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Thank Your Pastor for Serving, Not For Leading

Moses and Pastoral Leadership

By Lance Ward

What would you think of a pastor who:

  • Had such a rotten first day that his church wanted God to punish him?
  • Returned from a spiritual retreat to find that he had been replaced by his associate pastor, via a unanimous congregational vote.
  • Received frequent complaints from church members, but never any compliments?

Would you hire such a man to be your pastor? Probably not.

And yet, such was the story of one of the Bible’s premier characters. He was a man who had an audible call and a clear vision from God, but he was not regarded well until his life had ended.

The man’s name? Moses.

The Myth of "Pastoral Leadership"

There's a modern cliche' that goes something like this: "If you want to know how good a leader you are, just look behind you and see how many are following." But if fervent followers are God’s criteria for spiritual leadership, Moses failed . . . miserably.

On his first day in office, Moses' obedience stirred up a vindictive order from Pharaoh: Israel would provide their own straw to maintain the same quota of bricks. That evening, a "business meeting" was held, and the congregation called for God's wrath on Moses' head (Ex. 5:20-21).

Ten plagues later Moses did lead the people out of Egypt. Soon after, though, he went to meet with the Lord on the mountain, asking the people to sit tight until he returned. The crowd got tired of waiting, though, distancing themselves from Moses and voting Aaron in as their new leader (Ex. 32:1).

Aaron was more their speed. He was a man who would take them places! He listened to their felt needs. He sympathized with their concerns. Then he moved on a united vote to turn the invisible God into a visible calf.

Never before had Israel experienced worship like they did under Aaron's leadership. It was a truly exciting time for God's people, as their new worship style soared to new heights. Meanwhile on the mountain, the Lord got a whiff of the pagan ways below and talked of vengeance. But the people’s "fired" shepherd interceded, and God's wrath turned to mercy (32:8-14).

While their man was providing exciting worship and activity, God's man was saving their skin. While the hired-hand crafted a golden calf, the shepherd stood between the Lord and the sheep.

That's often the way Moses' service was to Israel: unpopular, unseen and unappreciated. He would obey the Lord, but the people would gripe in return. The manna was bland, the water was scarce, and the wilderness was wretched. Egypt was so much better, and if it weren't for Moses, they'd still be there. Even when blessings would come, Israel murmured about Moses' leadership style and motives (Num. 16:1-15), but Yahweh thought otherwise (see Num. 12:3, 7).

So when Moses looked behind him, he saw a lot of people walking, but only a handful following (maybe just two: Joshua and Caleb Num. 14:38). At one point, even his own siblings stood against him (Num. 12:1-2).

Nothing New Under the Sun?

Like the wilderness wanderers, modern churchgoers hanker for visible results. We want to see our pastors doing something. We want them to move at the speed we feel is appropriate. We want them to tell us where our churches are heading.

Perhaps our most egregious error, though, is asking our pastors to lead rather than to serve. That’s what Israel wanted, which is why they preferred a man of action over a man of devotion. It’s why they wanted a man they could follow more than a man who followed God.

I find it curious that Moses is never referred to as "God’s leader," but that 38 times, he is called "God's/the Lord's servant," a divine compliment attributed to only a few others like Joshua, Job, Timothy and Paul (Josh. 24:29; Job 1:8; 2 Tim. 2:24; Titus 1:1).

Moses is also described as, "faithful in all God's house" (Num. 12:7; Heb. 3:2, 5). So without ignoring the fact that Moses did lead God's people to the Promised Land (Ex. 12:34), we would do well to remember that he was not lauded by God for skillful leadership but for faithful service.

Even though the people doubted Moses, he was still God's man. Like Jeremiah, who received scorn for proclaiming the truth, and Paul, who wrote in his final letter, "everyone in Asia has deserted me," Moses was a lonely and misunderstood person.

But he was still God's man.

Casting Stones

In Oswald Sanders' book, Spiritual Leadership (p. 121), Lettie Cowman says, "Often the crowd does not recognize a leader until he has gone, and then they build a monument for him with the stone they threw at him in life."

In other words, "we don’t know what we’ve got until it's gone."

Maybe your pastor is not a Chuck Swindoll, Max Lucado or Rick Warren, but is he faithful?

Maybe your pastor is not a grand visionary (a requisite absent from the pastoral epistles), but is he a servant? Is he patient with the people? Does he teach that spiritual progress is a lifelong journey, rather than one mountaintop after another?

As we celebrate Pastor Appreciation Month, let us remember that a man who heard God's voice had more critics than our pastors do. Let us bear in mind that the premier Hebrew leader was not revered until he was in the grave. Let us encourage our appointed servants to follow God, not our whims. And let us consider that the Bible exhorts sheep to follow more than it tells shepherds to lead.


Lance Ward served as a small church pastor for eight years. He presently serves as a hospice chaplain in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

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