The topic of Empowering others stands out uniquely in the context of movements. My team and I have trained nearly 10,000 in Empowering, as part of my EXPONENTIAL Disciple-Making training. Almost every time we receive feedback from church leaders that “this session is sooooo powerful and helpful.” They stretch the “sooooo” so long as though stretching chewing gum between their two hands. Then they hasten to add that in their church Empowering is the mooooost counter-cultural of all the movement skills of the training, this time stretching the “mooooost” energetically. Another unique feature: No other agreed-upon movement practice has such a large gap between knowing and doing. Most effective catalysts consistently practice Empowering. But while the vast majority of movement practitioners profess an empowering ministry style, in practice I have seen very dis-empowering movement leaders holding tightly to power and responsibility.
In this issue we’ll look at the example of Jesus and the Best Practices of effective catalysts. At the end you will find practical growth steps you can take and a checklist for how to make your own ministry more empowering.
How to NOT empower
Consider first an example where leaders have not empowered others. Travel with me to Nairobi, Kenya, where I witnessed the most shocking example of the outcomes when leaders have not empowered others. Judging by the church building, the congregation must have been established more than 100 years ago. If we join a Sunday morning service today, we will find a white foreigner leading the entire service. At some point in the service he asks another white foreigner to lead the worship. After the worship, yet another white foreigner steps into the pulpit in order to deliver a sermon. What do the local disciples contribute? They sit in the pews, sing along, and occasionally say “Amen.” This has been their church pattern for 100 years. This is how leaders have (not!) empowered others. Have you ever been part of a similar church experience? What we saw in Nairobi we can witness in churches all around the world. Neglecting our ongoing growth in the skills of empowering could lead to the legacy of our ministry becoming similar to that church. If we want to avoid it, we must keep working at empowering.
My journey to become ever more empowering
When I was a younger leader, I wanted to be empowering; yet my team members occasionally gave me feedback that I tended to lead in somewhat micro-managing and controlling ways. I hated hearing such feedback and so made drastic changes. Today others tell me they see me as quite empowering.
My own growth toward becoming more empowering can be traced to three paradigmatic changes I made in my ministry approach:
Stage 1: Focus on developing others and delegating when someone else can carry out a ministry task 80% as well I would.
Stage 2: Focus on developing others and delegating as soon someone can carry out a ministry task somehow.
Stage 3: Focus on developing others while carrying out as few leadership tasks as possible myself and placing them into the hands of others from day one.
Today I understand leadership as setting an example, jointly discerning a shared vision, and then getting out of the way of others.
My example is Jesus himself, the most empowering leader of all time.
Leadership is setting an example, jointly discerning a shared vision, and then getting out of the way.
How Jesus empowered his disciples
Other passages speak about this, but Matthew 10:1; 5-8 sums it up like no other.
And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction….
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.”
We see in this passage that Jesus empowered by giving the disciples five things. Jesus gave:
Authority: Jesus "gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out and to heal every disease" (verse 1).
Space: “These twelve Jesus sent out" (verse 5). By sending them away from him, Jesus gave the disciples space; and with that, freedom to try out new things.
Instruction: In preparation, Jesus was "instructing them" (verse 5).
Responsibility: “These twelve Jesus sent out" (verse 5). Sending can also be translated as commissioning. Jesus commissioned the disciples, giving them responsibility for an assignment.
Example: Matthew 9:35 says that just recently before sending the Twelve, "Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages.... proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom.” Before commissioning others, Jesus gave an example of what he was commissioning them to do.
Effective catalysts are highly empowering
My research into a large sample of effective movement catalysts across the six mega-cultures of the world has established that they practice to be empowering consistently.
I define this quality as follows:
Effective Movement Catalysts empower and enable local disciples to be the key players by putting responsibility and authority in their hands from the beginning and by developing their gifts.
From this definition we can derive this simple equation:
Giving responsibility + giving authority + developing gifts => empowering
This quality clearly distinguishes catalysts from non-catalysts.
