Movers & Shakers, Week 4 — Guest Blogger Devin Tharp: “Leadership Math”

Movers & Shakers has been all about the intersection of leadership and ministries with the next generation.

In other words, unleashing the latent leadership potential among the people of Good Shepherd so that those same people can influence the next generation of kids and students into a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

That’s why it was so appropriate to have Student and Family Pastor Devin Tharp deliver the concluding message of the series.  Why?  His twin passions are leadership and the next generation.  Here’s his sermon from Exodus 18:7-27 with the bottom line of Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.




When I was a kid, I discovered that my great grandfather had been employed as a juggler at one point in his life.  He could juggle oranges and bowling pins but his specialty were the rings–just like this one and lots of them [Pick up ring]!  Well, my grandfather, who told me that, showed me that he could juggle as well.  So, as a kid I thought, “That’s so cool! I wish I could be a juggler too.” And with all this juggling in my family, I thought it might be a gift that had been passed down to me as well through Tharp DNA.  


So, I decided to give juggling a go.  “Maybe I would be a natural!” I thought.  And guess what I discovered? [Pick up three oranges on the table and attempt to juggle] I’m not a natural.  Not even remotely.  Actually, I’m really quite poor at it.  


But that hasn’t stopped me from juggling…I still attempt to juggle too much almost every single day.  I try to strike the perfect balance between all the different priorities, tasks and relationships in my life.  From my relationship with my wife, to my relationship with my kids, work, ministry, friends, volunteering, exercise (it’s actually really low on my priority list), I try to accomplish a lot at one time.  


You would probably laugh at me trying to juggle all these things if it weren’t for the fact that you can relate because you are trying to do the same thing.  You’ve got a lot going on in your life—your relationships, your job, your kids, your kid’s activities that you have to cart them off to, your dating life for you singles, your friends, your hobbies, your volunteer roles (ah’hem) and so on.  And there just doesn’t seem to be enough time.  


The truth is, just like me with these oranges, we fail over and over again in our lives trying to juggle all that is going on.  And while so many of us claim to have priorities, when we examine our lives we see that we haven’t lived according to our so-called priorities at all.  May be your life has even started to feel like it was spiraling out of control with all the things that you are trying to keep afloat.  You need help and you need some wisdom to get back on track.  


And here is one of the things that I love about the Bible.  It is not a collection of books that is out of touch with our lives, but, on the contrary, it is able to give us tremendous insight into how to best live our lives especially in the 21st century.  


Throughout this series, we have been looking at stories from the book of Exodus. It’s the second book in the library of the Bible and is full of stories about this OT hero—Moses.  


And we pick up the story where Moses has now led the people of Israel out of Egypt behind some supernatural events on the part of God.  And now, they are in the desert and God is providing for their every need with each new day.  


READ Exodus 18:7-8:  Greeting & Reunion

Moses does what we do when we see family—starts catching him up on all the events in recent months, except his stories are way cooler than ours b/c God parted the Red Sea and enabled the entire community of Israel to escape from the hands of Pharaoh.  


READ Exodus 18:9-12:  Jethro Praises God / Dinner & Celebration 

Based on Jethro’s background, we’re not sure if he was a believer in the one true God—Yahweh—or not.  However, after hearing these testimonies of how the Lord had rescued his people with supernatural events, even Jethro acknowledged that the Lord is greater than all other gods.  And so they celebrate…and how do they do that?  Pretty much the same way that we would, they go out to eat.  


So, after their trip to the Olive Garden, the next day it’s back to the regular routine…


READ Exodus 18:13-14:  Observation & Intervention 

Moses is leader of the Israelites and now his primary role is that of a judge, “All rise for the honorable, Moses.”  He is the centerpiece of everything that is happening—everything is totally dependent upon him.  He is juggling a lot. 


And when Jethro sees this, he notices that something ain’t quite right.  So, he approaches Moses about it with 2 questions:  1) What are you doing? and 2) Why are you doing it?  


These are great questions whether you are leading an entire people group away from oppression and slavery or if you are just your average 21st century human.  When was the last time you had asked yourself honestly:  What are you doing?  Why are you doing it?


