Moses Had a Mentor

Jessica LaGrone

Jessica LaGrone

By Jessica LaGrone –

It was our first week of seminary classes. A professor looked out at us, a brand new class of young students who would someday be the leaders of the church. “You are so green you don’t even know what you don’t know yet,” he said. “And what you don’t know is a lot.”

Now in most cases, listening to someone describe your general ignorance is not an appealing introduction, but for some reason we were captivated, mostly because we knew Dr. Bob Tuttle was right. If someone crossed John Wesley and Clint Eastwood, they might come close to this man with piercing eyes and a direct style that made us believe every word he said. We were nodding our heads in agreement and almost begging for a solution to our own stupidity.

“You need to get more than an education. You need to get a life. And because of that, you need more than a class, more than a book. You need a mentor. We all do.” He went on to challenge each of us to make it a practice of always placing ourselves in a “Mentor Sandwich” — to find someone who knew more than we did and enter into a relationship with that person as our mentor; and also to find someone we could help to guide along life’s path. If we followed his advice, we would be mentored by one person and provide mentoring to another, which put us right in the middle of the sandwich. He encouraged us to always find these relationships within six months of moving to a new charge, since after six months our lives and schedules would be so established we would be hesitant to add new roles and responsibilities.

That one day of class probably benefited me more than some entire courses. I’ve tried to take that advice to heart in my ministry ever since.

Some of the greatest leaders in the Bible began their ministries serving or following a mentor. In preparation for their own roles of leadership, they needed to learn and grow with the help of a trusted advisor.

One great description of a mentoring relationship is found early in the Old Testament in the relationship between Moses and his father-in-law Jethro. It’s clear that Jethro and Moses had a trusted relationship. Moses was married to Jethro’s daughter Zipporah long before he had his burning bush experience in Exodus 3. In fact, he was Jethro’s employee, tending flocks that belonged to his father-in-law, when he heard a voice from God calling him to go and rescue his people.

Jethro shows us some characteristics of great mentors that are still powerful and true today.

1. A good mentor listens without judgment. After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, he ended up leading a much larger and more difficult “flock” than he had ever been entrusted with as a shepherd. Instead of a bunch of sheep, he was in charge of the entire nation of Israel and their uncertain future. In Exodus 18 we read how glad Moses was to see his father-in-law (and his wife as well, we hope!) after they returned from the incredible experience of leading God’s people out of Egypt, perhaps because he longed for someone to listen to his story of what had transpired.

Exodus 18 describes how Moses recounted his struggles with a hard-hearted Pharaoh, the miracles and plagues, and the journey that followed. The story of the crossing of the Red Sea must have been both thrilling and suspenseful. Then Moses must have told about the difficult journey they had begun through the desert toward the Promised Land.

This is a picture of a healthy mentoring relationship. I love that Moses was able to share his own journey — both the ups and downs — with his father-in-law. Who is someone you feel comfortable sharing honestly with, including both the ups and downs of your own story?

Charlton Heston as Moses (left) and Eduard Franz as Jethro. From The Ten Commandments directed by Cecil B. DeMille. © 1956 Paramount Pictures.

Charlton Heston as Moses (left) and Eduard Franz as Jethro. From The Ten Commandments directed by Cecil B. DeMille. © 1956 Paramount Pictures.

2. A good mentor affirms the work of God in your life and praises God for all He has done in and through you. Jethro listened carefully, and was delighted to hear all the good things the Lord had done. “Praise be to the Lord,” said Jethro, “who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 18:9-10).

I love that Jethro first affirmed to Moses that God had done miraculous things through him. A good mentor will help you look back at your journey and identify where God has been actively changing, preparing, and calling you. And then Jethro turned his attention to God, thanking Him for all He had done and offering a sacrifice. Who has affirmed God’s work in your own life?

3. A good mentor speaks the truth even when it is difficult to hear. Then they will continue to walk with us as this truth helps us change our behavior for the better.

The following day Jethro had a front-row seat to see Moses in action as a leader of his new flock. He noticed that Moses was overwhelmed and worn out from serving the people. Jethro spoke up and confronted Moses about the situation: “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” (Exodus 18:14).

Moses’ answer is convicting to us as we seek to serve others: “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will” (Exodus 18:15).

“Because the people.” That’s why he was worn out. The people were demanding his time and energy. The people wouldn’t let up because their needs knew no end.

Do you ever feel that way? Pulled this direction and that because of the needs of other people? Worn out because you are at the mercy of everyone else’s demands? It’s not a sign of true servanthood or effective leadership. It’s a sign of lack of boundaries.

Jethro had the wisdom and life experience to know this wasn’t going to be good for either Moses or the people in the long run. He said to Moses, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out” (Exodus 18:17-18).

Those are the words of a trusted mentor: “What you are doing is not good.” Only someone we truly trust can speak those words in a way that calls us out for our weaknesses and mistakes. As Proverbs 27:6 reminds us, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”

When has a mentor or friend spoken words that called out a difficult truth for you? What was the outcome?

4. A good mentor helps us develop a plan of action that will be best both for us and for those we serve. Jethro followed his difficult words of truth with great words of wisdom and advice. He helped Moses to create a whole new system of leadership for the Israelites. What was it? Basically it was a Mentor Sandwich.

Moses would choose the next generation of leaders that he would mentor in positions of authority and ways of God’s wisdom. This would both save Moses from burnout and develop new leaders among God’s people.

Jethro’s instructions to Moses helped him to see that he was not doing a favor for the people he led or for himself by heading at a breakneck speed toward burnout. Often we think we are helping people by doing things for them, but in reality if we assist them in developing their own gifts and sense of responsibility, we give them confidence and empower them to be future leaders.

Keep in mind that Moses didn’t dodge responsibility. He continued in a place of authority. Exodus 18:26 tells us, “The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.”

Who can you ask to speak words of wisdom into your leadership challenges? We stand between the people who have done great things before us and the people who need us to lead and guide them. This is true in families, in churches, in schools, and in communities. If one generation neglects to teach the next generation the truth they have learned, then we all miss out on something very important.

My prayer is that you will have a leader, mentor, or guide who helps to open your eyes to God’s power and presence in your life. When you are afraid or overwhelmed, I hope you will recognize someone God has put in your life for you to share your story with so that you can receive this person’s wisdom and help. Remember: God has placed someone out there to help guide you, and you are there to help someone else. You are the heart of the sandwich, the center that keeps this chain of faith going with the Holy Spirit’s help.

Jessica LaGrone is the Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary. This article is an excerpt from her latest Bible study: Set Apart: Holy Habits of Prophets and Kings.


  1. Your eloquent words bring me such joy. Joy because I was there with you in the beginning, I hope that I listened to your stories enough and waited before I gave advice to you. You have blossomed into a rose that brings words of wisdom and truth to the fields around them. Keep up the good work my friend.
    Love you!

  2. Anand Abraham says

    “A good mentor will help you look back at your journey and identify where God has been actively changing, preparing, and calling you.”
    A deep insight Jessica. Blessed. And you write well.

  3. Jerry Ledbetter says

    Hello Jessica,
    I am researching servant leaders, in the bible for a sermon on leadership. I thought immediately about Moses and his mentor Jethro. Your article was a great help to me. Jethro was a very wise mentor to Moses and gave him some great advice that is still pertinent today.

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