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How to Shift Your Leadership Style From Controlling to Empowering

18 January, 2019
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Control.

It’s a balancing act for every leader. On one hand, your responsibility as the leader is to manage and guide your ministry team. It’s part of your job description. On the other hand, you need to be able to listen to your team. And according to Ephesians 4, your job is to equip saints, not to do all the ministry yourself.

This balance comes out in any size of church. Whether you have a full team of staff members, or your ministry team is strictly made up of volunteers, the struggle is probably in full force.

And the tendency for most leaders is simple: It’s easier to hold on to ministry than to empower those within our church.

That’s not a critique, just a reality. It’s the way most of us are wired.

In fact, in certain seasons of our ministry, this wiring can be beneficial. Especially in the early stages of a church, there are often times when things just need to get done. Hospital visits need to be made. People need to be counseled. Sermons need to be preached. And if you’re like me, that typically feels like your sweet spot.

But it’s not sustainable. And it’s not biblical.

When we hold on to all the ministry as our church starts to grow, we soon lack the additional leaders we need for sustainable growth and we never move from simply holding the title of a pastor to gaining the influence of a leader. And this is on us. It’s on the culture we create. And it’s on our ability to empower those within our church to do the work of the ministry (especially young people in our church).

So I wanted to highlight five things for you to consider to start shifting your leadership style from controlling to empowering:

1) Give ministry away.

We’ve already mentioned this one up above, but the first step is simple: You need to start giving ministry away. This won’t be a quick process, but creating a system to develop leaders and let ministry go is critical for a healthy church. Developing new leaders (both volunteer and staff) is absolutely crucial to expand your ministry and impact more people for Jesus.

2) Be flexible on how things are done.

Sometimes it’s easy to put off giving ministry away because people don’t do things “the right way.” But we need to be flexible on how tasks are accomplished because, well, there are multiple ways to do things. As soon as how we do ministry becomes more important than why we do ministry, our purpose as leaders becomes deeply misguided.

3) Ask questions.

One key aspect of empowering others within your church is giving people a voice, providing the freedom to share opinions, to provide insight, and guide various ministry efforts. Start this process by asking questions and seeking out their thoughts. This is a simple way to tell your team that they matter to you and to fight pride in your leadership.

4) Reflect on your personal strengths.

You can’t do everything. And you’re probably doing things right now that you honestly aren’t that great at, or you simply can’t dedicate enough time to be great at it. (I know, it hurts that you and I can't be Superman, but it’s true.) Take a quick inventory: What are your personal strengths? And what tasks are specific to your role as the pastor? Everything that doesn’t fit are tasks that can (and should) be given away.

5) Reflect on the strengths of your ministry team.

On the flip side, take an inventory of the strengths within all the core volunteers and staff in your church. What do you see in them? What natural giftings do they have that you can empower and encourage them to use? Create a plan for how to move forward with handing things off to those you see potential in.


Developing leaders is not something you can do on the side. It needs to become an essential part of your culture, and it’s a critical aspect of your own leadership in order to reflect the biblical model set for us in Ephesians 4.

If this is an area you could improve in, we dedicate a whole module to it in VisionBox, our new strategic planning resource for small and mid-size churches. This is a simple and affordable way to invest in the long-term health of your church, and it’s a great first step for your church to begin planning for the future.

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Austin Savage

From Normal, IL, Austin gets that ministry can sometimes feel anything but “normal.” He grew up leading in the small church his dad pastored, and has since served on the launch teams for two church plants. He holds a Communications degree from Moody Bible Institute and is passionate about seeing churches grow healthier and make a difference in their communities.

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