The Jethro Principle
At one point Moses was wearing himself out by continually listening to and solving the disputes and dilemmas which arose among the Israelites (see Exodus 18:13-26). He was weighed down by the responsibilities that came with serving more than three million people. The Israelites were burdened by having to wait day after day for Moses to hear their case. This reminds me of many pastors today. Many church leaders are nearing burnout, as they try all by themselves to juggle the crushing ministry responsibilities of the church.
Through Jethro, God gave Moses wisdom to rule in such a way that he and the people would not be worn out. The solution Jethro suggested was simple: Able men were to be selected from among the people to listen to any problems which arose, solve the ones they could handle, and pass on the most difficult cases to Moses.
The early apostles understood the principle of delegation Moses had used many years before. During the great revival that took place in the book of Acts, the apostles soon found it necessary to delegate authority and responsibility to others so they could concentrate on their top priority—prayer and the ministry of the Word (see Acts 6:1-4).
Many times today, those in primary leadership in the church are so caught up in management that they do not have time to pray and give clear direction to the work of God. Applying the Jethro principle to the local church today would result in the delegation of authority and responsibility to believers on the “front-lines” of ministry, who are best prepared to make such decisions anyway. Unless pastors can release responsibility and authority to the servant-leaders at a small group level, this principle will not work. Although local elders or pastors are responsible before the Lord for God’s people in the cells, the cell leaders must be released and trusted with the care of the people of God within their cell.
When David Yonggi Cho from Seoul, Korea, was at our church for a pastors’ conference, I talked to him about the need to release local leadership in a small group setting. I will never forget his response. “Many pastors are threatened,” he said. “They are afraid to release their people.”
Moses gave Pharaoh the mandate of the Lord: “Let my people go!” I believe that the Lord is setting every believer free to be an able minister of the new covenant. May every spiritual leader maintain his security in the Lord and take the risk to release the people of God to minister to others.
Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California, says it like this. “For your church to grow, both the pastor and the people must give up control: The people must give up the control of the leadership, and the pastor must give up control of the ministry. Otherwise, either party can become a bottleneck for growth.”
My prayer for those I am responsible to disciple and train is that they may be used of God in a much greater way than I have been used. Jesus told His disciples that those who believe in Him would do the works He does and even greater works (John 14:12). And John the Baptist, a type of New Testament Elijah, stated clearly, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John’s whole life was consumed with preparing the way for Jesus. The Lord has called us as cell leaders, pastors and Christian leaders to do the same—to see Jesus and others increase as we decrease. This must be our motivation. We are preparing servant leaders for the next generation.
A few years ago, I turned over the leadership and ministry of our church to eight pastors, 21 elders and a whole host of cell leaders as our church decentralized and became eight cell based churches. Our new pastoral leaders were discipled at the grassroots level, in our cell groups. I now am able to focus my attention more on the areas of my primary gifting: training leaders and being a pastor to pastors.
The Need for New Vessels
In II Kings 4:1-7 the story is told of Elisha miraculously multiplying the oil of a poor widow. As long as the widow had vessels to pour the oil into, the flow of oil continued. But when she ran out of vessels, the supply of new oil was halted.
In many ways this story is a prophetic picture of the present purpose of God for the church. He has promised to pour out His Holy Spirit in these last days, but this will necessitate flexible containers to hold the great harvest that is on the horizon. Is it possible that the Lord is waiting for His church to prepare the proper containers so He can fully pour out His Spirit?
Now is the time to prepare leaders for the coming harvest. We cannot force new Christians into our old wineskins—we must prepare new wineskins for the new wine. Forming new vessels will facilitate the Lord’s commission to make disciples. Many new types of vessels (cell groups and local congregations) must be formed. Let’s get about our Father’s business.