Empowering is a competence that all effective catalysts have in common. In fact, among 22 traits and competencies that characterize effective catalysts, only three differentiate catalysts from non-catalysts more strongly than Empowering. This table presents the difference:
Figure 1: Empowering Rating for Catalysts and Non-Catalysts
Average of all 22 qualities
How effective catalysts empower
The process of empowering others, in particular local disciples, has some recurring key elements and Best Practices. The starting point, before the activities of empowering begin, is the theological conviction that the power should actually rest in the hands of the local church and her local leaders. Such conviction is based on Scripture teaching of the priesthood of all believers and spiritual authority. As one catalyst emphatically says: “We regard that ALL authority is given to the local gathering.” Such conviction is then passed on to, and taught to, emerging local leaders: “I made sure that the national CPM leader understand that I was not the leader. I assured him that he owned the movement.”
The following are seven best practices gleaned from effective catalysts. They reported on surveys that they have incorporated these best practices into their lives, and assess them to have contributed to their movement catalyzing:
Best Practice 1 – Expecting the Spirit to be at work in all believers: New disciple Ahmad who came into the kingdom yesterday has the same Holy Spirit as you and I, who have followed Jesus for decades. Ahmad does not have a junior version of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is as capable of guiding Ahmad as He is of guiding you and me. This expectation makes us confident that we can empower new disciples.
Confidence in the Holy Spirit manifests itself in the lives of catalysts at the various stages of a movement. Catalysts are confident that the Spirit guides them to relevant passages in Scripture and that he interprets these passages to them. Then catalysts are confident that the Spirit gives them wisdom to develop the right strategy. Catalysts wait on the Spirit habitually to receive specific guidance in their day-to-day ministry. When proclaiming Christ, catalysts are confident that the Holy Spirit comes on their listeners. When problems or conflicts occur, or they experience spiritual attacks, catalysts are confident that the Spirit will resolve the issue. Catalysts are confident in the Spirit’s ability to transform national believers. Further, catalysts express confidence in the Sprit when they give young believers the freedom to enculturate the gospel and kingdom communities under the Spirit’s guidance, abstaining from directing this process themselves. Such confidence is built through experience: “It is easy to empower people when you see the Holy Spirit working in their lives. […] I trusted the Holy Spirit to do the same thing again.” Previous experiences with the Holy Spirit touching and transforming people further builds up the confidence.
Best Practice 2 – Empower from the first hour: The time to begin empowering local disciples from the very first hour of the movement. As one catalyst puts it succinctly:
“The outsider should immediately equip new believers to do all the works of ministry. There is no handoff because the outsider has never owned the new work.”
Another catalyst explains how his team approaches this: “We did not do anything ourselves that the local disciples could do. We kept this as a principle to a fault. We put them in charge of everything.”
Best Practice 3 – Anchoring others to the Bible, not to our own wisdom: When I first started discipling Muslims, they came to me with tons of questions. And I had all the answers. But guess what happened. Whenever they had a question, they knew they could just come to me to get an answer. Soon I realized I needed to change my approach. So after that, when they had a question, I would not give them an answer. Instead, I would say: “Let’s see what the Word of God teaches in this matter. You have this conflict with your brother? Let’s read Matthew 18 together and discover how God teaches you to handle this conflict.”
The following ministry practices ensue from this Best Practice:
All our discipling is Bible-based and ties our disciples to the Bible directly, rather than to our own wisdom.
All our training is Bible-based, and the Bible is the foundational authority of our teaching, rather than our own authority.
Whenever we counsel disciples, we refer them to the Bible rather than our own experience.
We equip new disciples in inductive Bible interpretation skills, in order to enable them to discover truths in the Bible and their application to their lives for themselves.
