Original photo by Steve Day.
Years ago, I stumbled upon a verse in Exodus that impacted me more than I could have ever imagined. The verse is Exodus 18:17, when Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, says to Moses: “What you are doing is not good.”
A little context
At this point in Israel’s history, part of Moses’s leadership of the people included sitting to judge every dispute, major or minor, that the people had. Moses was essentially everything from the Supreme Court to small claims court for the Israelite people—until Jethro showed up on the scene. Jethro, as an onlooker, could see just how unhealthy this was for Moses, and how thin it was spreading him.
As we know, leading the people through the wilderness was no easy task. Also, the Israelites weren’t always the most agreeable folks, so there’s no telling how many disputes the people actually had. All we know is that as verse 13 tells us, “Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening.”
Moses was trying to do it all.
My Moses Experience
I was in my second year of youth ministry when I read this account, and I realized how clearly this described my situation. As a new youth worker, I believed I knew it all. I thought I was the only one in the church who knew how to connect with students, and I relished the idea of being the go-to guy in that area. I was also in a small church without a lot of volunteers to help out, and the few who would have been willing were probably turned off by my delusions of grandeur. What’s more, I had built up a pretty large and involved ministry that was quickly outgrowing my ability to run it on my own.
It was at that point in my life that I read this account and realized that what I was doing was not good. I was trying to do it all. Doing it all was way too much. The way too much was hurting me physically, mentally, and spiritually. And, it was hurting my ministry.
Here’s the deal
You are not God. You are limited in what you can do.
You may be finding yourself in a similar situation to me. You may have delusions of grandeur, or you may simply not know when to say “no.” Or, maybe there’s something else entirely that’s driving you to the point where you’re stretched too thin. Either way, there are a couple of things that may help you get beyond your “what you are doing is not good” moment.
1. Recognize that you need other people around you.
You may or may not be in a situation where you can get regular help in your youth ministry. But, either way, your students need other people. Also, YOU need other people! Every ministry needs input from more than one person to thrive. So, seek out others to work alongside you.
If you can’t find people to do that, seek out input from others around you. Look for ways to create intergenerational opportunities for mentoring, teaching, and fellowship. Finally, recognize the important role that parents play with their kids. It doesn’t do you or your ministry any good to try to be a one man/woman army.
2. If you don’t have enough help around you, slow down.
I know this seems almost counter-biblical. But the reality is that trying to run a ministry that’s too big for you to manage by yourself is going to put you on the fast track to burnout. And that’s not really going to help anyone—least of all, your students.
So, if you don’t have the manpower to manage the ministry you’ve built, slow down a bit. You don’t have to personally lead a lock-in every month or five Bible studies a week, to serve your students well! In fact, a lock-in every month or five Bible studies a week likely won’t serve anyone well anyway. Instead, slow down.
The Big Lesson
Perhaps the biggest lesson of the Moses/Jethro interaction in Exodus 18 is one of stewardship. Moses was not being a good steward of the time that God had given him. It didn’t mean that what he was doing wasn’t necessary; it didn’t even mean that what was being done was bad. But it was not the best use of his time.
So, as you look at another school year, ask yourself:
Are you set up to be a good steward of the time God has given you? Or, is what you’re doing “not good”?
Matt Larkin serves as the Coordinator of Student & Kids’ Ministries for the Advent Christian General Conference (www.acgc.us). In that role, he serves as a resource and consultant to youth workers and college students all around the United States and globally. You can connect with Matt on Twitter via @MattWLarkin.