Loving Delegation

 

Putting these two words next to each other (loving and delegation), is something that I have been wrestling with recently.

As with everything else, our leadership as Christians should be grounded in love. It is an unmistakable and distinctive quality of Christian leadership: Christian leaders genuinely love those whom they lead (which is sourced in the love first shown to them: 1 John 4:16-21). Jesus himself established this model in John 13, washing the feet of his followers. Loving leadership is servant leadership.

But Christian leadership also inevitably involves delegation. A definition of delegation for our purposes, is the act of entrusting and empowering others to accomplish something. Asking someone to do something, for which you are the person ultimately responsible.

I am sure you can agree with me on these two traits of Christian leadership but how they come together is where the difficulties begin. In my experience, asking someone to do things that are your responsibility often doesn’t feel loving at all! In some ways, delegation seems backwards to the principle of servant leadership which Jesus espoused…he didn’t delegate the foot washing to Peter, did He?

The tension can become even more fierce, when delegating tasks that seem menial and mundane. Is it really loving someone by asking them to clean toilets with their spare time? To deal with this tension, some leaders (including myself) can resort to trying to do more themselves. They reluctantly delegate only when necessary, or when there is a risk of not being able to get something done. But surely this is unsustainable, and if anything, a hinderance to the mission?

I think we are suffering from a misconception. Nowhere in the Bible is delegation painted as contradictory to love. In fact, the two clearest Scriptural examples of delegation describe the importance of delegation in advancing the kingdom of God. Both in Exodus 18, where Moses delegates the task of mediating as judge before God, and in Acts 6, where the disciples delegate the distribution of food to widows, delegation is established as a godly decision.

So, we must ask ourselves: what is the biblical understanding of delegation and how does it function as an act of love from the leader towards the follower?

Although there are certainly many points that could be made here, because of restraints, I will simply draw a few points of overlap in the accounts of Exodus 18 and Acts 6, which contribute to a practice of loving delegation. I encourage you (as much as you probably don’t feel like it) to give these accounts (and others in the bible) a good look, if this issue of delegation is real to you.

 

1. A knowledge that the work is God’s not yours.

This is really the key. Both Moses and the disciples knew that the tasks they were delegating, were things that God wanted done, that would bring glory to God. These weren’t tasks that they humanly conjured up or that would contribute to their reputation as a leader. The tasks of mediating God’s decrees (Exodus) and feeding widows (Acts), were both tasks that formed part of God’s mission on earth. Subsequently Moses and the disciples could know they were calling people to these tasks, on behalf of God, not in their own authority.

Has God called you to lead something which is His ministry? When you delegate the tasks required to undertake such work, you are doing so not for your own glory, but Gods. In this paradigm, you are calling people to serve God, not you. And be assured, calling and encouraging people to serve God is an incredible act of love. It’s the core function of godly leaders.

 

2. Identifying and calling upon godly capacity in delegates.

In both instances, the delegation required the leader to identify and call upon peoples’ capacity to serve and act in God’s purposes. Moses was to call out people who feared God and were trustworthy (Ex 18:21). The disciples established the criteria of delegates who were full of the Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3).

This process of identification takes the emphasis of the task itself and onto the individual. The delegate is not simply a means to an end. They are the person God has enabled to fulfil what He wants to happen.

As leaders, we must be constantly seeing the God given potential and capacity in others. God calls leaders to be agents which facilitate connections between God given capacity in people and God given tasks.

 

3. Seek to delegate not a task, but responsibility and authority.

This might seem obvious, but in my experience, it is possible and even easy to delegate a task without the accompanying responsibility or authority. Moses and the disciples didn’t ask for the disciples to do something and constantly report to them. Instead they gave responsibility and authority to execute what God wanted done (Exodus 18:22, Acts 6:3). Did this void all accountability? No – Moses was going to be reported to for the harder cases. But certainly, as it appears in both instances, they were given a “long leash”.

When we delegate not just a task, but responsibility and authority, we are putting our “money where our mouth is” with regards to point 2 above. The transferal of responsibility and authority validates that we reallybelieve God has called this person to this task. This is really about empowerment.

 

I know these appear brief, but I think they at least begin the conversation about the biblical pattern of loving delegation. In summary, how does the biblical model of delegation function as a loving act by a leader to a follower? Delegation is an act of love when it: identifies the God given potential of others, to fulfil God given tasks and empowers them to do so. Calling and equipping others for the plans God has for them! Now that is love!      

By Matt Sweetman