by Joe McKeever
(Editor's note: The articles in this series on leadership qualities and functions in the church are drawn from a larger series written by Dr. McKeever.)
I was the minister of evangelism at the First Baptist Church of Jackson, Mississippi, in my early 30s. That would be the early 1970s. My pastor, Larry Rohrman, was frequently invited to speak out of town and sometimes he would invite me along. On one of those occasions, he said something that has stayed with me ever since.
See that little church," he said as we traveled down a country highway. "In many cases the pastor of that little church can preach just as well as or better than the pastor of the big, growing church. But the difference is that he can't turn loose of jobs. He has to do everything himself. The other guy, however, puts people to work. He matches the right person to the right job and everyone wins. They get satisfaction from doing their job in the church, the work gets done, the pastor is freed up for other things, the church grows, and the Lord is honored."
Some pastors can delegate; some cannot. One pastor sees a task that needs doing and starts thinking of who has a gift or the aptitude or at least the willingness for this, and he enlists that person. The other pastor sees a job and does it. Both are godly, dedicated men of the Lord, but only the first is being fair to his people.
About the same time as that conversation with my pastor, I attended a national conference on church management in Atlanta. In the middle of the opening session, as our host was presenting the schedule of the week, a hotel employee approached the platform pushing a vacuum cleaner and proceeded to clean all around the speaker.
At first, the speaker ignored him. Then the employee said, "Sir, can you move over here and let me clean under your feet?"
Our leader was visibly perturbed. He said, "Buddy, could you do that some other time? We're trying to have a meeting here."
The employee said, "No, I'm sorry. This is the only time I have to clean this room." The leader said, "I'm going to have to speak to the manager of the hotel about this." The worker said, "I'm the manager of the hotel."
"You? You're the manager of the hotel and you're vacuuming the carpets?"
"Could you tell me why, if you're the manager of the hotel, you have to do the carpets. Don't you have other people who can handle this?"
The manager said, "We do, but I vacuum better than anyone else."
That's when everyone figured out it was a put-up job. The "worker" was actually a member of the professional team presenting the program and they were making a point about management to the hundreds of church leaders sitting before them.
Just because you do a job better than someone else does not mean you should do it. You may be robbing others of great opportunities to grow and serve. By taking away their task, you are hurting them and needlessly increasing your own workload.
In the early New Testament church a fellow by the name of Joseph was found to be such an encourager of other people, the congregation renamed him Barnabas, which roughly translates to "Son of Encouragement." One of my professors called him "Mister Encourager."
Here is a rough outline of the record on Barnabas.
Acts 4:36-37 He sold some land and gave the money to the church.
Acts 9:26-30 He stood up for the newly-converted Saul of Tarsus when no one else would trust him.
Acts 11:22 When a revival broke out among the Gentiles of Antioch of Syria, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas-Mister Encourager-up to check on it.
Acts 11:25 Barnabas realized this was the very situation for which Saul of Tarsus was called by God. And, since Saul had returned home to Asia Minor, Barnabas went after him. In matching the man with the job and the need, he was providing for all time a perfect role model for God's people.
Acts 13:2 The Holy Spirit calls out "Barnabas and Saul" as the first missionaries. Since Barnabas is the leader, he decides they would minister first in his home area of Cyprus.
Acts 13:42 Paul's preaching ministry on Cyprus was so successful, the two were afterward referred to as "Paul and Barnabas." The relationship has completely reversed. There is not one glimmer of resentment out of Barnabas. His disciple is outpacing him.
Acts 15:36-41 Paul and Barnabas decide to retrace their first journey and check on all the disciples they've made and the churches they started. However, they fall into a disagreement about John Mark, the nephew of Barnabas, who had accompanied them part of the way on the previous journey, then dropped out. Paul had marked him off his list, but Barnabas was willing to give him a second chance. So, in the time-honored way of God's people through the years, they split up and went in two directions. Paul and Silas headed directly to Asia Minor-Paul's stomping grounds-while Barnabas took the young man John Mark and headed for Cyprus.
Some years later, we find Paul speaking of John Mark with great respect (2 Tim. 4:11), and of course, we have the Gospel according to Mark, the product of this young man's faithful service.
Good job, Barnabas, putting your arm around the young vulnerable man and giving him a guiding hand.
That's all delegation is: helping someone find his or her right place of service.
"Follow me," Jesus said to a group of fishermen one day, "and I will make you to become fishers of men." Later, He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel." What was He doing but delegating His work to the disciples, matching them up with the assignments He had for each. "Feed my sheep," Jesus told the Apostle Peter.
The specifics of His call-where each one should go, what he should do-would be the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. That's still the plan for God's children. Almost every week, a ministerial student at our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary will visit my office to talk about the possibility God may want him or her to serve a church in our area. Ultimately, the discussion centers around God's will, finding it and being in its center.
Someone asked me one day, "Do you believe God has a place of service for every believer?" I said, "Where do you work?" He named one of the chemical plants upriver from New Orleans.
I said, "Does your director of human resources ever hire someone, then send him over to the plant manager and say, See if you can find a place for this one?'" He laughed. "Oh no. If they put you on the payroll, they have a job for you. They're pretty efficient."
I said, "More efficient than God?" He said, "Hmmmm."
Since Scripture makes it clear that every believer receives spiritual gifts for ministry and service (1 Cor. 12:4ff.), it's not much of a stretch to believe the Father has a task in mind for each of His children.
Jesus encouraged His followers to "pray the Lord of the harvest to thrust forth laborers into the harvest" (Matt. 9:39). Since the Lord is the finest Director of Human Resources ever, it all comes down to a matter of prayer for His leadership. We might go so far as to say the Holy Spirit is the most effective practitioner of Management Principle No. 1-delegation-in the universe. He's always matching us up with the role that is so right for us.
Every church nominating committee struggles with finding people in the congregation to fill all the vacant slots in the organization. Rather than stressing out over the huge task and the vast numbers of unwilling members, what if they decided to seek the Father's will in prayer, then fill only the jobs for which He supplies the workers. That would end the "any-warm-body-in-this-slot-syndrome" and elevate the meaning of service to the Lord and the church.
After all, better to leave a position vacant than to fill it poorly. And far better to fill the position with a person whom the Lord has chosen and called.
Dr. McKeever, a pastor for more than four decades, writes and creates
church-related cartoons with equal felicity. He presently serves
as director of missions for the New Orleans Baptist Association.