The Delegating Pastor: Do Less Stuff, Get More Done

It may be hard to delegate. Especially when it seems like there’s no one to delegate to. But it’s easier – and more biblical – than not delegating at all.

“Delegate, pastor. Delegate.”

I’ve heard that wise advice dozens of times. Literally.

During the first few years pastoring my current church, one of my deacons, named Ron Cook, said it to me constantly. Whenever he caught me doing something like stacking chairs by myself he’d lend a helping hand himself and drop that little gem into my ear.

“Delegate, pastor. Delegate.”

Why Delegating Is So Hard – And Necessary

When I came to this church, I was a hurting pastor and it was a hurting church. The combination of those hurts led to two realities:

  • There were very few people to delegate anything to
  • Most of my motivation came from my own feelings of guilt

When those combined, it led me to do too much of the ministry work myself – and see myself as martyr while I did it. But slowly, Ron’s words started taking hold. I stopped offering excuses and started following his advice.

Eventually, I discovered that there are two options when it comes to reaching a balanced delegation of tasks in a small church:

Option 1) Do fewer activities
Option 2) Do better discipleship training

I highly recommend both.

Here are six delegation lessons I learned the hard way. The first three are about doing fewer activities, the last three are about doing better discipleship.

1. Leave Guilt at the Door

Too many small-church pastors operate out of guilt. We swim in a sea of self-imposed fault-finding, then we dump the overflow on others. Since guilt motivates us to work hard, we assume it will work on others.

Guilt never works. Not for pastors. Not for their congregations. I know. I’ve tried.

Guilt doesn’t motivate volunteers. It paralyzes and discourages them. Then it leads to burnt-out pastors and unhealthy churches.

2. Adapt Your Methods To Suit Your Size

Too many churches of 50 (give or take 50) are trying to do all the activities of a church of 500. This causes a lot of extra and unnecessary work.

It’s not healthy to operate a small church under a template more suited to a larger church. But when we adapt our methods to suit our size, we discover that a lot of things we thought were essential aren’t so essential any more.

For instance, when 20 or fewer people show up for a meeting, there’s no need to line them up in rows, speak through a microphone, have a band lead in worship, or offer multiple age-levels of child care. Maybe the best way is to form the chairs in a circle to talk, pray and sing together. Do some Q & A. Make it more about dialog than monolog.

Adapting our methods to suit our size means that a church of 50 or fewer may not need:

  • A worship team or choir
  • A Sunday School
  • A nursery
  • An audio system
  • A building
  • A full-time pastor (Ouch! Sorry.)

And if we don’t need all that, we don’t need as many volunteers to delegate to.

A small church is not supposed to act like a big church. This only leads to frustrated pastors, burnt-out volunteers, and an ineffective church.

3. Stop Doing Activities That Have No One To Lead Them

If there’s no one willing to lead something, it’s probably not as vital as everyone thinks it is.

“But we need it!” is not a good reason to start something new. It might be okay for meeting a temporary, immediate need, but a sustained ministry takes more than that.

There are needs everywhere. They’re endless. A wise pastor does spiritual triage to determine which ministries the church can do well over the long term.

When I finally started taking delegation seriously, we stripped the church calendar to the bare essentials. Then we didn’t start any new ministries again until we satisfied the requirement in the next point.

4. Do Nothing Without At Least Two Leaders

I’ve started ministries because one reliable, passionate person said they could handle it themselves. And it’s never ended well. We’re better off not launching a ministry at all than starting one without back-up leadership in place.

And no, one of two team members can’t be the pastor or spouse.

If you don’t believe me on this one, here’s the same principle from a higher authority than me.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:10-12)

5. Assess And Hone Your Delegation Skills

So, according to Ecclesiastes – not to mention the examples of Jesus, Paul, Moses and others – delegation and teamwork aren’t just helpful, they’re a biblical imperative. According to the Apostle Paul, the pastor’s primary responsibility is to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. (Ephesians 4:11-12)

There’s no excuse. Small-church pastors need to learn how to delegate better.

Yes, I understand that there are a lot of mundane tasks that small-church pastors just have to do. There’s no getting around that. And the last thing I want to do to an already overwhelmed, guilt-ridden pastor is to add another brick to your load. But we have to face the reality that a lack of volunteers is not always the congregation’s fault.

Small-church pastors need to become better delegators.


As I described in Making Disciples Without Overworking the Pastor (A Simple, Five-Step Process), training better leaders starts with better mentoring.

No matter how small our church is, how burdened we are, or how impossible the task of training volunteers to do the work of ministry seems, not delegating is not an option.

I’ll close by passing on some of the wisest counsel I’ve ever received in pastoral ministry.

6. Delegate, Pastor. Delegate

My deacon was right.

It may be hard to delegate. Especially when it seems like there’s no one to delegate to. But it’s easier – and more biblical – than not delegating at all.

(Photo by Reiner Ehlers | Flickr)


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