The Reluctance of a Leader

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling

But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”

Exodus 3:11

When we left off in Exodus, Moses had just come upon the burning bush in the wilderness. God had spoken to him, conveying the good news that he had heard the cries of the Israelites, and that he was coming down to save them from their bondage in Egypt (vv. 7-8). No doubt Moses rejoiced to hear this great news.

But then God said something that quickly changed Moses’ attitude: “Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt” (v. 10). Did Moses say, “Wow! Me! That’s fantastic! What an honor!” No, hardly. In fact, he said to the Lord, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” (v. 11). Though Moses had once lived as an adopted grandson of Pharaoh, he had worn out his welcome by siding with the Israelites and killing an Egyptian slave-master. Moses fled from Egypt, with Pharaoh seeking to take his life. For years he had been in exile. Even though a new Pharaoh reigned on the throne of Egypt, Moses had no power or influence with him, or with the Israelites. So, even though his upbringing in Pharaoh’s household prepared him for the task God assigned to him, Moses’ reticence to accept this assignment was understandable.

At this point in the story, it is common for Bible teachers to criticize Moses’ reluctance to lead. I expect I might have joined the chorus of his critics at one point. But I recently read a book that helps me to think differently about Moses’ reaction to God. In Dying to Lead: Sacrificial Leadership in a Self-Centered World, Robert McKenna suggests that wise leaders should have a certain reluctance. This comes from personal humility and from taking seriously the responsibility of leadership. McKenna is so blunt as to propose that “reluctance to lead should be on every organization’s list of core competencies because it’s at the core of every leader’s character” (p. 76).

I’m still thinking about how much I agree with McKenna on the matter of a leader’s reluctance. But he surely has a point. After all, God chose Moses to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt, knowing full well that Moses would at first be reluctant. One might think that God would have gone after someone with greater self-confidence, but he didn’t.

Of course Moses’ reluctance isn’t the end of the story. In tomorrow’s reflection, I’ll consider how the case of Moses helps us to understand the confidence of a leader.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Do you think a leader should have a kind of reluctance? Why or why not? Have you ever been reluctant to assume a leadership position to which you have been called? Why? How might reluctance help you to be a stronger leader?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, as you know so well, I can relate to Moses’ response to you. I’m quite sure I would have said the same thing. After all, when you first starting drawing me to Laity Lodge, I was plenty reluctant. The same was true when you called me to Irvine Presbyterian Church.

I thank you, Lord, for your patient persistence in the face of my reluctance. Thank you for not giving me what I first thought I wanted. Thank you for helping me to trust you more and to trust myself less.

Help me, Lord, to have the right balance of reluctance and confidence as I seek to exercise my responsibility as a leader in my work, my family life, my church involvement, and all that I do in this world. Amen.

Image sourced via Creative Commons by Claire Burge.