Last month I had the privilege of teaching eighth grade girls through the life of Moses. His life is a fascinating case study in regard to leadership. From his incredible rescue from infanticide in Exodus to his obituary in Deuteronomy that says, “No prophet has arisen again in Israel like Moses,” there are multitudes of lessons we can all learn. They include both the good and the bad. No matter what season of leadership you’re currently in, here are seven things I’ve discovered about Moses’ leadership we can all take to heart and apply.
1. Leaders make mistakes, but we shouldn’t run from them. In Exodus 2, we learn that Moses observed the oppression of his people, and when an Egyptian struck one of them, Moses lashed out and killed him. Scared for his life—and rightly so—Moses fled to Midian and began a new occupation as a shepherd. While God used this time to mature Moses and prepare him for his next assignment, you and I shouldn’t run from our mistakes. Instead, leaders own their failures, face the consequences, and learn not to make them again.
2. Use the tools God has given you. God has equipped every believer with spiritual gifts, and He uses them, along with your personality and experiences, to shape you into the leader He specifically wants you to be. Just as Moses had his staff as a reminder of God’s power and presence, you have the Holy Spirit living within you to lead. Even though you may be hesitant like Moses, you can be a more confident leader when you recognize how God has made you. Whether it’s through assessment tests, spiritual gift surveys, or confirmation from others, I’m reminded of the old phrase, “God doesn’t call the equipped, but He equips the called.”
3. Moses faced opposition with courage and confidence—not in himself but in the Lord. Not every leader will face an antagonizer like Pharaoh, but every leader will face opposition. I love Moses’ honesty in his prayer to the Lord when the Israelites were treated more severely. Exodus 5:22 says, “And why did you ever send me?” As a leader, this may often be a similar prayer—why in the world did you send me? Yet, Moses persisted in the face of resistance. It would take several meetings with Pharaoh and several plagues before the Israelites were released from bondage, but Moses reminded his people, “This is because of what the LORD did for me” and “By the strength of his hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.” Moses led the people in the midst of opposition with courage, but God received the credit for the outcome.
4. Moses interceded in prayer for his people—even when they were difficult. If you’ve studied much of the Israelite’s journey out of Egypt and through their wanderings in the desert, you will remember the numerous times they whined and complained. The pattern was pretty predictable—complain to the Lord, the Lord’s anger burned against them, the people cried out to Moses, and he would pray on their behalf. As a leader, you will deal with difficult people. How you pray for them will show your true leadership colors. How are you praying on their behalf—even when they don’t seem grateful? How will you care about them as people instead of projects? A good leader stands in the gap for those they lead—even when they are stubborn and disobedient.
5. Moses knew the power of teamwork. I’ve rarely read anything about leadership that didn’t include the importance of asking others to join you in the work you’ve been given. Moses learned this lesson through his father-in-law Jethro when the work became too much for him to do alone. We see Jethro’s advice in Exodus 18 and how tasks were divided into smaller pieces. I love that some were called to command thousands, some hundreds, some fifties, and others tens. As a leader, consider how you need fewer leaders of thousands and a lot of leaders of tens. As you train leaders of tens, you are developing future leaders of hundreds and thousands.
6. Leaders need a couple of people to hold them up when the work gets heavy. In Exodus 17, Joshua was fighting the Amalekites and as long as Moses held up his hand, the Israelites prevailed. But as the battle lingered, his hands grew tired, and he needed Aaron and Hur to support him—one on each side. I’m currently in a season where the work is heavy and wearisome. As I’m navigating through some leadership transitions, I’m keenly aware I need a couple of people on either side of me who will encourage me when the workload seems like too much. Last week, a coworker and I spent a few moments sharing some similar burdens, and we promised to be an encourager to one another. We all need an Aaron and a Hur to help us when the heaviness of leadership weighs us down.
7. Moses was a leader who had a mentor, but he was also a leader who mentored the next leader. I like to think that Jethro served as a mentor to Moses. Not only was he Moses’ father-in-law, but he was also an advisor. Moses received instruction from Jethro and implemented his counsel. On the flipside, Moses raised up Joshua as the future leader of Israel. In Deuteronomy 31, Moses knew it was time for him to step down from leadership, and he presented Joshua to the people. His admonition to “Be strong and courageous” would be the same words the Lord would use in Joshua 1 to remind Joshua that he was not alone and that he was ready for God’s next assignment. As a leader, you need a mentor, and you must be investing in the future. Your mentee may not take your specific assignment or leadership role, but you can help equip them for the next step God has for them.
Kelly King is the Women’s Ministry Specialist for Lifeway Christian Resources and oversees the YOU Lead events. Join her this year and get to know her heart for ministry leaders. Follow her on Twitter @kellydking.