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During the 2014 Small Parish Forum, clergy and lay attendees caucused separately to write each other an open letter offering suggestions on how each could better fulfill their leadership role. By far, the number one quality that laity expressed to clergy -- mentioned early and often -- was to delegate more often and more effectively.


This made us wonder why clergy were --or were perceived to be -- poor at delegating responsibility.


Basic Barriers

Some obvious answers come to mind. Limited opportunity and experience working in groups of peers or teams and managing staff.  Lack of an active, on site "boss". Limited training in management methods. "They don't teach this in seminary," is an oft heard explanation. And, many clergy, feeling a sense of duty for their roles as overseers, are simply reticent to delegate certain responsibility to non-clergy. 


Yet we wanted to go a bit deeper --in part because many in parish life are poor at delegating. Church school directors, building and grounds teams, ladies groups and parish councils could all profit from focusing on better ways to share responsibility.   


When parishioners and clergy  work together to build trust and confidence in one another and to share leadership roles, the prospects for building up the Body of Christ are significantly enhanced.
So we've discussed the question with a few Orthodox priests, explored non-Orthodox pastoral blogs and researched good delegation practices to develop a few thoughts and delegation tips. The observations apply to clergy and laity.


How Laity Can Help 

Waiting for volunteers can be lonely, fruitless and ineffective. Clergy are continually in the position of asking for volunteers. "Make an announcement, Father." Yet rarely do volunteers materialize. If you want to help your pastor delegate better -- raise your hand at the plea for volunteers.


Follow Through

When we asked clergy about barriers to delegating responsibility many answered that they've simply 'been burned too often'. People sign up for jobs - but then don't follow through or the job is poorly done and needs rework-- and the pastor is left holding the bag. Nobody enjoys looking bad. And the pastor often needs to bite his tongue when passing blame. The result is that priests delegate to an ever narrowing group of people. The lesson: Say what you'll do and do what you say.


Stop Pressure to "Look Busy"

Any pastor who has been asked publicly or privately, "What do you do all day, Father?" has incentive to look busy and a reluctance to be seen as unable to get things done or to be shuffling tasks to others. Clergy are not hirelings and need not be doing things that others can do as well or better. If Father rarely delegates perhaps lay leaders make him feel like he must appear busy.


Take the Initiative. Be Willing to Make Decisions
One highly competent priest shared with us that that too often when people take on a job, they are willing to do specific tasks ("set up the room for the workshop") but every decision keeps returning to him. While some clergy have an unfortunate need to be involved in every decision we've also observed delegates who seemingly have no confidence or initiative to make a choice. If the pastor has trusted you with a job involving decisions - move the ball down the field

Become a Mentor

Many lay persons become overworked in parish life. Instead of taking on more tasks and responsibility, perhaps feeding your own ego in the process ("I'm really important to this parish!") work with your pastor to find a role as a mentor to others. You help the pastor with delegating -and mature in your role in the parish.


Suggestions for Clergy


Build Disciples

In the words of St. John Chrysostom, "The most basic task of the Church leader is to discern the spiritual gifts of all those under his authority, and to encourage those gifts to be used to the full for the benefit of all." You cannot truly explore those gifts without availing people the opportunity to apply them.


Delegating builds engagement and discipleship. It helps persons to recognize and fulfill their role and use their talents. It helps to build lay leaders-- and we're firmly convinced that parishes need more leaders to flourish and grow.   


Multiply Your Time

Any parent who has taught a child to do a household task has thought "I could have done this faster myself". In the press of daily 'business' it's easy to forget the long term benefits of sharing the load.  


At first delegation takes time rather than frees time. Eventually sharing the load can multiply a priest's effectiveness and help avoid burnout. It can free up time for family, or to do pastoral tasks for which they are best suited or enjoy. When clergy run out of time, and are unwilling or unable to engage others to share the load, they become the bottleneck in the parish's ability to live a life in Christ. Growth and ministry are inhibited.  

Church school class
Parishes are comfortable delegating responsibility to church school teachers, singers, groundskeepers & treasurers. What new roles can fit available talents & build disciples? 
Ask: Who Fits?

It is good to communicate to parishioners where help is needed. But rather than being trapped by the vicious cycle of 'broadcast pleas' for volunteers learn to ask directly and specifically. People may be flattered that they are thought to have abilities that are useful. In some situations enlist lay mentors to be the 'askers'. Before approaching people consider the questions:

  • Who has the skills to do this task well? 
  • For whom would this task be a welcome challenge?   
Develop Delegation Guidelines
One priest suggests that the first step to becoming a better delegator is to decide what you won't delegate -and make sure the list is short. Most jobs in a parish do not actually require a clerical collar.  


Give Up Some Control

It is self-evident that delegating requires relinquishing some control. Most priests have a deeply developed sense of responsibility for guarding the integrity of the Church. Sometimes it is important to ask "what is the worst thing that can happen?" Usually it's not all that bad. Balance the fear of losing control with the joy of building commitment to parish life. Can you trust a layperson to teach an adult class or offer a book review?  

Enjoy Being Outshined

Most Orthodox parishes today have their share of competent, educated professional people. Teachers. Business owners. Accountants. Engineers. Managers. Moms. Salesmen. Teen Cyber Giants. 


Occasionally pastors may feel vulnerable about their lack of knowledge in particular secular or administrative areas and prefer to muddle along privately. Realize what you are good at -- make a list, it will be longer than you think -- and what you are not good at. Find ways to complement your strengths with the help of those gifted in area x or y. It often leads to fresh ideas and new solutions to old problems


Explain What -- Not How

One of the biggest inhibitors of people stepping up to do tasks is micromanaging by a parish leader, clergy or other, who simply can't let go or for whom there is only one right way. When delegating a task or responsibility explain what needs to be done, the desired outcome and the constraints of budget, time, space etc. Describe boundaries. Don't tell them how you want it done. Then step back and let the person do it. Refrain from over managing unless you can clearly see that things are headed in the wrong direction. If your delegate has a different way of doing things than you do, try to be flexible and open-minded about it.


Check In - Don't Hover

Effective delegation usually requires monitoring but without giving the impression that you do not have trust or confidence in the person assigned to do the task.  Some of these questions may help with the check-in conversations along the way:   

  • Can you walk me through some of the steps you have taken since our last conversation? 
  • How far along is the effort today as compared to where you thought it would be? 
  • Which steps have been easier or more difficult so far than you had expected?  

When 'checking in' be disciplined, perhaps using designated check-in times at regular intervals. Said one pastor, "I try to apply the same discipline to managing people that we would apply to a prayer rule or to fasting."


Grade Your Paper
Most parish councils would become more effective by simply deciding to grade their paper occasionally. So to with parish leaders including clergy. Look back at the past six to twelve months. Did you effectively delegate to others? More? Less? How did you approach it? What style worked and what didn't? Results? Did you save some time or enable the parish to do new things? Was the delegatee able to understand their gifts and a productive role in the parish? Did you micromanage? Find new people whose judgment you can trust further? Did you actually delegate deeper - responsibility and/ or limited authority - or was delegating confined to basic tasks? Looking ahead: What can I delegate that will require a parishioner to grow to accomplish it? 


Building Up the Body of Christ

Clergy are pulled in many directions and have many roles requiring an array of skills. Most of us would wither at the breadth of the pastor's weekly agenda. When parishioners and clergy work together to build trust and confidence in one another and to share leadership roles the prospects for building up the Body of Christ are significantly enhanced.

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