“Delegate pastor, delegate.”
I’ve heard that wise advice hundreds of times – literally. Ron Cook was the chair of the pulpit committee that brought me to the church I’ve pastored for over 20 years now. In the first few years here, whenever he’d catch me doing something myself instead of training someone else to do it (which was frequently) he’d walk by me, usually while lending a helping hand himself, and drop that little gem into my ear.
As I describe in The Grasshopper Myth, during those first few years at my current church I was a hurting pastor at a hurting church. The combination of those hurts led to two realities:
- There were very few people left at the church to do any work
- My primary ministry motivation was guilt
When those combined it led me to do too much of the ministry work myself – and see myself as martyr while I did it.
Slowly, I started to listen to Ron’s advice. I stopped offering excuses, I adapted our programs to our size, I found people I could trust, I taught them what to do and I trusted them to do it. But that’s the short version of a long story.
Today I’m taking a stab at this issue because a reader asked the following very important question in a comment on last Monday’s post:
This is the reality that most small church pastors live with but are unprepared for. How do you offer Sunday School when you don’t have a children’s minister and only have five kids ages 5-11? Who answers the phone at church if you go on vacation and don’t have a secretary? Etc.
When I replied that this issue might make a good blog post, another reader responded with “yes, please”, so here goes.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers to this question. But the issue is important enough to put some thoughts out there and to open it up for dialog, ideas and maybe a friendly argument or two.
Here are six lessons I learned the hard way about what to do when you want to delegate, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone to delegate to.
1. Leave guilt at the door
Too many Small Church pastors operate out of guilt. They swim in a sea of self-imposed guilt, then they dump the overflow on others. Since their guilt motivates them to work hard, they assume it will work on others.
Guilt never works. Not for pastors or their congregations. I know. I’ve tried.
Guilt doesn’t motivate, it paralyzes. It doesn’t encourage, it discourages. Motivation by guilt leads to burnt-out pastors and unhealthy churches.
2. Adapt your methods to suit your size
Too many Small Churches are operating with 50 people as if they had 500 people. This causes a ton of extra and unnecessary work. It’s not healthy to operate a Small Church under a template more suited to a larger church.
When we adapt our methods to suit our size, a lot of essentials aren’t so essential.
For instance, when 20 people show up for a meeting, I don’t line them up in rows, speak through a microphone, have a band lead in worship or offer separate, age-appropriate child care. I set up a play station in the back corner of the room for the kids and I ask two adults to rotate caring for them.
Then I ask everyone to grab a chair and form a circle. I talk for a bit, then we move into a conversation about the subject at hand.
When we adapt our methods to suit our size, we might find that a church of 50 may not need:
- A worship team or choir
- A Sunday School
- A nursery
- An audio system
- A building
- A full-time pastor (Ouch! Sorry…)
And if we don’t need all that, we won’t need the people or the money that it takes to run all that. Acting like a big church is one of the worst strategies a Small Church can have. Unless your goal is a burnt-out pastor and an ineffective church.
3. Stop doing ministries that have no one to lead them
If there’s no one willing to lead a ministry, it’s probably not as vital as everyone thinks it is. When I finally caught on to the true need for delegation, this is the first step I took.
We gutted the ministries of the church to the bare essentials. Then we didn’t start anything up again until we satisfied the requirement in the next point, which is…
4. Don’t start or restart a ministry without at least two people on the leadership team
“But we need it” is not a good enough reason to start a new ministry. It might be a good reason to meet an immediate need, but a sustained ministry takes more than that.
After all, there are needs everywhere. They’re endless. We have to do some spiritual triage and determine which ministries we can do well over the long term.
I’ve started ministries because one reliable, passionate person said they could handle it themselves. And it’s never ended well. It’s better not to launch a ministry at all than to start one without redundant leadership in place. It’s like a weak swimmer (the leader) trying to save a drowning friend (the ministry). They’ll both go down.
And no, one of two team members can’t be the pastor.
If you don’t believe me on this one, here’s the same principle in from a slightly higher authority than me.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:10-12
5. Assess and hone your delegation skills
So, according to Ecclesiastes, not to mention the examples of Jesus, Paul, Moses and more, delegation and teamwork aren’t just helpful, they’re a biblical imperative. According to the Apostle Paul, this is one of a pastor’s primary responsibilities.
… pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. - Ephesians 4:11-12
There’s no excuse. Small Church pastors need to learn how to delegate better.
The last thing I want to do to an already overwhelmed, guilt-ridden pastor is to add another brick to your load. But we have to face the reality that a lack of volunteers is not always the congregation’s fault.
Yes, I get that there are a lot of ”killing cockroaches” tasks that Small Church pastors just have to do. There’s no getting around that. But there’s also no getting around that we need to become better delegators.
No matter how small our church is, how burdened we are, or how impossible the task of training volunteers to do the work of ministry seems, delegating is not an option.
There’s so much to learn about this important subject. I certainly don’t have a monopoly on it, so if you’ve learned about delegating in the Small Church, or if you know of any books, videos, websites or other material to help us become better delegators, please add your ideas in the comment section below.
Which reminds me. There’s one more point to add, isn’t there?
I’ll close by passing on some of the wisest counsel I’ve ever received in pastoral ministry.
6. Delegate pastor, delegate
I now delegate the rest of this task to you. What have you learned about delegating?
So what do you think? Do you have any ideas for pastors in churches where they have no one to delegate to?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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