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Couldn’t, Wouldn’t or Shouldn’t: Delegating Without Losing Your Soul

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

One of the challenges in Christian leadership, especially as a ministry grows, is to know what to keep doing and what to hand on. On the one hand, we all recognise that the kind of leadership which won’t let go of anything, won’t trust anyone, won’t delegate authority to anyone is counter-productive. Over-control can come from dark places in the human heart. And yet, on the other hand, we serve a master who lived among the humble, who washed the feet of his disciples, and who ultimately offers his life for us on the cross, not because he was good at that sort of thing, but because we needed it.

And so, the tension. We want the thing to grow, growth involves delegation, and delegation involves deciding to no longer do certain things. But we want to be like Jesus, and that involves a willingness to do anything, even and especially humble tasks.

We want the thing to grow, growth involves delegation. But we want to be like Jesus, and that involves a willingness to do anything, even and especially humble tasks.

For what it’s worth, I have a little heuristic I apply in order to delegate without losing my soul. I have three questions: Is this something I couldn’t do, something I wouldn’t do, or something I shouldn’t do? Couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t.

“I couldn’t do that”

Is this something I couldn’t do?

This is the easiest of the three questions. Despite nearly fifteen years of Christian leadership, I have never been asked to lead the music team, solve a problem in excel, or design a flyer. These are all things I simply couldn’t do, and everyone knows it.

The question can become more subtle when it’s something you in fact couldn’t do, but are tempted to anyway. (As student minister, I was once encouraged to really step up to the plate and lead the singing at the traditional 8am service. I did so with gusto and confidence. It only happened once.)

“I wouldn’t do that”

Is this something I wouldn’t do?

There is a world of spiritual difference between what you couldn’t do and what you wouldn’t do. Acknowledging that there are things you can’t do is a simple realisation of a created reality. But to have a list of tasks you simply wouldn’t do—well, that is to put yourself on course for a head-on collision with John 13 and the example of our Lord.

The list of tasks we couldn’t do is long—indeed, it is in reality much, much longer than the list of things we can do. And that’s okay. But the list of tasks we wouldn’t do because they are beneath us—well, if we are followers of Jesus, then that should be an empty set. Literally anything that helps our neighbour, whether it be cooking a meal for the bereaved, offering company to the lonely, or wiping drool off face of an ageing dementia sufferer—none of these can be beneath a consistent follower of the Lord Jesus. If the category of things you wouldn’t do is a category with items on it, then Houston, we have a problem.

(I once spent a winter at a university in England. A Christian leader of some stature and reputation was in residence. An admirer, I decided to try my luck and see if I could meet him. I bowled up to the College at which he lived and, as expected, he wasn’t available. But on the way out I was quietly told by the administrator that, if I walked down such-and-such a street, he could often be found at this time of day chatting with the homeless men who slept near the large doorway. This is as it should be among the followers of Jesus.)

He wasn’t available. But on the way out I was quietly told by the administrator that, if I walked down such-and-such a street, he could often be found at this time of day chatting with the homeless men. This is as it should be among the followers of Jesus.

“I shouldn’t do that”

Between that which we couldn’t do, that which we wouldn’t do, lies a vast range of activities in Christian service that come under the category of things we should not do—at least at certain stages in the growth of a church or ministry. I could try and preach every sermon, visit every shut-in, run every youth-group activity, run every roster, host every newcomers event. Should I? Almost certainly not. To insist on being the person who runs all of this would be a prior decision to severely limit the growth of our church, let alone rob others of opportunities to serve. More than that, a church at which I am at the centre of everything would be a deformed church—a church that has a tiny set of strengths and a huge storehouse of weaknesses. It would not be the church of 1 Corinthians 12—a church enriched as each part does its work. There are things that I could do (as regards gifting), and things that I would do (they are not beneath me), but that I nonetheless should not do, because to do so would be to deny the church its full life as the body of Christ.

In my particular role (senior pastor of a local church), I increasingly find myself asking “Is this something only I could do?” The list of things that only I can do is small, but important. And these are the things I ought to focus on. The rest, as long as they are not in principle tasks I would not do, are things I should do not, for the health of the whole.

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