The Weight of Leadership

By Tim Harlow

There is always a great deal of chatter among my peers about succession planning and the right time to step away from leadership of the local church. I have been at my post for 26 years and would like to make it another 14. But I am only one year away from the senior discount at IHOP. If that weren’t bad enough, it also means that next year I qualify for the 55+ Ministers and Wives Conference. Ben Merold spoke this year!

How can I be in the same category as Ben Merold? I interned under him, and he was old then!

OK, so I’m old. Is 14 more years a good idea? The question of succession needs to be about what’s best for the church, not how I feel. However, the topic of discussion for the leaders I know is also about how long we can bear the weight.

05_Harlow_JN“As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it” (Exodus 17:11, 12).

That’s what I’m talking about. Can my arms last another 14 years? Most of my readers probably know that shared leadership made it work for Moses, because we know the rest of the story.

“Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (Exodus 17:12, 13).

This is an absolutely true principle. I’ve had so many great Aarons and Hurs in my life, and I have them now. I’d never be able to do what I do without them. I don’t even want to think about it.

But they are still my arms.

No matter where you lead, the fact that you lead means you have the arms. If you lead a class or a ministry or a church—they are still your arms. I’m getting ready to lead our church into its fifth capital campaign under my tenure. So my arms are up again. We’re building again, so my arms are up again.

As long as he held his hands up—they were winning. But when he got tired they were losing.

Can we take just a minute and admit that some days we’d like to put our arms down? Some days we just do—no matter what the cost.

I’m a big believer in rhythms, balance, and Sabbath. My Aarons and Hurs encourage me to step away regularly. But at the end of the day, this is my responsibility.

Kill Me Now!

I know Moses got tired. He finally told God—Just kill me now. I can’t take it anymore.

“I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin” (Numbers 11:14, 15).

I need this Scripture in my office . . .

If you love me, Lord—please kill me now.

Ever prayed that prayer?

What happened to Aaron and Hur? We don’t really hear from Hur again. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t an arm holder for Moses, but it’s not obvious. We do know that Moses left Aaron in charge while he went up to meet with God, and it was Aaron who gave into the people and built the golden calf.

Seriously, this is like the preacher going on sabbatical and coming back to find that the elders have decided to turn the church into a mosque. And Aaron was his brother.

It just never ended for Moses. He literally had to walk around the desert with his arms up for 40 years. We know it got heavy.

The Weight of Leadership

So here’s what I’ve learned about the weight of leadership:

1. Sometimes you just have to put your arms down and lose a battle here and there. Picking your battles is very important. You just have to let go of some things. You literally can’t win them all.

2. You need a lot of Aarons and Hurs. Some will be with you for life. Some won’t. Some will be able to lead at certain levels. Some will be able to grow with you. So make sure you have more than two.

3. There will come a day when you need to realize you’ve reached your limit in leadership. You aren’t the only leader God is using. Maybe someone else should take your organization to the next level.

4. There will come a day when your arms will give out—and it will be Joshua’s turn. I don’t know when that will be for me, but I know it will happen.

5. Most importantly: remember these are God’s people you are leading. Not yours. Many times it feels heavy because I forget that it’s not mine. I believe the most important prayer Moses prayed was in Exodus 33:13:

“If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

Tim Harlow serves as senior pastor with Parkview Christian Church, Orland Park, Illinois.

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