The ABCs of Empowerment

In my last article I looked at the 3 Principles of Effective Leadership.

Delegation and empowerment are easier to write about than they are to actually implement.  For anyone who has ever tried it, you have also learned that there needs to be a few rules to help guide the person who’s been empowered. It’s not uncommon for the new leader to quickly use their new power to set off in unintended directions.

We need to not only give them power, but also some guiding principles.

May I suggest the following ABCs of Empowerment

1. Alignment

The greatest example of empowerment in the Bible is found in Matthew 28:16-20.  We commonly refer to this passage as the Great Commission.  In this passage Jesus empowers the leaders He has trained for the previous three years to fulfill His ongoing mission.  He tells them, “Guys, I’m outta here. I’m handing the baton to you now. Complete the work I started by making new disciples everywhere.” (Mossolonian Loose Translation)

Jesus is clear on the mission, vision and values.  He is conspicuously vague on the methods. Of course, this is on purpose. Jesus wants His followers to focus on the eternal purposes of the church, not the cultural practices of a particular context.  This allows incredible freedom for His followers, but with that freedom comes the opportunity to veer off course.

It’s important that a newly empowered leader is clear enough on the organization’s mission, vision and values that their creativity will remain aligned with the organization’s overall goals.

For example, if the church’s highest value for the weekend service is to reach the radically unchurched, but a newly empowered worship leader wants to bring in a prophetic, “signs and wonders” traveling evangelist, then there probably is an alignment issue.

Empowered leaders need to bleed the heart of the organization and ensure that everything they do aligns with its overall mission, vision and values.

2. Boundaries

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends out the twelve Apostles on a Great Commission test run. He empowers them and gives them specific instructions on what to do and what NOT to do.  “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only go to the people of Israel–God’s lost sheep.” (Matthew 10:5-6, NLT)

Newly empowered leaders need to know where the boundaries are. What’s off limits?  Where are the guard rails for the ministry?

It’s unfair to reprimand someone for violating a boundary they were never shown.  We often think it’s common sense when truth be told, we only learned where the guard rails were by our own trial and error.

Establishing a few boundaries for the new leader actually gives them even greater empowerment. There is a confidence that comes when one knows where the boundaries are.  You’ve probably heard of the story of the early days of the progressive education movement.  One enthusiastic theorist removed the chain-link fence surrounding the school playground. He thought children would feel more freedom of movement without the visible barrier surrounding them. When the fence was removed, however, the children huddled near the center of the playground. Children exercised even less freedom when the boundaries were unclear. So do leaders.

3. Clarity

Finally, and most importantly, leaders need to know what the ultimate goal is. Andy Stanley, in his book, 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, lists”Clarify the Win” as #1.  I would agree.

New leaders need to know what they’re being graded on.  What puts points on the scoreboard?  Otherwise they can easily fall into the rut of activity without productivity.

Although biblical churches have 5 specific organizational purposes (wins), each of its ministries ultimately only has one. For example, if a newly empowered children’s ministry leader thinks that the win is that every kid has learned the books of the Bible, but the defined win is that every kid is living the Bible, then frustration is inevitable.

In my experience every leader wants to win.  They want to know that what they are doing is making a difference. They want to help the organization meet its goals and accomplish its vision. No newly empowered leader wants to consciously work against the organization. We can help them and ourselves when we take the time to teach them the ABCs.

What are your thoughts?

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