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Leadership Lessons from Moses
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Exodus 18–20

Leadership Lessons from Moses

The authors live in Utah, USA.

Four experiences from Moses’s life can help us serve more confidently in our callings.

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Moses

All Church callings involve leadership responsibilities, and many also require administrative work. Yet not all of us have leadership and administrative experience when we are called. How can we learn to be effective at ministering and administering?

In addition to studying the General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints , we can study how ancient prophets such as Moses handled their leadership responsibilities. Here are four principles we can learn from Moses.

1. Moses served even though he felt unprepared.

Moses had to hurriedly leave Egypt after he stopped the beating of an Israelite slave and killed an Egyptian taskmaster in the process (see Exodus 2:11–12, 15), and, so far as we can tell, he subsequently lived quietly as a shepherd under the tutelage of Jethro, the man who became his father-in-law (see Exodus 2:21; 3:1).

Then one day the Lord appeared to Moses (see Joseph Smith Translation, Exodus 3:2 [in Exodus 3:2, footnote a]) and called him to “deliver [the people] out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land” (Exodus 3:8).

Although Moses did defend the one Israelite who was being beaten by the Egyptian taskmaster, Moses did not see himself as someone who would deliver all the Israelites. He was, after all, a convert to the faith among those who had learned and lived it their whole lives.

Moses even asked the Lord, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). And when Moses was then asked to deliver a message to the elders of Israel (see Exodus 3:16), he responded to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, … but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10).

But the Lord promised to teach him what he should do (see Exodus 4:12), so Moses went forth in faith (see Exodus 4:18, 20). Moses was hesitant because of the weaknesses he saw in himself, but he accepted the Lord’s invitations just the same.

Application in Our Lives

Like Moses, you may not have felt qualified to receive a particular calling. You may have been both surprised and humbled when you were called. Most of us feel that way. Yet when someone is called to serve in the Church, we can remember that the Lord has chosen this person for this calling at this time. That principle applies to every calling.

Each of us has capacities beyond what seem apparent at first glance. We also all have potential that will not be fully realized in this life. But we can trust that the Lord needs us to serve in particular callings at certain times to help both ourselves and others grow. And like Moses, we can trust the Lord’s promise: “Certainly I will be with thee” (Exodus 3:12).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave good counsel about accepting callings even when we don’t feel prepared: “God does not begin by asking us about our ability, but only about our availability, and if we then prove our dependability, he will increase our capability!” 1

President Thomas S. Monson (1927–2018) also reminded us: “When we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to the Lord’s help. Remember that whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies.” 2

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of putting his trust in the Lord when he was called as an Apostle: “I think I know better than anyone that within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there are literally hundreds and thousands of men better qualified, more able than I, … but I do know from whence the call has come. And so I’m honored to respond. I look forward to serving, and I’m anxious for the opportunity to be able to learn.” 3 We can show similar trust as we seek to learn and serve when our callings seem beyond our abilities.

Moses was told he had a work to do (see Moses 1:6). Joseph Smith was told God had a work for him to do (see Joseph Smith—History 1:33). The same thing could be said about each of us. This is true in our callings, and it is also true in other ways the Lord inspires us to serve as we seek to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27). We can serve as a temple patron or ordinance worker. We can participate in events at JustServe.org and other worthy service opportunities. We can be a helpful neighbor. And, of course, we can be a sensitive and conscientious ministering brother or sister to those members to whom we are assigned.

It is unlikely that we will ever exhaust all the possibilities when we are “on the Lord’s errand” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:29).

2. Moses trusted the Lord.

The Lord assured Moses that he would eventually succeed in freeing Israel, even though there would be obstacles along the way. After He called Moses to the work, the Lord showed Moses that he could perform miracles, such as by having a staff turn into a snake (see Exodus 4:2–4). The Lord instructed Moses how he and his brother, Aaron, should cause various plagues to occur (see Exodus 7–11), and they were done. The Lord told Moses that by putting the blood of the Passover lamb on the lintel and two side posts of their doors, the Israelites would be spared from death in their homes (see Exodus 12:3–13, 21–23). Later, the Lord told Moses that by having people merely look at a brass serpent, they could be healed from deadly snakebites (see Numbers 21:8–9; Alma 33:19–22).

