President George Washington is credited with saying, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” Sage advice. Sadly, excuses abound where responsibility is expected. Adam thought he could avoid the consequences for neglecting his God given duty by blaming his wife (Gen. 3:12); Cain thought he could excuse his guilt by simply rejecting responsibility (Gen. 4:9); the one-talent man assumed he would avoid accountability by blaming the character of his master (Matt. 25:24). Where responsibility is given, leadership is demanded, and excuses lay around every corner.
Surprisingly, one of the most well-known and respected Jewish leaders—Moses—started his ministry with a plethora of good excuses. While serving as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Moses was commissioned with the awesome responsibility of leading the Israelites out from under Egyptian bondage (Ex. 3:10). This would have been a daunting task for anyone, much less an aging sheep herder/Egyptian outlaw. The excuses Moses gave following this call seem legitimate; yet God shows him, and us, why they are insufficient. So, what are the four excuses leaders need to quit using in order to avoid responsibility?
- “I’m insignificant.” Moses’ first excuse centered around his identity: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Sometimes leadership hides under the guise of false humility; it promotes its insignificance at the expense of humble confidence. All good leadership is humble, but if our lack of confidence forces us to surrender the responsibilities needed to help God’s people than it may be something far more sinister (cowardice or laziness). God’s response to Moses is the same to leaders with a similar mindset today: “But, I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12). When God is with us, our excuse of insignificance doesn’t call into question our own ability, but God’s.
- “I’m ignorant.” Moses went on to claim that he didn’t even know the name of the God he was expected to proclaim to the Israelites (Ex. 3:13). The bliss of ignorance often becomes an excuse for shirking our responsibilities. Spiritual leaders in the church cannot allow such an excuse to deter them from their obligations. Rather, we must hunger and thirst for the word of God, growing in knowledge so that we teach and train others (Matt. 5:6; 1 Pet. 2:2).
- “I’m ignored.” Moses’ third excuse is by far the most cynical while at the same time the most understandable: “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice” (Ex. 4:1). Nobody is going to listen. Nobody cares. Nothing will ever change. These devious voices have conquered many a good leader within the church. Pessimism is only transformed into optimism when we learn to trust in God’s power and not our own. God’s word will accomplish what he intends for it (Isa. 55:11).
- “I’m incapable.” Moses’ last resort comes once again in the form of a lack of self-confidence: “Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Ex. 4:10). Some have speculated over whether or not this is true. Being raised in Pharaoh’s house would have afforded Moses one of the best educations in ancient times. Regardless, Moses seems to overexaggerate his inabilities, and God reminds him of his creative power and purpose (Ex. 4:11). Too many good leaders have downplayed their abilities in order to dodge the bullet of spiritual responsibility—this it must stop!
After all of these excuses failed, Moses made one final plea: “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else” (Ex. 4:13) which angered the Lord (v. 14). No doubt God was patient with Moses’ half-hearted excuses, but when it came down to it, the Lord expected his man to do what he was called to do: lead. God help all of His spiritual leaders today to stop making excuses and take up the mantel of this grave responsibility.