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The Power of Empowerment

I am always fascinated by those who study trends and are able to discern the shape of the future. Their findings often allow me to see things I have not noticed before and to pay attention to things that matter most.  I had that experience recently as I was browsing through one such study, Megashift by James Rutz [Empowerment Press, 2005.] While I tend to be a bit skeptical of raw, global statistics, I was surprised to read his report that: in 1960, there were 24 nonbelievers for every believer in the world. Now there are only 6.

Now, I am not sure how to verify those statistics [especially when I weighed them against other claims made in Megashift], but it did cause me to look beyond the Canadian border. There has been some limited growth reported in North America. Reginald Bibby recently reported of encouraging signs in Canada,. But our experience hardly sets the global lead. However, it’s true that there are significant pockets outside North America that are experiencing phenomenal growth. Wherever it may occur, that growth has set the stage for a trend – a Megashift – that is affecting the face of leadership in the Church.

"Empowerment," Rutz writes, ".empowerment of what used to be called "the laity" is the greatest paradigm-shattering event since the rise of the priesthood class in the second century. What we are seeing today is the greatest mega shift in the history of the church: a transfer of momentum from the steady hands of the leaders to the fleet feet of the followers. Empowerment of non-professional Christians is . rapidly revising Christianity."

That is certainly reflected in the rapid-growth areas of the world. Talking with missionaries, whether from the Philippines or Columbia or Nigeria, I’ve detected a common theme. Growth has required empowerment. Often the needs of ministry are filled by laity regardless of training or certification. Ministry happens, and in the words of Larry the Cable-guy, men and women of God "get up and get ‘er done."

The idea of empowerment, however, is not as simple as it may sound. One of the best books on the subject appeared in 1996, written by Ken Blanchard of the "One-Minute Manager" fame. Like many, I had read a number of his "One-Minute" books: The One-Minute Manager, Leadership and the One-Minute Manager.The One-Minute Manager meets the Monkey." The title of his book in 1996, now reissued and updated, was a message in and of itself:Empowerment Takes More Than A Minute [Barrett-Koehler, 2001.]

As I reflect on my life in ministry, and my experiences with congregations, I have to admit, empowerment is not necessarily easy. The "paradigm-shift" is a challenge to familiar structures, roles and responsibilities. The idea of empowerment is as much a mentality as it is a method.

Over the last three years as I’ve been focused on creating initiatives that would enable congregations to develop emerging leaders from within. At the heart of leadership development lies the spirit of empowerment. As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve come to some conclusions that are both Biblical . and obvious . that define empowerment:

Conclusion 1: Empowerment recognizes the inherent giftedness of God’s people. One word that could describe a more conventional form of ministry management would be Delegation. The difference between the two is that delegation is about giving power to people. Empowerment is about releasing the power that already exists in people – and getting out of their way.

In Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 the source of power behind empowerment is the Holy Spirit. If one of the tenants of our faith is based on the "priesthood of all believers" it would seem reasonable to assume that God’s people are invested with knowledge, experience and power that awaits release. The mentality of empowerment begins when we look at each other through God’s eyes and realize that we are able.

Conclusion 2: Empowerment requires honest, candid communication. The first of three principles presented by Ken Blanchard is that for empowerment to occur is that Information must be shared by everyone. For whatever reason, it seems that there is a hesitation to risk free speech.

Bob Nelson [of FirstMoves.com] wrote that "traditionally, managers have been reluctant to share financial information." Yet there is truth to the principle that "while people without information cannot act – people with information cannot help but act."

Conclusion 3: Empowerment honors people by wedding authority with responsibility. Blanchard calls itautonomy within boundaries. General George Patton was a bit more blunt in saying "never tell people how to do things.tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."

Conversely, people who willingly accept responsibility but are prevented from making decisions or executing actions because they lack the authority become quickly and sometimes deeply demoralized.

Conclusion 4: Empowerment produces partnership. The third principle of empowerment presented by Blanchard is that old hierarchies are softened and replaced by energetic teams though empowerment. We often take a certain level of pride in the term "servant leadership." Empowerment actually turns the term into a reality. Again, Bob Nelson concludes that the structure of an empowered organization experiences a 180o shift . from being a triangle with bosses at the top with people working beneath, to become a triangle with the employees on top and leaders at the bottom working for them..

Final Conclusion: any congregation that aspires to become an environment where people grow and leaders emerge must learn the lessons of empowerment . to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:12-13.

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