When to Delegate

I was recently asked to contribute to Slant33.com.  The question was "How and when do you decide to give away a large portion of your ministry?"  Here's my take.

The more I think about the idea of delegation, the more I realize I have a more systematic approach to it than I thought. Without really knowing it, I’ve developed a thought process for how to handle the decision to delegate. When looking at the ministry task, I usually asking myself a series of questions.

Can I do it? If I’m honest, sometimes the decision to delegate can be made after an honest no.

Do I want to do it? If we’re talking about starting an 8am Saturday morning knitting class for middle school girls, then no. But if it’s a need that fits with the vision and direction of the rest of the student ministry, then I need to find a knitter who really wants to teach.

Does it need to be me? This is where it can get tricky. My personality says it always has to be me, but knowing that’s not an effective leadership strategy says probably not.

Is there someone to delegate to? This is a tough one in the small-church environment. Sometimes there’s just not anyone to delegate to. I’ve also learned that the “warm body” approach will almost always come back to haunt me later.

Can I train someone else to do it? In my experience, the answer is almost always yes. That usually begins with me partnering with someone and working together with the intent of handing it off to that person.

Am I limiting growth by holding onto it? Another pride-swallowing question. If there’s even a possibility of limiting growth (in depth or numbers), I need to find someone else to help and/or take over.

Here’s an example of how we handled our small groups during the summer. I lead at a small church of about 160 with a student ministry of around 25. My first summer, I led a middle school group and a high school group. With everything else going on in the summer this was exhausting! So, as we headed into this past summer, I ran the idea through the delegation questions.

Can I do it? It’s possible but not very healthy in the long run.

Do I want to do it? Not really, because I don’t think I’m a great small group leader, and the students hear me teach a lot during the school year in a large-group setting.

Does it need to be me? Nope. I’ve had other ministries with other adult small group leaders who have done a great job.

Is there someone to delegate to? Yes, I have a couple of volunteers who are willing and able to lead a small group.

Can I train someone? Yep! That’s why this past summer, I’m was the co-teacher for both groups and had another leader handle the bulk of the prep and teaching. Within a few weeks it became clear that my middle school leader was fully capable of handling his group. So I showed up a few times to be a presence and build relationships but did none of the teaching. It was awesome.

Am I limiting the growth by holding onto it? Absolutely. Not so much the number of students who showed up every week but what they were getting from a frantic, too-busy small group leader.

The idea of delegation is something I’ve struggled with a lot. Too much delegation and it looks like you don’t do anything; too little and you burn out from exhaustion or limit growth (or both). By using these questions prayerfully, I’ve been able to strike a much more manageable balance, without leading the Saturday morning knitting circle.

If you like a good flow chart (who doesn't?), my best friend Daniel Titus made this...