Meet Mike and Peter. These two guys studied together, and have both recently started their new jobs. They both have the same training, the same skill set, and the same potential.
Mike is really happy with his new position. The boss seems like a great guy – intelligent and full of advice. He seems to know everything, the kind of guy who can talk for hours about any topic (and frequently does). He is willing to spend time telling Mike how to do his job well. He’s always quick to solve problems for Mike, and even takes over and does the work for him if Mike gets stuck. Mike has found a comfortable work environment and has settled in well. He doesn’t realise he is slowly being disempowered.
Peter’s new boss is also an experienced, intelligent kind of guy. He asks Peter for his advice and opinions. He spends more time listening to Peter than telling him what to do – although he’s happy to provide advice when Peter asks for it directly. He makes space for Peter to make his own mistakes, but offers guidance when needed. He links Peter to other workers in relevant areas. He affirms Peter’s abilities and ideas, and gives him permission to try new things outside of his comfort zone. Peter is being empowered.
Within a few years, we see a huge difference between the two young men. Mike is dependent on his boss. He shows no initiative, and is content to do the minimum requirements of his position. He is a passive employee, and has no real professional aspirations. Peter, on the other hand, is confident and thriving. He has been promoted twice and turned down an attractive job offer from another agency. He shows clear leadership skills and is mentoring others. He initiates his own projects and completes them efficiently. Peter is an empowered employee, of huge benefit to the company, and achieving his personal and professional aspirations.
It’s easy to see how a workplace shapes its employees. It can be harder for churches to realise they are shaping God’s people – often as passive workers, with no aspiration or motivation to grow, change or impact the world around them. Pastors pour many hours a week into inspirational sermons to activate people – never seeing the irony that lecture-style monologues turn people into passive recipients, not active participants.
It is possible for church to become a place of great empowerment, where God’s people are built up and affirmed to take an active role in their own learning and growth, and the growth of others. However, changes may need to be made to the leadership model for this to happen. When leaders are willing to step off the stage and out of the limelight, and become facilitators rather than performers, we will see God’s people mature and grow as they are given a voice, a value and an impact.