Jethro Principles: Structures for Organized Relationship (Part 1)

Central Thought: The Lord provides a structure in which intimacy with God is nurtured through a system of organized relationships.

Central Theme: The practice of multiple shepherds; the concept of communal shepherding.

Central Culture: A sense of ‘connection’ among members of the Body.
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When I say ‘Jethro’ what immediately comes to mind? A husky high priest embracing Moses, guiding him from fugitive to family? A fatherly shepherd in the middle of nowhere?

Perhaps you recall that ‘Prince of Egypt‘ scene when a jovial Jethro leads the Midianites in a festive (“you must learn to join the”) dance around the campfire.

To be honest, I imagine most first impressions of Jethro involves at least one of these things.

But what if I told you Jethro wasn’t just a hospitable father-in-law but a strategic advisor with a depth of business savvy? Would the idea of him being more than a pastoral shepherd cross your mind?

If not, dare to consider Exodus 18 where Jethro advises Moses how to manage two million people, essentially giving him a promised way to the Promised Land.

Let’s set the stage:

After wondering to the wilderness, Jethro finds a swamped Moses settling disputes among the thousands of freshly delivered Israelites. Cloaked in experience, Jethro asks Moses what he’s doing knowing full well what is going on. Moses then replies he’s judging the people as they come to him inquiring God’s will. Immediately, Jethro responds by giving Moses a system and structure for accountable relationship:

Look for able men…who fear God, who are trustworthy…and place them over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So, it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” ~ Exodus 18:21-22 (ESV)

Heeding Jethro’s advice, Moses appoints a team of elders for each group size in v. 24-26. From there, a relieved Moses finds the flexibility and mobility he needs to meet God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) and receive the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).

Now, I know what you’re thinking: But Cam, I’m low on the totem pole in my not-so-large company. How can this possibly apply to me?

Good news! These Jethro principles, while ancient, are timelessly paramount to the foundations of leadership and character. For starters, not only do they serve as a template for stewarding organized relationships, but also reveal how we, as Kingdom influencers, are to preserve our margins to experience and facilitate intimacy with God. In Moses’ case, he knew God was with him; he just didn’t know how this intimacy needed to be fostered. And I think for many of us, that’s the hardest part: While we may have the discernment, we can’t steer into the unforced rhythms of grace until we embrace our limitations (Matthew 11:20-24) and trust God’s entrusted.

As for Jethro, it’s interesting to note how his counsel reflects the Trinity in an organized relational context where each role is co-equal in value, diverse in function. One could say because of the Godhead, there’s always been a template on how responsibility, accountability, and stewardship operate since one can’t exist without the other. Either way…

…for God so loved the world, He gave us communal systems to be institutionalized so His mission could be realized.

Knowing this, we can see the heart of Jethro more clearly. While delegating authority was crucial in the moment, the intent of his objective wasn’t to establish hierarchy, but to help people discover God and to…

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Selah.

Study Questions

  1. As Jethro modeled, we serve community as we provide others what they need to receive life and godliness. While the church is a primary outlet, for most, our jobs are the hubs for our social interaction. That said, do you see Jethro principles at work? If so, how are they succeeding and/or where can they improve?
  2. How can one’s concept of authority benefit from the Jethro principles? How can one’s concept of hierarchy benefit from the Jethro principles?
  3. How to Jethro principles help us deal with conflict management and resolution?
Cover photos creds: Simplify the Message; written as mini-devotional for The Gate Community Church (request at or under 500 words)

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