The Divine Logic of Delegation


Ann Michel of the Lewis Center staff explains that delegation and collaboration are more than effective leadership strategies. They are acts of faith that imitate the way God chooses to engage humankind in God’s mission. And they are essential expressions of Christian humility.

Those of us who are parents know that inviting young children to help prepare dinner or rake the garden rarely results in these tasks being completed sooner or better. And yet we eagerly invite our children’s help. Why? Because we want to be in relationship with them and help them learn and grow. The same is true of our Divine Parent, who chooses to act through imperfect human agents, sacrificing efficiency for the sake of engaging humankind as partners in God’s mission.

The calculated inefficiency of God

Some years ago, I was introduced to a concept that profoundly shaped my understanding of how God works in the world and how God expects us to work with one another. It’s the idea of God’s calculated inefficiency. (Thomas Hawkins, Building God’s People, Discipleship Resources, 1990). If God wanted to accomplish things as efficiently as possible, God would act through neat and tidy divine interventions or only through the most powerful and able among us. But God is seldom efficient. God often chooses the least likely candidate for a task. Moreover, God has dispersed widely among us the spiritual gifts necessary for the health of Christ’s body, evidence of the fact that God does not want any of us to do it all alone.

The paradoxical power of delegation

Of course, the paradoxical logic of this is that the calculated inefficiency of God ultimately is not inefficient at all. By sacrificing short-term efficiency for the sake of engaging us in God’s mission, God helps us grow and develop. God lifts up new and often unexpected leaders. And God expands the capacity of the divine-human partnership by incentivizing collaborative action.

The same paradoxical logic applies in our leadership, as well. Many leaders resist sharing responsibility with others because they believe it’s quicker and easier to do things themselves. And in the short run, it may be. But there is a long-term payoff when we sacrifice short-term efficiency for the sake of helping others grow and develop. It lifts up new leaders. It expands capacity.

No one is indispensable.

But let’s be honest. A desire for efficiency isn’t the only thing that stands in the way of leaders delegating responsibility and sharing authority. Most of us hate to let go of tasks because we imagine no one else can do them quite as well as we can. It takes a great deal of maturity and humility to acknowledge that’s likely not true.

David Horner says “the more ministry revolves around us, the more our egos get inflated. Our estimation of our own importance blinds us to the truth. One of the best ways to combat this is to make sure that you regularly delegate to others the things you normally do. It … will prove to you and your congregation that you aren’t irreplaceable. That is a good thing for you to know and them to find out.” Horner recommends that humble, mature Christian leaders create situations that remind themselves and others that they are not indispensable. (Read 12 Practices to Cultivate Humble Leadership by David Horner.)

Strategic incompetence

In their book Teams that Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership (Intervarsity Press, 2015), Ryan Hartwig and Warren Bird write about the importance of a leader adopting the stance of “strategic incompetence.” Strategic incompetence involves choosing to stay silent, even when you know the answers to questions, creating space for others to step forward and offer solutions. It means stepping away from time to time so that people have the freedom to explore ideas without the boss watching. If you want to develop other leaders, you have to create space where people can empower themselves. Even if you can do it all, don’t. The key question for a leader is, “Today, what is one thing I can do to strategically not do?

Delegation and collaboration are important and effective leadership strategies in any setting. But for church leaders they are something more. They are acts of faith. They are expressions of Christian humility. They honor God’s intent for the world and the church. And they help each of us live more fully into the image of God that has implanted in us in the act of creation.

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About Author

Ann A. Michel has served on the staff of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership since early 2005. She currently serves as a Senior Consultant and is co-editor of Leading Ideas e-newsletter. She also teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary in the areas of stewardship and leadership. She is the co-author with Lovett H. Weems Jr. of Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance: A Transformational Guide to Church Finance (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021) available at Cokesbury and Amazon. She is also the author of Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers (Abingdon, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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