the shape of leadership

Do What Only You Can Do

Three steps for maximizing your influence through delegating

I once heard Andy Stanley say, “Leaders should focus on doing what only they can do, and delegate the rest.”

That’s great advice in principle. But you and I both know that when it comes to doing practical ministry, especially early on, it seems impossible. When we first started our replanting efforts at the church we led in Dallas, we inherited a few people and a small building — and Sunday came every week. We didn’t have the luxury of most church planters of building a team and raising money over time before starting services. It was go-time from the moment we hit the ground.

We had a very young staff, mostly volunteer, but lots of needs. I was full of dreams and drive of what God would do in our community through our church. My mom used to say to me, “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach!” My dreams were far greater than my ability, and I found myself having to carry most of the weight on my shoulders. It was exhausting.

The reality is, however, most pastors in America are in the same situation I was in. No matter how long they’ve been there or how well prepared they are before launch, they feel the overwhelming burden of doing it all. So, the question keeps getting asked: “What do I do when I have to do it all?”

Lightening the load is critical for the health of leaders. Andy Stanley’s principle remains a good one, no matter your situation. It’s up to us to put it into use.

Here are three ways to help us move in that direction.

What are the things that you’re doing that someone else can do?

1) Make a List
What are the things that you’re doing that someone else can do? Write them down!

I remember vacuuming the carpet in the sanctuary before service each Sunday. Somehow it would get dirty between Thursday afternoon and Sunday morning, and it drove me crazy to walk into a dirty church! So, I would vacuum, clean up around the church and get sweaty, and I hadn’t even started preaching yet! I was frantic and tired before the service even started. Eventually, I got a martyr complex and wondered why others didn’t see the need and take care of it.

This is one example of the many things pastors who think they have to do it all find themselves doing. In reality, it limits his or her effectiveness and the growth of the church.

I finally got tired of it and made a list of all the things I was doing that others could do. It was a long list, but seeing it in writing helped me understand why I was tired and frustrated and not seeing the results I wanted to see. After four years of leading that church and attacking that list, I never crossed off everything, but I was able to eliminate dozens of things. It freed me up to connect with people more, lead more effectively and preach better. It also put me in a healthier mindset.

2) Make the Ask
Writing the list is only the first step. You may think you could never cross off everything you do now, and you may be right, but you’ll never know until you write down these tasks and then start asking for help. This is where a lot of people fail to grow because they refuse to ask for help. It’s like the guy who won’t stop and ask for directions and always ends up lost. What did we ever do before we had Siri to tell us where to go?  

If the first step is to make a list, step two is to make the ask. Ask others to carry some of the things you’ve been carrying! All it took for me to stop vacuuming the carpet in the sanctuary before church on Sunday was for me to ask someone else to do it, which they gladly did! It was a revelation for me, and I kept going down my list, making the ask and crossing off items. I would have never known that someone else was willing to help me until I asked for help. Don’t let pride get in the way, like the guy who won’t stop and ask for directions.

But here’s the deal: It’s not all about you. This an important point. What we’re really talking about is not just how to free up your time and energy as a leader, but how you strengthen the body of Christ, the church family, to do the work of the ministry. By asking others for help, you allow them to be used in whatever way God has shaped them. And if you won’t ask someone to help clean the church and prepare for guests, you’ll probably never make the ask for someone to lead a group, start a new ministry or serve in an important role.

The little things on your list are actually opportunities to create a culture of serving and leading and involving more and more people in the life of the church. It’s true that many churches are small and the pastor does it all, but I don’t think it has to be that way. Make a list, pray over it, look around for someone who might be a good fit to do that task and, for heaven’s sake, make the ask! 

3) Move out of the Way
You’ve made the list, and you’ve asked for help. Now, get out of the way! This is the most difficult part, at least it was for me. When you ask someone to handle a ministry responsibility that you’ve been doing, they may not do it as well as you did. And they sure won’t do it exactly like you did it! They may miss a speck or two while vacuuming the carpet or fail to dust every corner of every table. But that’s okay! Move out of the way, and let them do it.

If your standard of excellence exceeds the expertise of your staff or volunteer, then you need to adjust your standard while they learn your expectations. It’s not a time to step back in and take over because they didn’t do it right — or because they did it differently than you. It’s a time for you to be a leader, patiently guiding them through each process and watching as they grow. Your control issues may be the very thing keeping your church from growing.

But the amazing part is that most times when we move out of the way, that person will not only meet our expectations, they will exceed them! You’ll find that some of those tasks you thought only you would do can be done better by someone else.

When you list all the things you do that get in your way, then ask someone to step out and cover them while you move out of the way, you’ll find more time and energy to do the things that only you can do. It’s the same principle the Early Church saw in Acts 6. Instead of stepping in and covering every last detail of how meals were being served, the apostles delegated those tasks and focused on what only they could do: teaching and preaching the word.

You have a set of skills and associated tasks that only you can do because God has called you to do them. But He’s also surrounded you with people who will handle other things so you can pursue that calling. Don’t let pride or a martyr complex get in your way. Instead, get out of the way and watch God work.

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