Moses did not have the knowledge or power to do any of those things through his own abilities. But he fully trusted that the Lord would cause the promised results to follow. Because Moses did as the Lord instructed, the Lord brought many miracles to His people (see 1 Nephi 17:23–42).

Application in Our Lives

We likewise can show trust in the Lord as we choose to act in faith. President Henry B. Eyring, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, taught us how: “You show your trust in Him when you listen with the intent to learn and repent and then you go and do whatever He asks.” 4

When Nephi was asked to do something difficult, he said, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7). With that attitude, Nephi went forward, “not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). He went as far as he could see to go at that moment, trusting that he would see more as he went further. And then the next step was made clear to him, and then the next, until he was able to fulfill his assignment.

We can trust that “all things shall work together for [our] good” (Doctrine and Covenants 90:24) if we follow the Lord.

3. Moses learned from God, and then he taught others.

In Moses 1–4, we learn that the Lord showed Moses a vision of worlds without number and the creation of our world. This laid a foundation for Moses to understand God’s plan of salvation as he prepared to lead the people. Later, Moses was given a set of commandments that would enable the Israelites to live worthy of God’s blessings (see Exodus 20:1–17). Moses then taught these commandments to his people. Teaching the people was an important part of his work.

And after seeing how the people would often come to Moses to have him judge matters they needed help with, Jethro counseled Moses: “Thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do” (Exodus 18:20).

Application in Our Lives

The Lord has always encouraged His people to seek knowledge and truth. Adam was told to teach the doctrine freely to his children (see Moses 6:58). In our dispensation, we have been directed by the Savior to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” and to “organize yourselves,” to establish “a house of learning, … a house of order” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118, 119; see also Doctrine and Covenants 93:36).

And after we learn, we are to diligently teach others (see Doctrine and Covenants 11:21). We are commanded to teach one another the doctrine and principles of the gospel (see Doctrine and Covenants 42:12–14). As we instruct, we are to edify one another to “act in all holiness” before God (Doctrine and Covenants 43:9; see also verses 7–8).

There is an important principle in Luke 22:32 as well: “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” We can first seek to draw near unto God ourselves, and then we can help strengthen others through God’s word as well.

When we are in leadership positions, rather than directing every action of those who serve with us, we can focus on teaching doctrine and principles and inviting them to first “counsel with the Lord” (Alma 37:37) and then together as a group so they can act as “agents unto themselves” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:28).

4. Moses learned to delegate.

Jethro gave good counsel to Moses when Moses was overloaded in his role as a judge of the people: “For this thing [of carrying the entire load] is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone” (Exodus 18:18). He counseled Moses to teach others how to judge and to also set up an administrative hierarchy wherein Moses would have to decide only the most difficult matters and others could handle the other matters (see Exodus 18:14–26). Later, 70 other men were given the opportunity to see the Lord with Moses and aid in spiritual matters (see Exodus 24:9–10; Numbers 11:16–17, 25).

Application in Our Lives

In our service, we should strive to focus on our most important responsibilities. We can learn many of them by studying the General Handbook . We can seek and act on direction from Heavenly Father to know what we should do and what we should delegate to others. While we may want to do everything ourselves, we can remember the example of the recent organizational changes, which were instituted to help bishops delegate and focus on their highest priorities. Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “As you remember, in 2018 Melchizedek Priesthood quorums were adjusted to work even more closely with Relief Societies so that elders quorums and Relief Societies can, under the direction of the bishop, help shoulder important responsibilities that previously consumed much of his time.” 5

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reminded us to not overcomplicate our service:

“As leaders we must strictly protect the Church and the gospel in its purity and plainness and avoid putting unnecessary burdens on our members.

“And all of us, as members of the Church, we need to make a conscientious effort to devote our energy and time to the things that truly matter, while uplifting our fellowmen and building the kingdom of God.” 6

These are some of the lessons we learn from Moses and also from modern-day Church leaders who follow in the footsteps of the Master Leader, Jesus Christ. As we think of our own service in His kingdom, let us seek to ponder how we can build similar leadership capacity in ourselves and others.