Why Healthy Volunteer Programs Thrive on Delegation

delegation

My wife and I have been leading teams of Young Life leaders for the last several years. This year, she’s pregnant with twins. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that she can’t have the same expectations for herself as a volunteer team leader. As a result, we’ve had a lot of conversations about delegation.

If you’re a perfectionist (like my wife), delegation can feel like a personal failure. Let me assure you, it’s not.

Delegation is an important part of a healthy ministry and a key ingredient of discipleship. Delegating doesn’t mean you’re an incompetent leader or have a bad work ethic. It shows you care about what’s best for your ministry.

Here are eight reasons to delegate:

Nobody is the best at everything

“Well, someone needs to do this!”

Some jobs just need a warm body, but even seemingly simple tasks could be done better by someone dedicated to the position.

The more roles you stretch yourself across, the less effective you become at each of them. Task switching could be holding back your ministry—and preventing you from being better at the things you’re good at. Unless you’re leading a church of one, chances are you have people around you who could help your church carry out your ministry more effectively.

And they might just be waiting to be asked.

What if, in addition to preaching, you’re putting together the presentations and the bulletins, choosing decor, or managing the church website, when there’s someone in your church who’s passionate about making things look good?

Maybe you’re great at writing sermons. That doesn’t mean you’re the best at writing church newsletters, too.

Maybe you’re an excellent leader. That doesn’t mean you should lead every group, ministry, or team in your church.

Take the time to find a dedicated volunteer for a few of those tasks. They’ll feel useful, and you get to reinvest the time you save.

Delegation gives you back your time

Imagine you have 10 extra hours to pour into any area of your ministry. Discipleship. Sermon prep. Leader development. Outreach. What are the things that your church needs you to spend time on? What are the things only you can do for your church?

Delegation saves the hours you spend on things other people can do, so you can reinvest that time to the things only you can do—or the things you do best.

Delegation builds trust

It’s hard to hand the reins to someone else. One of the major reasons pastors and church staff don’t delegate is that they don’t trust other people to do a good job. It’s not just pride: when you know how important something is to your ministry, it’s hard to hand it off to someone else.

But every time you exercise trust in the body of Christ, it gets easier. You start to build trust in your congregation and in God in ways you didn’t before. The people who take over for you feel empowered in ways they couldn’t before—because they didn’t feel trusted.

Delegation helps volunteers grow

Every time you delegate, you’re giving someone else in your congregation an opportunity to grow. It might be a simple step, building their “volunteer muscles” by providing a chance to say “yes, I can help.” Or it might be a more significant growth step, like organizing a team, becoming a mentor, leading a Bible study for church staff, or committing to master a job your church depends on each week.

A good delegator is constantly learning who fits where. Part of recruiting volunteers is helping people identify their gifts and clearly defining the roles you need help with.

Lifeway provides a free spiritual gift assessment tool you could share with your church to get started.

Delegation helps you grow

Delegation is a leadership skill that needs to be developed. If you have always done everything yourself, you may have a hard time identifying the potential in the people around you. As you practice delegating and learn from your mistakes (you can, after all, give someone a role they aren’t ready for), you get better at recognizing the unique qualities God has given to the members of your congregation and the ways they can (and can’t) contribute to the church.

Delegation makes your church less dependent on you

If you haven’t encountered them already, there will be times when your life will prevent you from fulfilling some, if not all, of the ministry roles you are serving right now. A death in the family. Moving. Marital problems. Pastor burnout. Even good things—like a well-deserved sabbatical—can create huge holes in your ministry.

When a pastor or member of church staff hasn’t delegated, absences—which you may or may not have time to prepare for—disrupt the work of the ministry. You might already have a “backup plan” in place for just such an emergency. But delegating some tasks now can ensure things go smoothly when you’re absent. Does your “fill-in” preacher ever have opportunities to preach when you’re present? Have your staff or volunteers written newsletters, small group material, or prepared events under your supervision?

Giving your “backups” opportunities to practice allows you to give feedback and ensure the ministry will be prepared to function without you if it ever has to, all while building up your staff and volunteers with the resolve that they can do what needs to be done.

Delegation helps your church be the body of Christ

Every believer in your congregation is part of the body of Christ and serving together can provide vivid pictures of just what that means. We learn to depend on particular people for particular roles. We see how someone’s gifts and experience make them uniquely suited to a task. And we learn to develop and utilize our strengths together.

Right now, there are people in your church who have no idea where they fit into the body of Christ. As you delegate, you can give them glimpses of who they are and how they can serve the body.

Delegation helps produce disciples that reproduce

As a discipler, it can be discouraging to see the people I’m leading fail to take initiative—to provide them with the perfect opportunity to lead others, and to watch it pass them by.

But if you never direct someone to an opportunity and you always take care of everything yourself, will they even recognize the opportunities God gives them?

The people you disciple learn how to lead from watching you. They can learn what leadership looks like by watching you do everything to the best of your ability. But delegation allows them to learn through experience.

When you pass on key tasks to the people you’re discipling, you model an important ingredient of healthy leadership: delegation.

Build a volunteer program that lasts

Realizing that you need to delegate is the first step, but actually doing something about it is tough. In Can Someone Please Volunteer? I distill some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from years of working with volunteers, helping you recruit, train, and retain more volunteers.

Get your free copy of Can Someone Please Volunteer?.