From the Book of Exodus . . . .
The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?” Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary, Exodus 18:13-18)
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, has to have been one of the wisest men in all of Holy Scripture! What he advises Moses to do is nothing less that to delegate authority and responsibility. Delegation is one of the most important management skills. Good delegation saves time, develops people, grooms successors, and motivates subordinates. Poor delegation will causes frustration,confuses subordinates, discourages others, and leads to failure of purpose. Delegation is vital for effective leadership. Jethro seems to have known this and recommended it to Moses: “Look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.” (Exod. 18:21) ~ Here’s the thing, though, delegation means letting go! Once you have handed over authority, you cannot dictate what is delegated nor how that delegation is to be managed. Delegation means letting go and letting go is hard. Human beings, especially talented and successful ones, are reluctant to let go of the things we do well. It’s simply human nature. But refusal to hand-over jobs to subordinates minimizes our productivity and effectiveness. We need to learn to let go. That, by the way, is the message of Christ. Jethro anticipated Jesus: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matt. 6:34) In other words, let go! ~ When I was in college there was a bumper sticker popular among church-going Christians of a particular sort. It read, “Let go and let God”. And I know it’s also a catch-phrase for twelve-steppers and apparently it works for them…. but I hated it then and I don’t like it any better now! I think it misinterprets and trivializes the Christian message, what it means to be an active and responsible Christian. Jesus, in fact, never tells us to “let go and let God”. “Letting go” in this catch-phrase seems to imply that one do nothing, say nothing, feel nothing, and accept responsibility for nothing. That is neither what Jesus said, nor what Jethro advised Moses! Jethro told Moses to continue to be involved: “Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves.” (Exod. 18:22) Every good manager knows that delegation doesn’t mean complete relinquishment of responsibility, and every good Christian ought to know that “letting go” doesn’t mean just shrugging everything off onto God’s plate! Yes, we need to learn to let go, but letting go means letting go of tension, anxiety, worry . . . not of all responsibility. God has high expectations of us! That bumper sticker catch phrase fails to acknowledge that. ~ The fellow who said “Do not worry about tomorrow . . .” is also the man who said “Beware, keep alert . . .”, the man who said “[When] you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mark 13:33; Matt. 2:40) We are not to abandon our responsibilities; we are to meet them in a non-anxious way in community working with others. That is what “letting go” means. That is what God expects of us; that is what Jethro advised Moses.