2 Barriers to Empowering Leaders

As the leader you are not the most qualified person on your team for every decision, every initiative, or every aspect of the team’s collective work. There are others the Lord has placed on the team who are more uniquely gifted and prepared to lead specific functions.

For example, the senior pastor may not be the most gifted to spearhead pastoral counseling or lead a new initiative. Or the team leader may not be the most creative or the best designer of systems that undergird the organization.

The team is stronger and her impact is greater when the leader of the team recognizes the gifting surrounding him/her, hands leadership to others, and graciously places himself/herself under their direction for specific initiatives and functions.

Max Depree referred to this as “roving leaders” in his classic work, Leadership Is an Art. Depree articulated that there are strong leaders throughout an organization who don’t carry the organizational title of team leader but are the ones who really lead, who really make things happen.

Those with the organizational title of “team leader” are wise to hand responsibility to others – to trust “roving leaders.” Practically this means the team leader delegates and serves as a team member under the direction of the “roving leader” who is running point on a particular function or project.

If roving leadership sounds idealistic it is because many of us have been confronted with two significant barriers to roving leadership.

1)    Insecure leaders

Insecure leaders need to be the ones making every decision and leading every initiative. Their organizations or ministries don’t need them to be the ones always running point; they need to be the ones always running point. Their egos will not allow another person to thrive, another person to lead, or another person to be perceived as “wiser” or more “effective” in a particular discipline. Their need for power or control debilitates the organization and stifles the development of the team.

Humble leaders delegate and gladly submit to others with proven character and competence. They care more about the health of the ministry/organization they lead than the credit they receive. Several have been credited with the maxim: “It is amazing what can be accomplished if we don’t care who gets the credit.”

2)    Unwise & unhealthy expectations

In some situations it is not an insecure leader but unwise and unhealthy expectations that prohibits “roving leadership.” If the ministry or organization believes and practices that the person with the “leader” title must be the one “executing” all the work rather than “equipping” others, then everyone suffers. The organization or ministry suffers as her influence is limited to one person. The leader suffers as he/she feverishly attempts to lead everything. And people suffer as they are sidelined without the ability to use their gifts to contribute.

Sadly, in some churches insecure leaders need to be needed, so they refuse to empower and equip others for ministry. They refuse to practice the biblical vision of church ministry where pastors don’t always do the ministry, but they equip others for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). And sadly, in some churches a lack of understanding or commitment to the beautiful doctrine that all believers are priests, all believers are ministers, pushes ministry to the paid clergy instead of to the entire body.