in the trap of being an independent leader will limit himself, and never fulfill his complete purpose as a church leader.

Jethro gave Moses wise counsel about how to solve the leadership challenges he was facing. Jethro submitted his counsel to Moses, and wisely referred Moses to God for confirmation of his counsel (Ex 18:23). Moses was humble and wise in receiving and acting upon Jethro’s counsel (Ex 18:24). They had a good relationship, one of mutual trust and respect (Ex 4:18; 18:7).