The Leader as Catalyst - Part 12 (Empower)
Empower: Position and release them to the mission with Him.
Through employing the roles of Envisioner (“See the Way”) and Expositor (“Interpret the Way”), you have painted the picture of the Kingdom future which God intends. You have begun to impart hope through vision and to foster the resilience required for the journey. Through the role of the Implementer (“Define the Way”), you have laid out the path of the way of life, which will lead people into God’s future. As part of that pathway, you have created “on-ramps,” the means of accessing the path, and have encouraged them to join in. You have enlightened and encouraged those journeying with you in Christ. Through the roles of Progenitor (“Give the Way”) and Equipper (“Prepare those on the Way”), you have enriched them, making them ready for the King’s service. The last step is to empower them, positioning and releasing them to the mission.
Standing Behind, Putting Forward
As you lead your congregation through the change process, influencing them towards God’s preferred future, specific individuals will emerge as key players. Those who are the “early adopters” of the new vision and focus, who respond to the Lord’s call forward, who have taken advantage of the equipping opportunities you have presented – it is these people who now need to be positioned to serve. Someone who embraces the future gets to be part of facilitating its emergence. However, for someone to move into a place of responsible service in a Kingdom community, it requires the affirmation of those leaders who have been entrusted with the oversight of that community. You can think of this as sponsorship, where the leader vouches for the character and competencies of the person being put forward. This is a crucial part of the larger discipleship process, and indeed, is the fruit of the process. An excellent example of this is found in Barnabas making way for Saul/Paul to enter into the community of the Apostles in Jerusalem:
And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus (Acts 9:26-27).
It is easy to understand why the Apostles would be suspicious of this man who had murdered their brothers. Something needed to happen so that Saul, the persecutor, could become Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles. Joseph “bar-Nabas,” the “son of encouragement,” was the relational doorway for Paul into the Apostolic community. He told the story of both Paul’s conversion on the Damascus Road and the missional activity Paul engaged in after his conversion. This opened the door for Paul to become a catalyst of the Kingdom amongst the Gentiles. Through his sponsorship action, Barnabas, as a member of the apostolic leadership community, made Paul’s contribution possible. And as they say, the rest is history. One man’s aid in positioning a new leader made it possible for all people to be included in the Kingdom future God intended for humanity.
Authorizing Agents of the King
To empower someone means to give someone power and authority, to enable and permit. The early Apostles were simply following the pattern of discipleship that Jesus had given them. In the Gospels, we see numerous examples of Jesus empowering and releasing those He had equipped for service:
And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal (Luke 9:1-2).
We see Jesus sending out the “senior students” of his midrash community of disciples in this passage. There was a prominent positioning and empowering of the Twelve with the assignment of a specific task. Jesus soon follows suit with the remaining 72 disciples of His midrash cohort, sending them in similar fashion in Luke 10:1.
Likewise, at the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus commissions the remaining 11 senior disciples to continue His mission of Kingdom extension. The Eleven are now to be rabbis positioned in His place, making disciples for Him everywhere:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:16-20).
Through this intentional action of confirmation, Jesus affirms and releases them to minister in His authority. We see in Acts 1 how He solidifies this positioning, reaffirming to them again His purpose for their positioning and empowerment:
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).
The pattern is set – the Jesus model of discipleship culminates in His followers being empowered to serve, publically identified by current leadership. God may call someone, but human agency is required to affirm and confirm that calling, just as we saw in Barnabas vouching for Paul to the other Apostles. And of course, Paul carries on this method of empowerment, as we see in his letters:
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well (Romans 16:1).
The church in Rome is counseled to receive this deaconess, respond to her leadership, and support her in her ministry efforts. In writing to the Corinthian church, Paul affirms a number of people whom the Corinthians should “be subject to” in the Lord:
Now I urge you, brothers—you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer. I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. Give recognition to such people (1 Corinthians 16:15-18).
And specifically of his spiritual son, Timothy, Paul reminds him of the action which publically affirmed Timothy for the work of the ministry:
Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you (1 Timothy 4:14).
Such personal and public empowerment is essential for identifying and releasing people to effective and fruitful ministry. This is the final key component in leading the change process in your church. Those who have signed on with the vision must be positioned to lead the charge into the future. You need allies and co-laborers in the harvest field. They are the catalytic reagents the Lord has provided to you to mix into the environment of your local church. This is how change happens – when these new disciples and leaders who are aligned with the vision begin to walk into the future that the Lord has indicated is His heart for your church.
The Process of Release
Providing the sponsorship and empowerment we have discussed here must be part of a more extensive discipleship engagement with those who are being released. It happens by degree and is tied to the overall personal development of the one being empowered. As Jesus said, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much” (Luke 16:10a). Responsibility is given in increasing increments. As one proves themselves before the community, more authority can be given for even more significant contributions to the Kingdom. Tighter parameters must be set around those newly empowered individuals just emerging in the ministry of the church. Greater flexibility and autonomy of action is granted with verified alignment to the vision and responsible accomplishment of those things already entrusted to them.
Time for some reflection:
Who is ready to be empowered through your sponsorship?
Of those who are ready, which ones have the most potential for immediate benefit to the change process?
From a longer-term perspective, who are the significant individuals able to continue and sustain the change dynamic?
Of those you are considering for empowerment, what issues must still be resolved in their life, understanding of the vision, etc., before they can be released?
And this wraps up this series! Take some time to go back and review the posts.
May the Lord bless you as you seek His intended future for you and the Kingdom community you serve!