Because I think we can get into a rhythm in our lives where we wake up and keep doing the same old things day in and day out and, at times, we don’t even know why we are doing what we are doing—we just know we have to do it!  But if you don’t have a really powerful reason for why you are doing what you are doing, then maybe you…shouldn’t be doing it.  Maybe it’s time to do something else or maybe it’s time to give something up.    


And notice the emphasis in Jethro’s second question, “Why do you ALONE sit as judge?”  (Moses, why is this all centered on you?) 


Moses responds…


READ Exodus 18:15-16:  Moses’ Response 

Does that sound like a Sunday School answer or what?  The people come to seek God’s will?  Really?  The people are driving each other crazy out here in the desert and they are having disputes about all kinds of stuff.  Do you know what this reminds me of?  A car ride with my kids.  My two kids (12 and 9) are in the back seat and I’m driving and we are usually on our way to church when all of the sudden out of the backseat I hear these words:  

Leyton touched me.”  

No, I didn’t.” 

“Yes, he did!” 

“I’m not doing anything.”  

“He’s bothering me!”  


And it is at this moment when I loose it!  I shout back to both of them, “There is now an invisible line down the middle of the back seat and you cannot cross the invisible line.  Don’t touch each other, don’t even look at each other!  If you do, you’ll have to deal with me!”  Have you ever had those kinds of interactions with your kids or grandkids? Of course, you haven’t, b/c your kids are perfect, but mine are not!  


This is what it’s like to be in Moses’ shoes.  Hearing every single argument that is happening between 2 million Israelites.  Can you even imagine?!  Dear Lord! 


So, Jethro offers some advice…


READ Exodus 18:17-18:  Key Verses 

Ouch! I mean here is Moses working his fingers to the bone and rather than appreciate it, Jethro says he’s doing too much. 


Remember that Jethro and Moses had worked together for 40 years so Jethro knew Moses really well. I can’t imagine anyone of the Israelites having the guts to speak to Moses like this, but, clearly, Jethro has no issue being honest with Moses.  So, who do you have in your life who can speak really authentically with you? Do you have a straight shooter who will tell you like it is? 


The key verse in this passage is verse 18. Jethro warns Moses that he will potentially wear himself out and he says it will also wear out the people. Wear out the people?  The line to appear before Moses is as far as the eye can see.  If I go to Carowinds and the line for the Fury is longer than an hour—I’m out.  These people are waiting from morning till evening to get a judgement.


READ Exodus 18:19-23:  Sage Advice 

Well, Jethro advises Moses to do three things: 1) Be the people’s representative before God. That’s his calling.  2) Teach them the decrees and laws of the Lord since no one else knows the Word of God like Moses does and 3) Select capable men who have high integrity and appoint them as leaders over specific groups of the people. 


And Jethro, like a great infomercial, promises results—he says it will make 1) Moses can stand the strain and 2) the people will be satisfied.  Jethro is trying to make Moses realize what we talked about last week:  WE > ME. Right now, everything is built on him, but that is not sustainable for the long haul. 


We have the tendency to think like Moses. We can do it! We can do it all! We can do it all alone! We’re just like Moses. 


And how will Moses respond?


READ Exodus 18:24-26:  Implementation 

Moses listens. And this is one of the reasons why Moses was such a good leader. He could have ignored the advice, could have assumed his way was best, maintained control but, instead he listens to Jethro’s advice and implements a change. 


Jethro helps Moses to empower others by first, dividing the tasks. How? He divides the people into groups so they can be cared for appropriately. 


Well, not only did Moses divide the tasks, but he also multiplies himself. Moses realizes that delegation is the exercise of leadership, not the abandonment of it.  The primary task of leadership is to always reproduce more leaders.  


So, Moses choses capable people who can lead.  He empowers others around him and empowers them for the tasks they are responsible for.  This is brilliant. It gives ownership to other leaders, it reduces the load on Moses’ shoulders and it provides more accessibility to judges for the people. It’s a win, win, win! 


