As ministry leaders we love to release people into ministry and we should – that is the heart of Ephesians 4:12. The question comes as to how and when we do this in ways that are helpful to others and not harmful. I believe that the answer can be found in the concept of Develop, Empower and Release.
But first, There are some common mistakes made by those who lead others in terms of their training and releasing. Let me suggest three:
- Just releasing people to do their thing in the name of empowerment. While empowerment is wonderful, empowerment without training, development and coaching is to set up people to fail – and to hurt the church or organization they serve with.
- Never releasing people under the guise of “they are not ready.” In this scenario, we never really release because they don’t have the same training as we do or would not be as effective as we think we are.
- Development in the form of academic training only. Here we think of training of more theology (not bad), leadership theory (not bad) but short on hands on ministry experience.
All three of these errors contribute to disappointing results with those we are raising up and releasing in ministry. I believe there is another way: that of developing, empowering and releasing others. This was the pattern of Christ and of Paul and it is one that we could learn again from today.
Development is about helping others understand how they are wired and gifted, spending quality time with them in ministry, dialoguing and sharing our lives in a serious way. It includes modeling ministry, modeling the life of a disciple, training and mentoring in the things of God and the life of a believer. This is best done in relationship or in community where discussion and dialogue are possible (think of Christ with his disciples) and where they are challenged to follow God seriously and invest their lives in ministry. Even in this stage we are inviting people to use their gifts but in an informal way in their homes, neighborhoods and circles of influence.
Empowerment only comes after development has been part of the picture. Empowerment is inviting people into ministry under our direction or coaching in ways that are appropriate to their readiness and gifting. It comes when we believe someone is ready to put some of their training into practice. This was Paul when he asked Timothy to take on certain assignments. It was Jesus when he sent out his disciples to heal and proclaim the good news and come back and report. It is ministry opportunity with a leash of coaching and accountability.
Empowerment is not just throwing people out on their own: it is inviting them into ministry in line with their level of maturity, under the coaching or authority of others. It is on the job training with feedback, coaching and ongoing development. Development and empowerment are not two separate phases as the development continues as we empower people to try their wings in ministry.
While developing is the first step, developing and empowering are tandem activities where increasing ministry responsibility is given as our mentee grows and develops. This was Paul’s strategy with Timothy. First Timothy traveled with him, then he started to give Timothy ministry assignments under his authority and as Timothy grew so did those assignments. If one short changes this dance of development and empowerment we run a significant risk of a ministry crash once on their own.
Releasing is acknowledging at some point that people no longer need us in a direct way and are ready to be released out on their own. Paul developed and empowered Timothy for a number of years but the time came when he released Timothy to pastor and stood in the background to encourage him. Jesus released the disciples on his resurrection and ascension. Paul spent several years at Ephesus planting a church and training leaders and then released them to fly on their own.
It can be hard to release because we are so vested in the development of others but at the right time it is time to let go, stand in the background, pray and encourage. It is like a parent who lets their eighteen year old fly on his or her own. They will make mistakes (as we did), they will pay dumb tax (as we did), they will face huge discouragements (as we did) and they will grow in their ministry (as we did). If we have developed and empowered, they will be ready to move forward. All the while, like Paul with Timothy or Christ through His Holy Spirit with the disciples we stand behind them cheering them on, encouraging them and providing counsel or insight as needed.
In our developing of people we will fail if we don’t pay attention to all three of these pieces of the development of individuals to the place where they can fly on their own – with a high probability of success.
One last note: For those who want to leave a legacy, the developing, empowering and releasing of people into ministry is the key. It is the 2 Timothy 2:2 principle.