Congratulations! Today you get to read about one of my greatest hopes and also one of my greatest dysfunctions. That is, I deeply desire to build a culture of empowerment in church staff.

I want people to feel believed in and trusted to do great work. However…and this is a big however. I am a control freak. I believe things should be done a certain way and I don’t naturally trust people to do things the way I like them to be done. 

Yes, you are right. This hope and this dysfunction are polar opposites.  

With that in mind, how do you build a culture of empowerment when you’re a control freak? Ah. I’m glad you asked. I’ve been bumbling along in this quest for a few years now. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Trust in the Moment

If you want to build a culture of trust, you must learn to trust people in the moment. If your people don’t feel trusted to make critical decisions in the moment, you absolutely cannot build a culture of empowerment.  

But, how do you trust people to make the right decision in the moment when…well…you’re not sure you trust them to make the decision you would make?  

The answer comes down to values. You have to be a values-driven staff rather than a preference-driven staff. 

Here’s the difference: When a culture is preference driven—as in the preference of the senior leader, then people will always be second guessing, 

“Is this what he wants?”  

“Is this what she would choose?”  

People never feel fully trusted or empowered in a preference-driven staff.  

However, when you have a values-driven staff, decisions are made based on the agreed upon values. Values are clear and unambiguous. Preferences are unclear and ambiguous.

So, if you want to build a culture of empowerment, but like me, you struggle with being a control freak—clearly define your values and trust people to make the right decisions in the moment.  

But, let’s be real. People don’t always make the best decision in the moment, even when the values are clear. So, what do you do with that?  


Clear and Regular Feedback

Empowerment does not mean you can’t have standards or boundaries. Empowerment does not mean that people just do whatever they feel is best. Again, values drive decisions.  

What do you do when someone makes a poor decision? The answer is clear feedback. This is a constant occurrence for us. For example, one of our values is hospitality—making the outsider feel like an insider.

Because of this, we are very intentional about our language from the stage. Insider language violates our hospitality value.

So, when I am preaching and I use “Christianese” words, you can be assured that someone on our staff will give me the feedback that a phrase or a word felt “insider.”  

A culture of empowerment requires not only clear feedback, but also regular feedback. Something I’ve learned in leadership is that challenging conversations are required.

I don’t much like giving negative feedback. I’d much rather empower people to do great work and never have to deal with any issues. Wouldn’t that be nice?! But, that’s not how life works.  

Good leadership requires clear and regular feedback. Every time a staff member leads worship, tells the story in your children’s ministry, gives a presentation to the board, or delivers a sermon, there should be clear feedback so that everyone can be growing and improving.  

Accountability to Progress 

One last thing. A culture of empowerment does not necessarily mean that there are no consequences for subpar work. Not everyone is a great fit for every position. I’d last about three days in any sort of job that requires a high level of organization and detail.  

If you build a culture of empowerment, how exactly do you hold people accountable to results? I mean, you can’t continue to make the wrong decision in critical moments. And don’t forget, I’m a control freak. I’m not naturally tolerant of mistakes.

What I’ve learned here is to hold people accountable to progress. If people are moving forward and improving, even if that improvement is slow, they should continue to be trusted in wherever appropriate.

One of the big reasons for this is that some of the clearest lessons you’ve learned in life come from mistakes. As long as you fail forward, you are growing.  

When an employee or volunteer is not responding appropriately to feedback or continues to repeat the wrong decision or mistake without improvement, then action should be taken.

In other words, most of the time, employees and volunteers should be held accountable to progress rather than perfection. And, something else I’ve learned—the hard way, I might add—is that people who aren’t progressing either are not teachable or are simply in the wrong role. 

A culture of empowerment sometimes empowers people to find a role that better fits who they are and how they are gifted.  


Wrap Up

How do you build a culture of empowerment when you’re a control freak? It comes down to trusting people in the moment, focusing on values rather than preference, and holding people accountable to progress rather than perfection. I hope this has been helpful. Have a great week!