Delegation Won’t Save Your Sanity
By Rob Trenckmann
If you’ve been in youth ministry for more than a week, you know life can get crazy. Johnny, one of your student leaders, is in a total meltdown with his parents. If you don’t help his through it, you’re afraid he’ll walk away from Jesus. Meanwhile, Abby, one of your volunteers, is facing marriage problems with her new husband. But you have marriage problems of your own: you’ve been out every night for the last 11 days and missed your last four days off because of ministry events. Your family is in danger of forgetting what you look like, and they’ve started calling the church office to schedule “time with the pastor” (the only way they’ll get to see you over the week). Have you been there?
Right now my time is stretched to the limits. I’m neglecting things I really want to do—even feel called to do. Yesterday, I hit “pause.” I took an afternoon to pray, to fast, to check-up and check-in. I made a list of everything I want to do in a month. (I’ve given up on a weekly schedule; my weeks are too unpredictable for that.) I listed it all: personal time with students, training teachers and leaders, administration and email, church and youth group. Then I assigned a number of hours to each activity and added them up. It was painful. If you’re full-time, that number should be around 160 hours. My upcoming month totaled 192 hours, and I had already cut some things! See the problem?
That’s exactly what happens to Moses in Exodus 18. Moses hasn’t seen his wife or kids for a long time because he has been too busy taking Egypt through a bunch of plagues, crossing the Red Sea, and doing what God sent him to do. But now all of that is finally over, so Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, brings his wife and kids to see him. (They went to live with “Grandpa” while Moses was leading the Exodus.)
What does Moses do when they show up? The same thing he does every day: he sits before the people from morning until night, solving their problems. No wife. No kids. No special talks with Father-in-law. Just work.
So Jethro—carefully, graciously, wisely, tactfully—takes Moses aside and says, “Why are you doing this?”
Pay special attention to Moses’ reply: “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.” (Ex. 18:15–16).
Moses doesn’t say, “You’re right. I need to get help.” He doesn’t say, “I know. I’m exhausted. But I just don’t know what to do.” Instead, he basically says, “You don’t get it. This is the only option. If I don’t do it, no one will.”
Have you been there? If I don’t help this student, who will? If I don’t care for my leaders, who will? If I don’t disciple this person, who will? It’s the trap of either-or thinking, the trap of one-option solutions. Either I help this person, or they don’t make it.
But Jethro doesn’t buy it. He says, “Moses, you need to train some people who can make good decisions without you. Equip them to lead. Multiply yourself.”
Jethro recommends more than simple delegation—passing a few responsibilities to someone else. Jethro thinks Moses should take on an entirely new role: equipping people. Delegation just shifts the load onto others. Equipping prepares them to lead. And the end result is far better for everyone. Moses ends up with less to do (and with more time for his family), and Moses’ people are better equipped, developed, and prepared to share leadership. Delegating would be a win for Moses, but a burden for others. Equipping is a win for everyone!
Too often, we think we’re in all-or-nothing situations: Either I say yes and sacrifice my health and family in the process, or I say no and the crisis goes unsolved. Maybe, we’ve even tried delegating, but it failed because our subordinate wasn’t prepared for the burden, “proving” that we should have solved the problem ourselves. Jethro’s solution is far more nuanced than that. Moses keeps his authority—he’s training the leaders, and they still bring the hardest cases to him—but with his new responsibilities, his load is lightened because he can trust that others are prepared for their tasks. In the end, he gets to keep his sanity.
It’s not all-or-nothing. It’s not either-or. It’s both-and. It’s a role change: I’ll stay involved on a leadership level, equipping and checking-in, without trying to do it all myself. You win, the people you’re leading win, and your margins are kept in check.
It’s amazing how wise in-laws can be, isn’t it?
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry… Read More