A Control Freak’s Guide to Delegation

17 04 2012

Read up on any ministry blog/book/magazine for a while, and you’re destined to find advice about how important it is to delegate. Empower the laity. Give your job away.

It all sounds great, really, but it is often easier said than done. When I’m planning the details of some event or program, it sounds like a lot of work to call up these delegatees to recruit and prep them. Much easier just to do it myself. That way, I can do everything exactly how I want…and if something goes wrong, I’ll take the blame.

You might say I’m a little bit of a control freak.

But I’m trying. And sometimes I just have to translate the benefits into a tangible form for my workaholic mind: when I delegate well, our youth ministry is always the better for it. Delegating allows me to be more productive, more effective, and more joyful along the way.

So, here are the lessons I’ve been learning lately:

1. Delegate the tasks that make you break out in hives. For example: I’m good at planning Bible studies. I’m good at listening to kids. I’m not so good at preparing food for the masses. (And in fact, I am apparently incapable of simple food-related tasks, like picking up cakes). And when I am put in charge of youth group dinners or breakfasts or receptions, I freak out.

But here’s the thing.  There are a ton of people in our church who have the spiritual gift of cooking. I should never have to put myself through the agony of something multiplies my stress level exponentially, when the exact same task can be done better (and more joyfully) by someone else. So from now on, I commit to delegating all food-related tasks in our ministry.

Note: I did not say, “Delegate the easy tasks.” Or, “Delegate the tasks that don’t matter.”  There is a difference. People can tell when you’re just giving them busy work. But there are surely essential tasks in your ministry that are causing you undue stress. Start there.

2. Delegate for growth. Let’s say you do the same back-to-school event every year. If you’re always in charge of the whole thing, it will always look exactly the same…and you will quickly reach the limit of how much you can do. But when you involve others, they can take care of the tried-and-true aspects of the event, and you can focus on expanding, adding new ideas, and thinking critically about how this event fits in with your larger vision. Giving away your nuts-and-bolts ministry tasks will free you up to dream big, plan strategically, and ultimately, grow.

3. Take baby steps. If you haven’t been in the habit of delegating, then start small; it will help you get used to the idea of giving up control, AND it will help your volunteers get a taste of what the process looks like. Last year, I had a few parents cook breakfast for our graduating seniors, while I handled the rest of the details of the event. This year, I have two parents in charge of decorations, and two other parents in charge of food (and so the cycle continues…they will be delegating to other parents!). Make it a goal to delegate a little bit more every year.

4. Choose people you trust. Don’t pick random people off the street to do your ministry work. The ensuing uncertainty will give you a heart attack. Instead, choose people whom you have seen in action, whose work lines up with your vision. In an ideal world, you would have a system in place where new volunteers can learn the ropes from experienced volunteers before they have to step out on their own.

I can tell a difference between the volunteers I trust and the ones I don’t. I’m constantly checking up on the second group, while the first group works like a well-oiled machine. Learn to tell that difference…and then capitalize on it.

5. Give clear instructions … but don’t hover. I think it’s good to stay in communication with your volunteers, but as much as possible, give all the information upfront, so that they can plan out exactly what they need to do. Which means, you need to have all the information upfront. I’m going to try to be better about this; depending on the task at hand, that might mean job descriptions, meetings with volunteers, trainings, etc.

And then … let go. You’ve got people you trust. So trust them! And (dare I say) trust what God is doing with them. Sometimes it will look exactly like you envisioned. Most of the time it won’t. Often, it might even be better.