Jun 12, 2017


6 Leadership Lessons from Jethro

Andy Abramson identifies six leadership lessons from Jethro’s counsel to his son-in-law Moses.

At 20 years old I was an energetic, creative, and passionate youth pastor. I was leading a small group of volunteers in this ministry. I’ll never forget my first official staff meeting with those volunteers. I spent all day preparing what I was going to share. I was like a little kid in a candy store bouncing with excitement. I opened the meeting with prayer and dove into my agenda. After about 15 minutes, one of our leaders raised their hand and said “I don’t really understand what you want my role to be.” Then a second person chimed in, “I would like to know what you want from me as well.” Then a third person followed suit and expressed that they didn’t feel like I was empowering them to carry out their roles in the ministry. By this time, the train was derailing from the tracks and my meeting was turning into a revolt. One by one each person expressed a lack of clarity. The kicker came when my wife, at the very end, summarized everyone’s feelings by saying, “We really want to help, but I think we need you to give us responsibility and then allow us to do our jobs.” I sat there fighting back tears feeling completely defeated and useless. That meeting still ranks as one of my worst!

Looking back years later, I know those volunteers were right. I wasn’t releasing responsibility and entrusting them with leadership. I wasn’t inviting them to participate and carry the weight of the ministry, and I was clueless with how to lead them well. It took people from the outside, who cared about me, to intervene in my life and leadership.

In Exodus 18 Jethro was that voice for his son-in-law Moses. He spoke into his leadership in a profound way, allowing him to lead to his full potential. Moses thought he was doing what he was supposed to, but it took an outside voice to reveal his blindspots. Read through their interaction in Exodus 18 and you’ll see six leadership lessons from Jethro.


“Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

Moses’ leadership was like an hourglass.  Because of the way he was leading, the work was limited. Moses had become the bottleneck for leadership within the nation of Israel. I can see this story in my mind. Hour after hour passes and Moses plays his usual role of the judge among the community. I often wonder what was the tipping point for Jethro? How many hours did it take before he thought… wait a second, you are going to do this all day, by yourself? I know now how ridiculous this is, but I can completely sympathize with Moses as I have found myself in similar situations. It’s easy for me to be the central figure in leadership. There’s a sense of control and power when everything passes through me, but ultimately it reveals my lack of trust in the people around me.  When everything has to pass through the leader, they can become a bottleneck within ministry.  As college ministry leaders, let’s not be the bottleneck to leadership!


“What you are doing 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.”

It amazes me as college ministers, how we justify overwork.  We somehow hyper-spiritualize it into something that God wants us to be doing. I appreciate how direct Jethro is to Moses. After watching him, he realizes that the pace Moses is running at is unsustainable long term. There is an eventual crash and burn that will happen if he continues down this path. I’ve been thankful for people like Jethro in my life. People who can observe, from the outside of my ministry, and recognize patterns that could lead to a crash and burn down the road. Sometimes the hardest things to say as college ministers is “not yet.” We need to be willing to hold off things within ministry until God raises up or brings people to help carry the load. As college ministry leaders, let’s run at a healthy and sustainable pace for long term impact!


“You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.”

I appreciate Jethro’s recognition of the unique call of Moses. You see, he didn’t say anyone can do Moses’ job. No, he understood that Moses had a unique role within the community of Israel. Moses was the one whom God chose to lead the people out of Egypt and stood before God on Mt. Sinai and was given the commands. He was chosen as the mouthpiece of God.  God communicated to the people through Moses. For those who are the primary leaders within a ministry, you have a special and unique calling. That unique calling is to lead the group of people God has entrusted to you. As college ministers, let’s embrace the unique calling God has given us!


“Teach them his decrees and instructions,and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave…. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves.”

Jethro’s admonition to Moses was to raise up leaders to help carry the weight of leadership. There must have been a moment, as Jethro was watching Moses all day, that he recognized there were some simple cases that could have been handled by others. Other leaders could be equipped to take care of some of these, and when that happened, Moses would be freed up to do the things only he could do. By others carrying the weight of leadership, Moses’ load would be lightened. I think one of the greatest temptations within college ministry is to do everything ourselves. But what I’m continually reminded of is both the opportunity to invite people into helping carry leadership as well as being freed up to do the things only I can do. As college ministry leaders, let’s be committed to raising up leaders and sharing the weight of leadership.


“But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain.”

Have you ever gotten so desperate to fill a leadership hole, that you gave away responsibility to someone you shouldn’t have. I think about times that I placed someone in leadership and had to deal with the aftermath of that decision. In those times, I wished I would have slowed down and taken into account both the skills and the character of the leader I thought I needed so desperately. Jethro reminded Moses that it wasn’t just about leadership skills, but also about the character of the leaders he was to select. These leaders needed to fear God and be people of integrity. As college ministry leaders, let’s be committed to finding people both with leadership skills and godly character.


“…and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.”

Honestly, this is one of the hardest leadership lessons that we learn from Jethro. It’s hard because of the evangelical culture we live in, and our tendency is to idolize the mega church pastor standing on the stage speaking at the conference. I know we won’t admit it, but we often lead our churches and ministries as though “bigger is better.” I’m not here to cast stones at people with larger ministries but rather highlight that we all have different skills and capacities. Those capacities don’t make one leader better than another. In this text, Jethro’s advice to Moses is some leaders need to lead over thousands because they have the capacity to do so, and other leaders need to lead over tens because that is their capacity. The principle in this text is that we fulfill the role of our capacity and lead well within it.  As college ministry leaders, let’s be the best leaders within our giftings, callings and capacities that we can be!

This passage continually reminds me of the genuine need to have others who love us speak into our leadership from the outside. Often times it takes outside eyes to see things that we are not in a position to see. God may brings these people providentially into our lives but, I think as leaders we ought to seek to find these people as well. We need to be willing to identify leaders that care for us and invite them to observe, encourage, and critique our leadership. As college ministry leaders let’s be committed to allowing key people to speak into our lives and leadership.

about the author

Andy Abramson

Andy is the founder and visionary leader of Verge Ministries. Verge Ministries has a heart to equip college and young adult leaders to effectively multiply ministry in their local contexts through training, networking and ministry development. Andy is passionate about college/young adult leaders. He is married to Jenn and has 5 children.