Aligning responsibility and authority

[Note: this post is written to clergy about a common problem in ministry. It is posted here to allow search teams to eavesdrop and thereby make sure expectations of the incoming minister are clear and appropriate.]

Do you feel like you cannot dig your way out from under an avalanche of work, but when you make a request or propose an idea, no one listens?

Do you feel like your congregation looks to you too often for guidance, yet during your office hours you find yourself bored and unsure how best to use your time?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, you might be experiencing a mismatch between responsibility and authority. Responsibility is what you are assigned - by self or others - to do. Authority is the weight people give to your perspective, and it comes from a combination of role, experience, and earned trust. Part of developing a healthy pastoral identity and creating right-sized expectations is making sure responsibility and authority are not out of proportion with one another.

If either your responsibility or authority level is too high, here are some questions to consider:

  • What are the roots of my over- ( or under-) developed sense of responsibility or authority?

  • Which roots can I pull up?

  • What specifically am I gifted and called to do?

  • In this context, what work is truly mine to carry out?

  • How might I shift, in whole or in part, the work that isn't mine?

  • What authority do I, in actuality, have?

  • How can I use this authority wisely and on behalf of the most vulnerable?

  • How might I utilize less obvious sources of authority when needed (e.g., a lay leader with whom you have mutual respect and who is trusted by the congregation?

Aligning responsibility and authority is key to leading well and avoiding burnout. If your levels are out of whack, take the time to consider why that is and what you can change.

Photo by Jason Ortego on Unsplash.