Why is Delegation So Hard for Pastors?


Remember that day when you decided to start a church?

Maybe you worked your way up from within and were asked to shepherd a church plant. Or maybe you’re like me and started with services in your own living room until you were able to get a building. However your journey began, there was a day when it was just you – or just you and your spouse.

At that point, all the responsibility (good and bad) rested on your shoulders. Thankfully, that’s likely no longer the case. You’ve probably grown, and have a team in place to share your load and continue your momentum. But even so, are you still struggling to let go of the reins? If so, you’re not in the least bit alone. It’s challenging for almost all pastors, myself certainly included, to practice delegating.

So, here’s what I’ve learned about the process, to help you embrace it for yourself.

1. You set the vision.

One of the main reasons I’ve struggled with delegating church tasks to others is because I have a specific vision for each one. Not only did I create the church from the get-go with a broad, overarching vision, but I have mini-visions for each part of it. Sunday services? I know exactly how I want them to look and feel. Small groups? My vision is a dynamic that places as much of a premium on the imparting of the word as it does on crafting relationships. Missions trips, children’s ministry, fellowship gathering and integrity groups? Even more vision.

I look around at the church, and I’m so invested and passionate that I can’t even think of letting someone else take the lead in any of these areas. But here’s the secret that you and I both know if we really dig deep… I can’t lead all of this myself, and neither can you. You will run yourself ragged, and the cracks will begin to show. If you don’t successfully delegate, you won’t be serving your members – and God – the way you had hoped. Perhaps this is one of the intentions of Paul as he writes in Galatians 2 about us actively sharing each other’s burdens?

So, what’s the answer? Well, the first part is to recognize that you still can – and should – set the vision. Declare your vision for the church as a whole, and then share your vision for each element within it. Make sure your fellow leaders understand where you see things heading, and the overall way in which you want to get there. Be crystal clear about this, so there’s no room for confusion or misunderstanding.

2. Training is key.

Then, empower your leaders to fulfill your vision. Yes, it will be hard, and they won’t do things exactly how you would. And that’s okay. There may be multiple ways to realize the same vision, and you might find that your children’s pastor wants to take Path B while you might have taken Path A. But as long as it gets you to your vision, and is coupled with humility in service, do the exact specifics matter?

Don’t get me wrong – it will feel like they matter. But you’ll start to slowly release your grasp on the reins, and even enjoy seeing your vision come to life through your entire team’s efforts. Here’s an example. The last Wednesday of every month, we hold a family dinner for our members. I come from a catering background and was trained by a French chef, so I love cooking and you can imagine I’m particular about how I do it. But as I’m writing this, my second year intern is in the kitchen cooking our low-country shrimp boil, not me.

If I’m being honest, it’s killing me to think about whether he’s using enough Old Bay Seasoning and if somehow it’s all going to go epically wrong. But, I have to let him spread his wings and learn. He’s talented, he has a heart for Christ, he likes to serve and that’s what he’s doing. I gave him enough training in this area for him to know the framework of what to do, as well as the purpose behind our family dinners, and so I now need to give him the autonomy to make it happen.

If I were to go into the kitchen and try to take over or tell him what to do, it would undermine his confidence and destroy his credibility. This brings me to the other part of this whole issue, the darker part. As a pastor, there’s a real temptation to play “hero ball” and be the one to save the day. Some of this delegation business means that I won’t be the face of everything quite like I once was. But I’ve realized that some of this is rooted in an evil pride, and it’s something, with the help of  the Lord, I must move past.

So here’s what I recommend to my fellow pastors… After you’ve set your vision, provide enough training so someone can execute on it. Then, let them try without intervention. Afterward, it’s your job to bring that person positive affirmation and constructive criticism once the event has taken place. Be diligent in this, but never take over or micromanage your team while they’re actively working to execute your vision. And if you start to feel disgruntled that you’re not the one getting credit, remind yourself it’s not about that and try to enjoy watching someone else get his or her share of the spotlight this time.

3. Focus on trust.

Finally, we can’t delegate without trust. For the longest time, I held onto the process of bringing a new member into one of our small groups. I wanted to make sure they started off on the right foot and felt welcome, so I controlled that process. But one day it occurred to me that my associate pastor is incredibly trustworthy and fully capable of taking on that role. I realized I needed to trust him to make the connection with a new member. It may not look exactly how it would if I was doing it, but I trusted him enough to know he would carry on my heart in this and lead the new member into fellowship with our other members.

If you don’t have faith in your leaders to do what you’ve been doing, then you might need to consider whether they’re the right people for your team. But if you’re confident in whom you’ve chosen to lead alongside you, then I challenge you to start trusting them more and managing every process less.

Only when you take these steps will you begin to see how freeing it can be to delegate to your team.

You’ll have more time to play to your own strengths, your church will be better served and the Lord will be more fully glorified. But it all starts with facing the fact that delegation is a must.

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