Church growth obstacles: Why does no one delegate?!

Exodus 18:18 “You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” This passage precedes the advice Jethro gives Moses about delegation. Perhaps many pastors do not take this seriously enough, but it becomes prophetic in many cases as leaders attempt to run the show without competent help. I have seen two well-respected pastors do so. One experienced serious heart problems in his early forties and the other had unbearable back pain requiring numerous surgeries – no doubt from trying to balance the entire weight of his church on only his shoulders for several decades until his back finally gave out and he was forced to retire. Even David Yonggi Cho, the pastor of the largest church in the world in South Korea, wrote in one of his books that he did not achieve any success until after he was bed-ridden with an undiagnosed illness for months. It was not until he delegated that he was able to experience exponential growth and physical health.

         Delegation is not simply putting someone in charge of something. Many people do this, but only give the title away while continuing to micromanage everything behind the scenes. Delegation requires humility, acknowledging that you can not do everything by yourself and (here’s the real kicker) someone else is capable of doing something better than you. This is hard for many to accept, preferring to be jacks-of-all-trades and get credit for what little success is achieved rather than share the credit as the burden is shared with others. Ministry is the loneliest job in the world and the faint glimpses of glory can be tempting to grasp after, but if true delegation is not implemented, your ministry will be cut short of its potential and length.

          I studied church growth in seminary and read every book our library had on everything from African-American churches to megachurches to the biggest church of them all in South Korea. There were many ideas including a Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, home cell groups, strong preaching, door-to-door evangelism, and social justice. Every book cautioned that every church is different in terms of demographics, geography, and culture and what worked for one church might not work for another – even in the same city. There was only one common element throughout: delegation. One book even went so far as to give a ratio for church growth: one staff member (not including secretaries and janitors) per fifty church attendees. As a principle, the potential for growth maxes out at one hundred attendees per staff member.

         When I was younger, the staff usually consisted of a senior pastor, the youth pastor, and maybe a children’s minister. If a church was lucky, it could get volunteers to do some of the ministry, but you get what you pay for. If all three of those pastors are full-time, then their maximum average attendance would be 300. The plateau in attendance would become more obvious after Easter as attendance naturally dips and it will cycle back to 300 near Christmas, but the church will be stuck in a rut until it hires more staff or the pastor leaves.

          So you are saying to yourself, “Thanks for the book report, Jon, but what does the Bible have to say about this?” I’m glad you asked. Aside from the advice Jethro gives to Moses, there is a New Testament precedent that is much less obvious concerning delegation. As I was studying Acts to see how the Early Church experienced incredible growth, the Holy Spirit showed me the numbers mentioned in Acts 1:15, which states that the believers numbered “about one hundred and twenty.” I think it is safe to assume that these were all leaders and disciples of Jesus since they were gathering “constantly in prayer” in the upper room. In Acts 2:41 “about 3000 were added to their number that day.” Now do the math (3000/120). Jesus had set up the infrastructure of His church so that they could handle 3000 new members on the first day, or 25 for every staff member. This still left room to grow as “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) Rather than be satisfied with a maximum of 12,000, they added another seven leaders in Acts 6. With time freed up to give their attention “to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:6), the Apostles helped spread the Word of God. And “the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly,” a direct byproduct of delegation as well as the power of God.

          I conclude with this: if Moses could humble himself and take the advice of his father-in-law and the Early Church could actually take a leap of faith and add to their staff in the midst of uncertainty and the threat of death, why can’t we? Stop wearing yourselves out and – as Jethro said – wearing out your congregants by making them all completely dependant on you for every little decision they need to make. You are not God. You have gifts that only you can use to serve the church. Let others use their gifts and truly become the body of Christ, unified with you to bring the kingdom of God to a lost world that needs Him desperately.

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