Delegation is one of the leader’s most important activities. It does not entail passing off unwanted chores. Neither does it involve passing off “busy work.” Delegation takes place when a leader empowers the right person to accomplish a significant task with the appropriate direction, support, and accountability. Theodore Roosevelt said it this way, “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and the self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
The act and art of delegation occurs throughout Scripture, but the biblical “classic” is found in the second book of the Bible. In Exodus, Moses served as the sole judge in the land with a backlog of cases. The people “stood around him from morning till evening” awaiting a verdict. Finally, Moses father-in-law, Jethro, intervened with a plan:
Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform. But select capable men from all the people– men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain– and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said. He chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.
This passage contains seven delegation principles.
- It took another person’s help for Moses to see his need.
Moses was in one of those “can’t see the forest for the trees” times of life. It took his father-in-law to point out the fact that Moses was hurting himself and the people by trying to be a one-man-band. Thankfully, Moses listened to wise counsel.
- Ministry is “too heavy” for one person to do.
The ministry tasks that each of us must accomplish are varied. They range from pastoral to process; from teaching to technology. There is no way that one person can effectively carry out the demands of ministry. By ourselves, our ministry will be second rate and/or we will wear ourselves out.
- Determine your “Must Do’s”.
Each of us has our “must do’s”, “can do’s”, and “can’t do’s”. Determining our “must do’s” is a critical discovery. Like Moses, you may need some help determining what you cannot give up. Moses could not delegate the responsibility of being the people’s representative before God and teaching them the decrees and law (18:19-20). No one else could function in those two roles. Unfortunately for Moses, the strain of judging (his “can-do”) took away from his “must do” responsibilities. Serving as a judge was very important, but it was a secondary task for Moses.
- Find capable people.
Moses had to find capable men that met appropriate standards for carrying out the duties of a judge. They were to be “men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain” (18:21). The art of delegation is finding the right people to carry out the task.
Over the years, I have caused much trouble for myself by delegating important tasks to the wrong person. Instead of lightening the load, this leadership mistake makes life miserable. Here are some things to always keep in mind when looking for the right people.
- Spiritual Gifts. Does a person have the right gift mix for the ministry opportunity?
- Never give people tasks they cannot do or tasks you are unsure they can do. Make certain individuals have proven faithful in “entry-level” ministries. Then you can consider opportunities that are more significant.
- A person may have the gifts and ability but not the maturity. It will be tempting to go ahead and give the person the task. This decision, however, will come back to haunt you.
- Gifts, abilities, and experience without commitment will result in a job poorly done…if done at all.
- Give appropriate authority and direction.
Moses appointed capable men as “officials” giving them the authority to carry out their job. Nothing is more frustrating than having a job to do but no authority to get it done. Moses explained to them the scope of their responsibilities. They were to serve as “judges for the people at all time.” And while not explicitly stated in the text, we can be sure that Moses carried out his “must-do” teaching responsibility to train them for the challenging work of being a judge.
- Give appropriate support.
The newly selected judges were to be empowered with the authority and trust to try the simple cases. But Moses did not abdicate the responsibility. The new judges were to bring difficult cases to him. Again, one can only assume that with more and more experience, these capable men handled more and more cases on their own.
- Refusal to delegate causes us and others to suffer.
The people coming to Moses needed a decision. Certainly, they did not enjoy standing from morning till evening and then being told, “Come back tomorrow.” When things aren’t done or are done poorly because we refuse to delegate, everyone suffers. However, when delegation takes place “you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied” (18:23).