By Danny Franks
If you lead in the local church—whether you’re full-time, part-time, paid, or volunteer—it’s time for you to fire yourself.
Before you start penning an “I’m out of here” letter, let me define what I mean.
I’m not suggesting you walk away from your role. I’m not implying you’re incompetent at what you do. I’m not even insinuating you’ve lost the spark of passion for your job.
Instead, I’m suggesting it’s time to let go of some of the things you love about your ministry. Maybe you can confess along with me that you hold onto certain tasks because deep down, you think no one can do them as well as you.
As leaders, we run the risk of becoming micromanagers, perfectionists, and control freaks. It’s an unsavory and dangerous part of the leader’s life. By protecting every aspect of our role, we ultimately limit the reach and impact of our ministry.
Perhaps you can clearly identify some of the bottlenecks you’re facing right now—the ones that keep you from reaching your goals in ministry.
Could it be the answer is found in replacing ourselves? Or, more precisely, in training others to take our place?
The Apostle Paul wisely reminded the growing congregation at Ephesus that Jesus personally “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
In other words, one of our roles as leaders is to help others find their roles. Our goal is to equip others as we hand off more and more responsibility. As my own pastor is fond of saying, “When I became a pastor, I got out of the ministry.”
So how do we go about firing ourselves?
Here are five ways:
1. Acknowledge you can’t do it all.
Admit you have limits. Leaders too often buy the lie that our people expect us to juggle every task around the church. And when we buy those lies, we are well on our way to burnout.
So take the painful but necessary step of auditing your regular tasks. What are we currently doing that we can equip others to do?
Whether it’s writing curriculum or sending emails or making hospital visits, where can we bring others alongside us—preparing them to take over that part of the ministry?
It’s important to recognize not only that we can’t do it all but also that we shouldn’t do it all. Attempting to do everything robs others of the joy of serving and discovering the gifts they’ve been given by the Holy Spirit.
God never commanded us to don an “S” on our chests and emerge from our phone booth to save the world. He expects us to raise up others to serve as well.
2. Develop leaders, don’t dump responsibilities.
There’s an easy way to replace yourself: load up your ministry dump truck with the things you don’t want to do, drive over to the desks of your unsuspecting successors, and throw the lever to bury them in responsibilities.
That’s the easy way, but it’s also the lazy way.
Courageous leaders take the time to patiently invest in and develop other leaders. They don’t find “yes” people and keep pushing tasks toward them as long as they say “yes.”
Rather, we move with intentionality and with great vision. We paint a picture of leadership.
We plan for appropriate next steps, considering that each potential leader starts from a different skill set and experience level. We demonstrate what we want them to replicate.
3. Know the difference between handoffs and hands-off.
Once we’ve identified our successors, we don’t wish them godspeed as we walk out the door. We maintain close contact as we gradually hand over more responsibility. We don’t simply assign tasks, but we transfer authority.
A wise co-worker of mine often says, “Just because you delegate does not mean you abdicate.”
That means we cannot—we must not—take our hands off a ministry area after we’ve given our responsibilities to others. We continue to check in, advise, and encourage. We continue to challenge new leaders into greater tasks.
A transformational leader knows the difference between a micromanager and a mentor.
Rather than posturing ourselves as the Great and Powerful Oz (who actually cowers behind the curtain), we can position ourselves as caring coaches, content to let the players shine while shouting encouragement from the sidelines.
4. Skip the second-guessing.
Few things are more demoralizing than being given a role—and then having your predecessor second-guess your every move.
New leaders are going to foul up, miss the mark, and fall short of the standards you’ve dreamed up for them. That’s not the sign of a bad leader—it’s the sign of a growing one.
When the foul-ups happen, those of us who relegated the authority have a chance to also relegate trust. We don’t serve our people well when we subvert or sabotage them.
It’s much better to work with our new leaders to perform a postmortem after something goes wrong, then coach them back to success.
We also must realize that many new leaders won’t do it as well as we envision the first time out of the gates. That’s not a bad thing. But you can’t grow them if you gut them before they get started.
Remember that when you hand something off, you do more than replace yourself. That task becomes a new thing as your replacement follows the nudging of the Spirit into new areas.
5. You do what you do.
Let’s go full circle. While it’s true that many leaders try to own too much, it’s also true that there are certain tasks we must own. It would be both inappropriate and unwise to push some things to other members of our team.
Leaders should be the chief visionaries. They’re not the only visionaries, but they should be the primary champion of the big win of their team.
So here’s the question: What do you do that only you can do? What things are wins for your organization and wins for your time, talent, and bandwidth?
Finding the nexus where those things meet means finding your sweet spot, the place where you should be spending your time.
Leaders, it’s time for us to work ourselves out of a job. Who are you raising up today?
DANNY FRANKS (@letmebefranks) is the connections pastor at The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. He is the author of People Are The Mission: How Churches Can Welcome Guests Without Compromising the Gospel.