Pastors Who Lead the Way Learn to Delegate

I know my leadership style. I’m a big-picture, vision-casting leader. The details, frankly, don’t hold much appeal to me. In itself, my leadership style wouldn’t accomplish much. But surrounded by staff and volunteer teams whose gifts complement mine, I’ve watched God achieve many milestones through Saddleback Church. He is, after all, both the giver of vision and the giver of those who can handle the details that breathe life into vision.

Now, there’s nothing inherently right nor inherently wrong about being a vision-casting leader. It’s simply the way God wired me. He may have wired you differently. The key is for each of us to recognize his or her personal style, up front. Then we can recruit a team with gifts that will enhance and supplement our style.

This is important because God set up the church like a body – with many gifts, and many parts. Each part is necessary for the overall health of the body. It’s as if God is

saying, “Get the message! Help each other!” There’s no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian. We’re together in this. We’re a team. There’s tremendous power in cooperation. We do our best work when instead of jockeying for position or trying to build a base of power, we work together – building on each other’s strengths and shoring up each other’s weaknesses.

Must a pastor lead?

Paul told the Ephesians that God “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” He was clear about God’s purpose for establishing these leadership roles in the church: “To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up.” (Eph. 4:11-12) By definition, then, the pastor is a leader. And as a pastor, I’d be wise not to shirk my responsibility to lead people to prepare for God’s Kingdom service.

I think, too, of Jesus’ charge to Peter after the resurrection: “Peter, do you love me? … Then feed my sheep.” As pastors, we show our love for Christ by our love and care for his people. We feed, we nurture, and we lead. In this way we love Christ.

This makes moot the question, "Must a pastor lead?" When love gets introduced into the picture, we cease to feel coerced into leadership. Rather, in whatever way we are best gifted to do so, we lead willingly. We lead with grace. We lead with honesty and integrity, putting others’ needs ahead of our own.

This brand of leadership is far from a controlling or bossy style. It is more of a guide, one who isn’t afraid to live as the example of what he preaches. It’s a tall order. But also a worthy one.

Can leadership be learned?

Sometimes this seems a taller order than we feel equipped to accomplish. We may know our gifts are clustered in the areas of preaching and teaching, not administration. Yet our role as church leader seems to call us to administrative tasks.

The good news is that while we may never achieve excellence in administration, we can learn to become effective. Management guru Peter Drucker explains in The Effective Executive,

“Effective executives … differ as widely as physicians, high-school teachers, or violinists. … What all these executives have in common is the practices that make effective whatever they have and whatever they are.” He says the word practice indicates these successful habits can be learned if repeated over and over, just as a violinist repeats her scales.

Many of the practices Drucker identifies as leading to success at work translate well to a church setting. Effective managers, he says:

· know where their time goes
· focus on desired outcomes
· build on strengths of others (and themselves)
· concentrate their efforts where they’ll have the most benefit
· are careful, decisive decision makers

We could say the same about effective pastors. Practicing these habits can enhance our effectiveness in the pulpit, in staff meetings, even in interactions with our church boards.

Leading with limited resources

Although I do practice most of these habits on a regular basis, less than three years into my work at the then-fledgling Saddleback, I recognized the need for administrative leadership of an individual who would roll up his sleeves and get his nails dirty working to carry out the vision. So, we recruited Glen Kreun to come in as executive pastor. Glen’s gifts are in the area of detail management, administration, and keeping the team on track every day.
Your church may have the resources to pay someone like Glen to take the administrative reins. If you do have the resources and that gift is lacking on your leadership team, then by all means recruit someone who can help.

But if resources aren’t there to create a paid position, it can be just as effective to recruit and equip trustworthy, gifted volunteers to fill the gaps.

Around Saddleback, we use the acronym: S.H.A.P.E. By that we mean that as we recruit and place individuals on the team—whether for paid or volunteer positions – we find out several things about them:

· Spiritual gifts
· Heart
· Abilities
· Personality
· Experiences

Once we know their S.H.A.P.E., we can help them find the best places for them to use all of those areas in ministry. And once we know their S.H.A.P.E., we can delegate tasks to them with confidence. We can take our hands off the projects and allow workers freedom to accomplish a goal themselves.

Time to lead

One of the best reasons to delegate comes straight out of any book you might read on time management. We can’t try to be and do everything. We must accept our limitations. The quickest way to burn out is to try to be Superman.

Take that idea one step further. Our highest calling as pastors is our responsibility before God for the spiritual health and growth of our people.

If we’re all wrapped up in who’s printing the bulletins and who’s staffing the nursery, we may be getting sidetracked from our primary calling. We need to keep ministry and administration in balance. Delegating helps us do just that.

I’ve found a few keys that help me delegate effectively:

· Break down major goals into smaller tasks. When we started Saddleback, I made everybody a committee of one. We each had assignments. One person managed the printing of the bulletins while another set up the nursery. Everybody had a specific task.
· Develop clear job descriptions. Your workers deserve to know what is expected.
· Match the right person with the right task. The wrong person in the wrong task causes all kinds of motivational problems.

Delegating is more than just passing off work. You need to understand what the task is all about and what the person is good at, and then get them together. Delegating is all about freeing and equipping people to be creative in the ways they accomplish the goal.

We have some great volunteer teams at Saddleback. I benefit from some of them on a regular basis. My chief of staff, David Chrzan, coordinates a number of volunteer teams, including a research team made up of gifted individuals who scour printed and electronic sources for examples and stories I can use in my sermons.

Another team creates executive summaries of books as a ministry. This book summary ministry is one that the team members suggested and created themselves. The man who heads that team is a retired advertising executive. He knows where he’s gifted. And he sought out a way to use that gifting to lighten his pastor’s load.

In delegating, we as leaders give up some control. But we gain far more in benefits from the limitless creativity and energy created by surrounding ourselves with willing, gifted helpers.

A leader’s measure of success

In our ministry we’ve identified five purposes that God gives to the church:
· Membership
· Maturity
· Ministry
· Missions
· Magnification (worship)

We can measure our success as pastors, as leaders, if all five of these are in balance. Balance in these critical measures indicates a healthy church. Imbalance, on the other hand, indicates a sick church.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: no one leader can give his all to all five purposes. So, it is our responsibility as pastor/shepherd to discern our gift and then select gifted believers (laypeople or staff) to fill those other purposes.

You see, pastor as minister is really a misnomer. Actually, every believer is a minister. Every believer is responsible to use his or her spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality and experiences to benefit God’s Kingdom. It is the leader’s responsibility to identify that S.H.A.P.E. and help fit it into a compatible ministry. That’s when we’re at our most successful as under-shepherds. That’s when we’re most closely following the servant-leader example of our Master.

Until next time,

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Adapted from Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for pastors and church leaders, available at

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