Chapter 6 – Empowering

Empowerment is a nebulous term to many people. In general social and political usage, this term refers to when those in power allow or bestow influence, authority, and decision-making to those who have previously been outsiders to the process. Empowerment recognizes the right and responsibility of people to participate in decisions which directly and deeply affect them. In that sense, empowerment in the North American Church is about a new kind of relationship between vocational leaders and volunteers.

Empowerment in ministry requires church leaders to:

  • Help God's people identify who He created them to be, and what He designed them to do.
  • Equip, resource, supervise, and evaluate volunteers so they can minister more effectively.
  • Take risks, give permission, release volunteers into service, and persevere with people and the process – knowing both leaders and volunteers will sometimes make mistakes and cause damage.
  • Lay out expectations and procedures for evaluations, and only give responsibilities when you also give the authority to carry them out.
  • NOT become hands-off or abandon volunteers, NOT micro-manage people or projects, and NOT control or quench volunteers under the guise of "coaching."

Empowerment in ministry requires volunteers to:

Developing intentionality and accountability in our ministry systems requires knowledge. All these aspects of empowerment are blocked when we do not know exactly how many people are serving, in what roles, with what job/task descriptions, and whether those ministries are inside the church or out in the community. This is why a Ministry Involvement Survey proves a valuable tool for tracking actual ministry activities, so we can start evaluating our systems for how meaningful the ministry is and then improve our processes.

Some typical fears that leaders express about empowerment are that they will lose control of the church, and – especially if they empower people to serve outside the church – they will lose members' financial contributions. However, research indicates that people give money where they first give their time and energy. So, if their involvement is not in and/or through a church, the church is at risk of losing those contributions anyway. Also, the reality is that churches can probably handle only 20% of members ministering in the church itself, which means 80% should be ministering in the community. We should see empowerment as a win-win-win situation for disciples, churches, and the Kingdom.

Many job descriptions have traditionally been written with an overwhelming combination of duties that requires an impossible combination of giftings to fulfill. So, one way to empower more people in realistic ministry is to divide existing jobs into specific tasks and responsibilities that can be given away to other individuals. Another is to create teams that work together to accomplish the same responsibility that was previously attempted by one person.

There are many compelling reasons for empowering others in ministry. Above all, it is biblical. Without empowerment, the biblical mandate to "equip God's people for the work of service" never carries through to action. Also, empowerment creates strength and loyalty within a community, lowers conflict, and reduces burnout. These and many other reasons mean empowerment creates a more hopeful future!