Ten commandments for pastors

Lessons from the life and ministry of Moses, particularly applicable to pastors today.

Stan Hudson, D. Min., pastors the Spokane Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church in Spokane Valley, Washington, United States.

Moses has always been my favorite Old Testament hero. His qualities of character were such that God chose to speak directly and uniquely to him.

The difficulties Moses faced as the shepherd of Israel have proven to be a great comfort to me as a pastor. There’s nothing quite like hearing the problems that other ministers face to help diminish your own. Listed below, in no particular order, are ten commandments for pastors that I’ve learned from Moses.

You shall learn how to pray effectively.

Always pray from God’s agenda, not your own. Moses was an expert not only in getting God’s ear but also in getting help. He tried to keep the big picture in mind (Exod. 32:11–14). Here Moses prayed from a great-controversy perspective; he appealed to God’s desire to be accurately known by nonbelievers and to have His promises seen as though they also had been written in stone. To glorify God is always the best motive for prayer.

You shall know God face to face.

Moses didn’t ask for a peek of God after the plagues, but he certainly did ask after God forgave Israel’s golden-calf sin. The gracious character of God in granting Moses’ petition for Israel’s forgiveness was what made him want to get a closer look. And God was fine with that (Exod. 33:17–19), for God is willing to show us all we can handle.

You shall be changed as you spend time with God.

After 40 uninterrupted days with God, Moses’ face began to shine with God’s light. Some members didn’t like hanging with Moses so much after that (Exod. 34:30–33). Sunny dispositions don’t always attract the saints of God. But don’t be surprised that a large quantity of time spent with God will brighten you as a person and a pastor.

You shall not defend your pastoral leadership.

God does a better job of defending you than you can. At times He has opened up the ground and swallowed up problem people (Num. 16:2, 3, 28–35). Forgive me, but I love the story in the aforementioned verses. It’s always a terrible temptation to defend oneself and one’s leadership, but God is capable of doing a better job. Interestingly, the spirit of rebellion against God’s appointed leaders was always considered by God as a challenge to His own leadership.

You shall delegate.

Try to hand off as much as you can to other leaders. Share the blessings. Exodus 18:21–23 records the sage advice of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. Getting volunteers to share the load is easier said than done, but it remains good advice.

You shall have less honor among those you love most.

Don’t be surprised that those closest to you are among your greatest second-guessers. Familiarity can breed problems because those closest to you can better see your blemishes. Numbers 12:2, 5, 6, 8–10 records Moses’ troubles with his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam. Jesus also noted this dynamic when He said that a prophet was not without honor, except in His own home. (See Matthew 13:57.) This can mean more than family, for sometimes close friends can surprise you. Only God can be consistently relied upon to be there for you.

You shall not listen to habitual complainers.

Ten of Moses’ 12 spies correctly ascertained Canaan’s difficulties. Complainers can undo a lot of good in a hurry. The reactions of Israel to the spies’ reports can be found in Numbers 13:30–32; 14:2, 3. The complainers didn’t make it to the Promised Land, even though they were right about the giants. Churches that listen to habitual complainers walk in circles as did the children of Israel in the wilderness.

You shall surround yourself with supporting leaders.

When Moses’ arms grew weary during the Midianite battle and they began drooping, Israel also began to droop. God wouldn’t give Israel victory until they had learned that they would win only when Moses won (Exod. 17:8–13). When a pastor gets droopy, a church that wants to succeed will pitch in and hold him up because supporting God’s appointed leaders will bring victory. And to some extent, a pastor should have some say as to whom he works with best.

You shall remember that congregations forget.

After a number of obvious victories God had given Israel through Moses, they could still dump him in a heartbeat. Numbers 14:4 records that after plagues, sea-partings, and miraculous daily bread, Israel could drop their pastor at the very borders of Canaan. “So they said to one another, ‘Let us select a leader and return to Egypt’ ” (NKJV). Short memories are still a great cause of faith loss.

You shall trust God’s leading.

God rarely leads in straight lines. In fact, God purposely tested Israel by taking them to uncomfortable places, and this always looked as though Moses was a poor leader. Deuteronomy 8:2,3a records God’s purposes in zigzagging through deserts. It’s when we don’t seem to have enough earthly wisdom or strength to deal with life’s problems that we look upward for help.

These are ten commandments for pastors.There is one more important point that pastors need to remember—realize that the time will come for you to turn over your responsibilities to others.

You shall not put off retirement.

Even Moses couldn’t handle 40 years (Num. 20:10–12). Moses was so tired of pastoring Israel and listening to their complaints that he wanted to hit something—anything. So, he ended up striking a rock, the symbol of Jesus.

Throughout Moses’ years as Israel’s shepherd, he was accused of arrogance, not caring for his people, incompetence, mean-spiritedness, poor judgment, and more. Yet for the most part he remained humble before God, awed at the privilege of close communion with Israel’s Savior. He learned how and when to take off his sandals.

When the resurrected Moses appeared to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, he represented those saints who will have tasted death, yet will be saved to fellowship with Christ for eternity. I’d like to think that Moses also represents those of us shepherds who have had our own moments of victory, as well as moments of apparent defeat, yet stayed the course and tried to help some sheep get to the River Jordan. May we all have that special time with the King of Glory.

Just the thought already has a brightening effect on me!

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Stan Hudson, D. Min., pastors the Spokane Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church in Spokane Valley, Washington, United States.

December 2006

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