Thoughts on Small Groups from Exodus 18

Exodus 18 and Small Groups


A growing assembly is a beautiful sight! By “growing” I do not mean an assembly that is simply expanding in size. I mean an assembly whose spiritual health and vigor brings increase in many areas. Some people talk critically (perhaps from envy ?) about growth, as if mere expansion is meant. “We prefer to grow in depth of our walk with Christ,” they say. But the NT never pits visible and invisible growth against each other; the root verses the fruit. Rather, they are two parts of one healthy plant.


When a local assembly is growing in the good sense of the term, there are certain identifiable factors present such as loving saints, good leadership, spiritual worship, solid teaching, a love for lost people, the working of the Holy Spirit, attention to prayer, and above all, the preeminence of Christ.


Once begun, however, growth does not continue automatically. It is only the evidence of continuing health and vitality. As in the human body, it is a result. Some assemblies look back longingly to a time when they were growing, but somehow things changed. Now they may be told: “Oh you have lost your first love.” Probably true, but as in a marriage, so in the church, love must be worked at.


There are many reasons why growth ceases. One is “unmet needs.” Back in the days of small numbers, it was easy to give personalized attention to each individual in the assembly. When growth occurred (or, in a marriage, when children came), the work load increased among those who could serve. In a family, this growth is limited to perhaps 2 or 3 and rarely reaches a dozen, but in a growing assembly – just as in the early church – numbers continue to multiply. If new servants are not equipped and some of the work delegated to them, needs go unmet, workers become tired and discouraged, and growth eventually stops. This is why Scripture lays upon evangelists, pastors, and teachers the vital responsibility of equipping the saints. (Eph. 4:11-12).


Some growing assemblies have chosen to divided into (or to use a better term “plant”) new assemblies with new leaders to care for the growing needs. Others have chosen to grow “under one roof.” But whatever the direction, one thing is clear: if growth is to continue, needs must be met.


One principle by which this increasing demand for burden bearers or “need meeters” may be met is found in the advice given by Jethro, Moses father-in-law to Moses in Exodus 18. Simply stated, it is the principle of delegating authority.


Some criticize Moses for accepting Jethro’s advice. They hold that the God who called Moses would supply the strength to bear the burden. However, there is better evidence from Scripture to support the view that the same God Who provided Moses’ strength also provided wise counsel thru Jethro to meet the needs both of His servant and of the growing nation.


From Exodus 18 we note that Jethro was respected by Moses (v.7), and that the two men enjoyed fellowship discussing God’s mighty work of deliverance (v.8). Jethro’s response of joy in verse 9 reminds us of Barnabas’ gladness in Acts 11 at seeing God’s mighty power at work in Antioch. Good men rejoice whenever they hear about redemption. Jethro displayed some spiritual insight as he blessed God and singled out pride as the one sin most responsible for the Egyptians’ defeat (v. 10-11). Before giving Moses his counsel, he offers sacrifice to God and eats “before God” with all the elders of Israel (v.12). These are not the attitudes and actions of a deceitful man.


And if Jethro’s conduct is heartwarming, so is his advice. He does for Moses exactly what Moses is doing for the people – attempts to meet his need (v.18). His first concern is not with the complaints and problems of the people, but that Moses relationship with God and the people be preserved (v.19-20). In other words, relationship takes priority over issues. What a lesson is here for us! It is specially in the matter of problem solving (need meeting) and then only in lesser matters that Jethro suggests a change: Moses should share the work load. His list of qualifications by which helpers should be chosen reminds us of the qualities required of the servants chosen in Acts 6 (also need- meeters!). Then he places a final qualifier on his counsel. “If thou do this thing, and God command thee so…” (v.23).


Now for us to suppose that Moses acted foolishly in receiving this counsel, we must believe that Jethro deceived Moses and all the elders in Israel (v. 12), and all the people of Israel besides (Deut. 1:14). We must believe that the man whose nearness to God was unquestionable did not consult with the Lord and receive His command as Jethro specified. This does not square with God’s own testimony of Moses as a servant “who is faithful in all mine house.” (Num. 12:7). Finally, we must explain away Moses own conviction that a growing nation required more burden bearers (Deut. 1:9-18).


But of more weight than any of the above observations is the surpassing truth that delegation of responsibility to others was the method chosen by the perfect Servant – the Lord Jesus Himself during His earthly ministry. Following His resurrection, the Lord could have done the needed work alone instead of committing it to His disciples. Yet He did not do this. Rather, after giving his chosen helpers the best training any workers ever had, he placed the work before them and told them “as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” (John 20:21). Paul built his life work on this same principle and then exhorted Timothy: “And the things that thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (II Tim. 2:2).


Much better, then, to thankfully receive Jethro’s counsel, and consider how we are delegating the meeting of needs within the assembly to those who can grow personally by being involved in serving. Someone may ask: “Shouldn’t they be doing these things anyway?” Yes, and it is encouraging where this occurs spontaneously. But sometimes leadership must “consider one another to provoke unto love and good works.” (Heb. 10:24), and design helpful ways to do it. For example, we hope parents are training their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, but we’re glad to provide a structure within the assembly to assist them, and so we have Sunday School.


And when we think of it, aren’t elders actually delegated servants? That is why they are often called “under shepherds.”

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