What makes a good leader? I fear that quite often my actions reflect a flawed and immature understanding of this question. My most common error is falling back on the belief that good leaders do everything. Good leaders have it all together: they don’t ask for help, and they certainly don’t admit their mistakes or weaknesses. They have the skills, knowledge, and work ethic to accomplish their tasks – on their own. They don’t need to know how to delegate, because there is no reason for them to do so. Followers or assistants can help with minor tasks some of the time, but they lack the wisdom and experience that I, the leader, possess. And that’s why I’m in charge.
As a result, the successes, but perhaps even more importantly the failures, of the group rest on my shoulders alone. At least that is how I perceive things. Everyone’s problems are my problems, and when the group suffers there must have been something I could have done to prevent it. Among any group of followers, it is difficult to appease everyone; with 600,000 Israelites traveling through the wilderness, it was impossible.
Perhaps the only twistedly satisfying part of being an overcommitted leader to whom people can complain is the self-assured justification one feels when calling out followers who are not pulling their weight. While one may be burnt out by taking on too much, at least self-righteousness can build a cheap picket fence around the ego to keep the gnashing criticism, at least temporarily, at bay.
As an officer in my fraternity in college, I almost lived for the slacking brothers – who did not pay financial dues or show up to any events without alcohol – to start criticizing the day-to-day decisions of our board, simply so I could laugh in their faces and complain to my other friends about the audacity these boneheads had to question our actions.
In Numbers 11, we find Moses having yet another moment like this with the ungrateful Israelites. Well aware in this scene of the incredible burdens of his leadership, he admits he is so miserable he would rather die than have to carry his responsibility further. He questions God’s own treatment of him and implicitly admits doubt in God’s judgment having chose Moses to lead His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
This is not the first or last time God is angered by the Israelites’ incessant complaining and lack of faith. And indeed, he sends fire to burn up parts of the camp and uses a plague from the quail he sends for food to kill those who had especially insatiable and uncontrollable hunger. More importantly, however, God provides support for Moses and the people by delivering food (assuming not all are poisoned by the quail) and by allowing Moses to empower elders among the Israelites to share his burden of leadership.
As I experience it every day, Moses’ weakness is a lack of trust. Not only does he seem to lack faith in the abilities of other people to help him lead – and therefore God must directly influence them with His spirit – but Moses also doubts God’s purpose and provision in his life and for the nation of Israel.
The voices of the Enemy and our inevitable critics make it harder to hear God’s assurances, but how can we doubt our Father who sharply asks of Moses, “Is the LORD’s power limited?” Surely the answer is no. Since his relationship with man began, God has proven himself as the source of all human strength and prosperity as well as his power to do things far beyond human ability and comprehension. But in a world where his signs and miracles seem less obvious or visible, how do we rest in the assurance of his grace?
We can look at the Bible and read stories of His wonders and men and women who grew in relationship with Him by understanding their complete dependence on Him. But we can also look at the history of our own lives, and see that, no matter what trials or tragedies have tested us, God’s goodness persists. And He often makes his goodness known through the influence of others and those people with whom He has us share our lives.
How does God want us to approach Him? When we remember that God already knows our every thought and need before we know them ourselves, Moses’ “wailings” make him seem more like a desperate man worn down by the frantic insecurities of his followers rather than the great leader we know God chose him to be. What need did he have to express himself the way he did, when God knew what he was experiencing?
Understandably God may be frustrated with us when we call out to Him as sheep backed into a corner instead of as children who delight in their Father’s love. Nevertheless, the Good Shepherd answers when we call and provides our every need.
Tim Hilliard works in youth ministry and is a member of the 2015-2016 Falls Church Fellows Program.