Moses recruited a team. And the team made all the difference.  A division of labor becomes a multiplication of leadership.  That’s why I what I want you to know this morning is this:  Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.  That’s right.  When we take on a task that is greater than we can handle individually, a team can divide the responsibility and multiply the impact.  


Now, that doesn’t sound that spiritual. No, it doesn’t, but is it biblical? You better believe it! It’s a reminder to us that we are in this kingdom-building process together!  


We have a tremendous task in front of us in reaching the next generation.  And as Talbot has said, there is a cultural onslaught against the next generation.  And we have to be prepared to face that attack by surrounding them with examples of Christ-likeness.  And from what the most recent studies show, we are losing the battle.  A majority of students are leaving their faith behind following graduation, but we can reverse that trend but only if work on it together.  



If there was ever a group in the church that was encouraged to be a “one-man band” it is youth pastors. The typical description of a Youth Pastor in 80’s & 90’s was young, athletic, good looking (‘cause who wants to employ an ugly Youth Pastor?), and if he/she played the guitar, then you had the full package. 


Growing up, I had youth leaders like that. It was like hiring a “Franchise Player” and building the student ministry around that person.  Was it successful? Sure it was if you hired the right person and they stuck around. But, there were drawbacks: Average stay of a youth pastor at a church was 18 months. At youth ministry conferences they would have entire sessions dedicated to “burn out”. I wonder why? Because youth pastors were trying to do it all alone. 


When I first got into youth ministry, there was still a lot of this thinking in the church. And here I was a short, not terribly athletic, non-musical guy leading students. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t self-conscience about it. And I tried to do it all alone at first. And I quickly discovered that I was not going to make it. And I wasn’t going to make much of a difference either.  


But, the Lord showed me a different way.  I had a Jethro who helped me to see that building a team was not only more effective but also utilized the strengths of others that I didn’t have. So, I started building a team and relying on the strengths of others. And today, 20 years in to student ministry, and you couldn’t convince me to do it any other way.  The next generation doesn’t need one super-gifted leader. They need a diverse group of leaders because they are a diverse group of students and they each need an example of what a follower of Jesus looks like in all kinds of people. Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.


Teams come in all shapes and sizes. 


If you are MARRIED, then you are on a team. While that may seem obvious, we all know how easy it is for a marriage to start feeling like a competition rather than a partnership. Pretty soon you can be battling against each other rather than being for each other. 


If you have kids in your FAMILY, then you are on a team.  And parents and grandparents, just as a reminder, you are the leaders of your team. You’re the team captains. You get to be in charge, despite what the culture seems to be telling you that your kids are actually in charge and you have to do everything they want. 


How is your family team doing? Do you share the load? There is a tendency in our culture to not see young kids and even teens as capable of being responsible with things around the house. Nothing could be further from the truth. 


Trust me, I just returned from a week-long mission trip to Guatemala with 25 Good Shepherd students and leaders. While we were there, we built 2 houses, 2 chicken coops and 2 stoves. Yes, teenagers built homes. And along with that they led Vacation Bible School for over 200kids in the village each day as well. They are capable and can do more than we give them credit for, but we have to give them a chance and we have invite them to be players on the team. 


Not only are they capable but they need the responsibility because without giving them adequate opportunities to learn and stretch themselves, we are crippling them for life and robbing them of purpose!  Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.


Throughout the scripture, it’s obvious that the gospel is more about WE than it is about ME. 


CHURCH: We are a team! We get to invite all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ together and that includes the next generation.  We cannot accomplish that mission by ourselves as individuals, it’s going to take all of us to make that vision a reality. We’re going to have to rise up and accept the challenge of our culture and choose to allow God to use us to model faith for those coming behind us.  


You know, just a few books later in the library, in Deuteronomy 34, we read that Moses dies.  He is replaced by Joshua—one of the next generation of Israelites.  But, long after he is gone, the system and the leaders he put in place continue to lead.  One day, in your job, in your family, in your role here at church, someone will succeed you.  And you can choose to ignore that reality or you can lean into it and make an investment in the coming generation.  You can make an invest in someone who is coming behind you so that your faith, your experience and your example gets passed on to them.  Success is succession!  


Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.