8 things Christian leaders can learn about ministry from Moses

Yesterday I had been invited to a gathering of a dozen or so Baptist pastors: I shared some things I’ve learned about leadership, framing them with the story of Moses.

Here is a little summary of my thinking:

1 – We don’t get there by ourselves.

Moses’ survival, his eventual faith in God, and his leadership of God’s people would not have been possible had not been for the faith of his parents, the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter, and the ingenuity of his sister.

Nor do we get there by ourselves. Whether it is the faith, example and witness of our family, the faithfulness of teachers, or the investment of mentors, we don’t get far on our own.

2 – God can meet us in deserts.

For Moses, the middle years of his life represented the loss of his vision and passion. Exile in Midian was not what he was expecting when he attempted to rescue the Hebrew slaves at 40.

Many leaders find themselves in wilderness experiences at various points in their ministry. Whether it is a wilderness of stress and burnout, a wilderness of failure, or a wilderness of illness or spiritual crisis, wilderness by definition is a hard place. But God can meet us there, as he did Moses.

3 – We need to know that God loves us.

At a time of great crisis (see Exodus 32,33), Moses hears from God. The text says that ‘the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend’. Not only did God promise that his presence would be with Moses, but he told him that he had found favour in his sight and that he knew him by name.

Believing that God loves us might seem like spiritual ABCs, but from time to time we need to be reminded: as Henri Nouwen would say, to hear the voice that calls us the beloved.

4 – Ministry is meant to be shared.

Two incidents in Moses’ life are pertinent. The first is when his father in law sees how much Moses’ style of leadership had become a bottleneck and was threatening to wear out both Moses and the people. The second comes later when Moses is complaining about the heavy load of responsibility and God responds by pouring his Spirit on seventy elders. Two people were not part of the main group and Joshua, perhaps anxious to protect the leadership of his mentor, urges Moses to stop them from prophesying. Moses’ responds that he wishes all the Lord’s people were prophets.

Control-freakery is not a sign of healthy leadership. Leaders need to learn the paradox of power: the leader’s power is not diminished when it is given away to others! Ministry is meant to be shared.

5 – We need to learn to handle criticism.

Criticism was a frequent theme of Moses’ life, whether it was about what the people were eating and drinking, or whether it was their complaint (in fact his siblings’) that Moses had got ahead of himself in terms of self-importance.

At times leaders are lightening rods and find themselves attracting any negativity in the air. At times it feels personal (perhaps at times it is!) and can be hard to take. But making it about ourselves and our honour is likely to make it worse.

While criticism may be painful and while a pervading negativity can be toxic in a church or organisation (and may need to be dealt with), we do well to remember the thoughts of a leadership scholar who has suggested that the most successful leaders are liable to be those with the least compliant followers! Without critique, we remain unaware of our weaknesses and areas where growth is needed.

6 – We are never the finished article.

Moses’ character had a streak of anger: witness his reaction to injustice or his smashing of the stone tablets. Yet he is later described as ‘the meekest man on earth’! You’d think that time had sufficiently moderated his character flaw and that his anger issues had been resolved. Until the provocation of the people eventually gets to him and he disobediently strikes the rock.

Beware, lest character flaws you thought were things of the past come back to bite you: avoid the arrogance of thinking you are the finished article!

7 – We must not get in the way of Jesus.

In the mysteries of biblical typology, Paul claims that the rock that followed the Israelites in the desert was Christ. Which suggests to me a picture of Moses getting himself in the way of an encounter between Christ (the rock from which water flowed) and the people.

Leaders have personalities and these are simply part of who we are. But people need more than our personalities: they need living water, and that comes from Christ, not us. Let’s not get in the way by drawing attention to ourselves.

8 – We need to prepare the next generation.

Moses would not make it to the Promised Land, and he knew the people would need a new leader. So he prayed for one (Numbers 27). In answer, God gave him Joshua (though the ultimate answer to the problem of sheep without a shepherd was a greater Joshua!) and Moses commissioned him.

Leaders come and go but the work goes on and calls for new leaders. What are we doing to pray for them and prepare them to pick up the baton?

The Leadership Journey Podcast (22): Ken Clarke (part 1)

 

bishopkenclarkeThis week’s guest on the podcast is one of the best known and most popular leaders in the Northern Irish evangelical church: Ken (Fanta) Clarke. Ken has served (and continues to serve) in a number of roles through the years, including time spent in South America as a missionary, local church leadership on both sides of the Irish border, his role as Bishop in the Church of Ireland, and his current role as mission director for SAMS UK and Ireland (South American Mission Society).

In this episode he talks about some of the events and people who helped form him for leadership. He discusses his definition of a leader as someone with a compass in their head and a magnet in their heart and underlines his belief in the potential impact of one godly life.

As you listen:

  • Who are some of the people who have helped shape you in your leadership?
  • Are you seeking to make the most of whatever calling you have to influence others?

The Leadership Journey Podcast 15: Jonathan Rea (2)

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This week’s podcast is the second part of the interview with Jonathan Rea, Creative Director of New Irish Arts.

In the second part of the interview Jonathan describes the impact of a serious health crisis and – in a section of the interview that will be of special interest to people involved in church music – he discusses some of the things he listens for in choosing new songs.

As you listen, you may like to reflect on these questions:

  1. If you are involved in church music, what do you think of Jonathan’s view that what we sing needs to combine theology and emotional engagement? Do you tend to one side or other?
  2. Are you the kind of leader who is more likely to have a 5 year plan, or is your leadership more about responding the opportunities God gives you?

The Leadership Journey Podcast 14: Jonathan Rea (1)

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This week’s guest on the Leadership Journey podcast is Jonathan Rea, the Creative Director of New Irish Arts, a charity working to be a Christian presence in the arts and an artistic presence within the Church.

In this first part of the interview, Jonathan discusses his journey, both as a Christian and as a musician – two paths that have obviously converged in his life and work, not least as he has taken on leadership of New Irish Arts.

  • Jonathan mentions the potential of peer influence, specifically in his friendship with Keith Getty: how would you assess your peer relationships in this regard?
  • As a leader, are you more of an entrepreneur or someone who picks up an initial idea and runs with it?

 

The Leadership Journey Podcast 12: Harold Miller

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The guest this week is Harold Miller, Bishop of Down and Dromore in the Church of Ireland.

In this first part of his interview Harold talks about his conversion experience and the early stages of his growth as a leader while involved in the Christian Union at Trinity College, Dublin (his years there coincided with a remarkable batch of future leaders and missionaries).

He also talks about the role of an Anglican Bishop and the importance of leaders having other people around them.

Here are some questions for you to reflect on as you listen to Harold’s interview:

  • Harold mentions a number of key mentors: what mentors are helping to shape you, and are you building into the lives of other, younger leaders?
  • Harold talks about ‘holes in the cheese’: as you think about your own church tradition, where are some of the gaps?

The Leadership Journey Podcast Episode 6: Derek Tidball (part 1)

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The guest on the next two episodes of the podcast is Dr Derek Tidball. Derek’s leadership roles have included ministry in a couple of Baptist churches as well as being Principal of London School of Theology: he is also the author of many books, including his most recent book, Lead Like Joshua.