Best Practice 4 – Asking questions, rather than giving answers: This is related to the previous Best Practice 2 and applies to all areas of life and ministry. This Best Practice does not necessarily pull out the Bible every time an issue arises but taps into the growing wisdom of disciples. Asking insightful questions facilitates self-discovery, and that is empowering. How one catalyst describes it is typical:
“My most common question is “What do YOU think about this…?” I think sometimes emerging leaders may conclude that I don’t actually know very much.”
Best Practice 5 – Full delegation: Delegating tasks, and with them also responsibility and authority. The three have to go together. Any delegation conversation with your teammates includes these instructions:
TASK: “This precisely is the task I am giving you; this is what I want to see accomplished.”
RESPONSIBILITY: “You are responsible for this. These are the consequences, positive if you do it well, negative should you fail.”
AUTHORITY: “You get to make the decisions; you are in charge up to the following boundaries. If or when you reach any of those, I expect you to communicate with me.”
If you hand over task + responsibility without authority, you create an errand boy.
If you hand over task + authority without responsibility, you create an irresponsible person.
If you hand over task + responsibility + authority, you create an empowered leader.
If you want to experience a movement, give away as much as possible and hold on to as little as possible.
If you hand over task + responsibility without authority, you create an errand boy.
Best Practice 6 – Putting co-workers in situations where they are forced to depend on the Spirit:
By giving them assignments where they don’t have access to you.
By giving them assignments that stretch them.
By informing them that you are intentional about stretching and growing them.
If we give our disciples assignments or responsibilities that are too easy, they will not grow.
If we give our disciples assignments or responsibilities that overstretch them, they will get crushed.
We need to give our disciples assignments and responsibilities that stretch them without overstretching them, so they will be forced to rely on the Spirit. This is how they can grow and be empowered.
Best Practice 7 – Giving space and freedom to try out and start new things: Often new disciples are used to leadership that manages them tightly and always looks over their shoulders or even controls them. We need to work against this. One catalyst reports how he does this: “Empowering and confidence in the Holy Spirit are conscious values that we apply all the time. We take risks and send out potential leaders in small teams and give them freedom to open up new areas.”
We give space:
By communicating that there is space: New disciples need to hear it; otherwise, they may well assume there is no space, no freedom to start new things.
By leaving periodically: After doing ministry together, a leader may consider intentionally withdrawing, so disciples do some ministry on their own.
By leaving for good: At some point, the ministry’s growth may benefit from the leader moving away to another location.
Applying Jesus’ principles of empowering to your key teammates:
1. Make a list of your key teammates.
2. Evaluate to what extent you have empowered each of them.
✓ Have you provided a role model or example?
✓ Have you instructed them?
✓ Have you anchored them to the Bible?
✓ Have you delegated fully = task + responsibility + authority?
✓ Have you communicated freedom to try out and start new things, along with the boundaries of this freedom?
✓ Have you given them space?
✓ Have you put them in situations where they are stretched and forced to rely on the Spirit?
3. Go through the checklist item by item and note for each what you have done specifically with that teammate.
4. Looking at each teammate one by one, what other specific one or two activities of the checklist would empower them more?
Here are specific steps you can take, gleaned from the lives of effective movement catalysts and my own experience:
Deepen your conviction and expectation that the Holy Spirit is indeed at work in every disciple. Be on the lookout for any indication in their lives, in order for that to happen.
Consciously train yourself to stop giving answers and ask questions more.
Take risks when delegating not only responsibility but also authority and when creating space for others.
Identify those aspects of empowering (see point 2 under Personal Self-Assessment) that you already practice without even thinking about it.
Reflect those aspects you don’t yet practice consistently and identify the reasons that have kept you from practicing them.
When giving over ministry responsibilities, consciously include the aspects listed above.
What Are Your Thoughts?
I would love to hear from you. What are YOUR thoughts? What is your experience?
Leave a comment below! If you prefer to private message me, you can use the contact form.
Learn more about the other Catalytic Qualities besides Empowering in my book Movement Catalysts. You can order your copy here.
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Emanuel Prinz – Father’s Beloved & Movement Activist