Good Leaders Delegate Without Control

Deut1.9-15DelegationA key to successful leadership is delegation. Last Sun in Manila, I preached on The Words Moses Spoke (Deut 1:1-46) in my gradual attempt to grasp “the whole counsel of God” (Ac 20:27) by studying and preaching on books of the Bible that I am not familiar with. I was particularly impressed by Moses the leader who wisely delegated his leadership to other capable leaders (Deut 1:9-15). John Maxwell, the “leadership guru” expounds on this rule of delegation as a key to successful leaders both in the corporate world and in churches. In theory and principle all church leaders will agree that they delegate their leadership to younger leaders. But…

“Gopher delegation” and controlling leaders. There is a form of delegation that does not work. Stephen Covey, in his bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People calls it “gopher delegation.” The leader tells his junior leaders “go fer this” and “go fer that.” It is a delegation where the top leader is still in control by not delegating his authority and power. As a result, junior leaders are still expected to continue to defer to the leader for their approval and consent. Ajith Fernando, in his commentary on Deuteronomy, writes:

AjithFernandoDeut“…we need to invest in people so that they understand the inside workings of our group. We have to open up ourselves and our dreams to others. Then we have to trust them to carry the ball and move forward. Unfortunately, the controlling type of micromanager may not have people available to take on such responsibilities. Often they have young and enthusiastic workers who are excited by the program and are willing to work under the controlling leader. But once they become mature and have visions of their own, they find the environment too restricting, and they leave. This is usually very painful because often controlling leaders have cared for their people sacrificially. So it is very painful to see them depart.”

Good leaders (like Moses) are humble by willing to surrender their authority and control. When two individuals were prophesying in their own camp apart from the group that met under Moses, Joshua says to Moses, “Stop them” (Num 11:28). But Moses showed that he did not have to have authority and control over them. He said, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Num 11:29). Eight verses later, Num 12:3 says that Moses was “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” An expression of humility is to allow success by others that is not directly under the leader’s authority and control.

Good leaders give new leaders the freedom to do things their way. Good leaders not only let go of their authority and control but they also let delegated leaders do things differently from the way that the leader once did. Because personalities differ, leadership styles and methods of doing things will also differ from leader to leader. Great leaders focus on the grand task and impart their vision to others. Then they allow these other leaders to implement the vision they imparted in the way that the other leaders think is best.

I found such leadership that humbly lets go of control and that trusts younger leaders refreshing and truly empowering. What is your experience with your leaders?


  1. Thanks for the post, Ben. I enjoyed your thoughts. The thoughts I have on this topic relate to how leaders should respond when the follower isn’t very successful in the task they are given. For example, consider a leader who gives a disciple a task. The disciple is being raised as a leader, and so he is given freedom to complete the task as he sees fit. But then suppose that things don’t go off very well due to problems that are both under his control and out of his control. How should the leader who delegated authority to the junior respond to the disciple’s failure?

    I think that this is where the issues that you discuss in your posting really come to the forefront. It will hugely impact how the next task will be delegated. It will deeply frame and affect the relationship between the leader and disciple going forward, either for better or for worse. I’d love to hear how our UBFriends have navigated this difficult situation.

  2. Thanks, Joshua, you post great comments and pose great questions.

    “How should the leader who delegated authority to the junior respond to the disciple’s failure?”

    My short answer would be the way Jesus responded to Peter’s failure in John 21, and the way Jesus responded to Judas’ failure in John 13. Does this make sense?

    How a leader responds to his disciples failure will either reveal grace OR law/works/performance; it will affect how the disciple views God and others.

    Interestingly, when Moses “lost it” because of his sheep’s sins, God forbade him from entering the promised land. This is scary!

  3. Since the Christian leader represents God, then he should consider how God dealt with his people when they failed?

    A prominent verse repeated often throughout the OT about God is that though God does not leave the guilty unpunished, yet God is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exo 34:6; Num 14:18; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Jonah 4:2).

    God does not treat us as our sins (or failures) deserve (Ps 103:10).

  4. I don’t think a Christian leader represents God and should respond the way Jesus did. I don’t know, there is something strange in such way of thinking and dividing people on Jesus-like shepherds and failure-like sheep. To answer Joshua I would trust a young leader to the Holy Spirit completely as did Paul (and actually Jesus also). In case of being a ubf leader I would pray and think because a failure you see in a young leader may be not a failure but the work of the Holy Spirit. I would ask, Who helps young Christians to understand and apply God’s word at sogam writing and message preparation in ubf? I believe the Holy Spirit helps! Nevertheless a ubf chapter director thinks he has right to comment and to rebuke the Holy Spirit at every sogam sharing meeting thinking that there are many “young” people’s failures in the sogams. There is no faith in ubf that the Holy Spirit really can teach and teaches every Christian. The church I now attend has three messages every sunday and often three ordinary brothers share God’s word, not the pastor, OFTEN. And there are no pastor’s comments or rebukes coming after the messages, never. And you know many respect the pastor. At the same time there is no distance in relationship with him. Everybody calls him just “Paul” without any titles, and he is really like a brother in the church, a brother-pastor, not a ubf tsar-director. You may easily talk to him and drink some tea with him any time ).

  5. The Holy Spirit is the Christian leader. And a church leader has no right not to delegate without control, because he delegates to the Holy Spirit.

  6. Good questions everyone. I think we need to keep in mind that when we speak of leadership in the church, we should discuss mentoring and discipleship. I believe there is a correct Christian doctrine called “priesthood of all believers” which does entail some form of disciple-making, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as our Director and Jesus our Good Shepherd.

    In the 9 month study group I’m engaging in, we are learning about how to take intentional steps to be a mentor to someone. The basic concept is friendship (based on Jesus’ command to love one another) and has nothing to do with leading or lording over a person. It is about being intentional, specific and intimate about sharing our faith.

    I was flabbergasted to come across four pitfalls of mentoring in one of the books we’re reading. I as so astounded because in my ubf shepherd mind, these are four *doctrines* to live by, not pitfalls to avoid!

    1. The Messiah Complex – I believe I am to rescue you or deliver you from the struggles and pain of your life.

    2. The Problem-Solver Mentality – I believe my role is to tell you what the right answers are or to offer a way out for you.

    3. The Assembly-Line Syndrome – I believe my role i to shape you into a predetermined form or product.

    4. The Wisdom Dispenser Approach – I believe I must dispense wisdom-on-demand every time I meet with my disciple, because I am a fountain of wisdom and truth.


    I think it is SO obvious why the shepherding movement of the 1970’s failed and why ubf shepherding has seen catastrophic results the last 50 years. What do you think? Should we avoid these or make these our core doctrines?

    • So to answer your question, Ben: “What is your experience with your leaders?”

      My experience with church leaders now is that they respect my personal boundaries, are intentional about building personal relationships, deeply respect the bible but do not make it an idol, and are blatant about their love for Jesus and our need to listen to God’s voice through the Holy Spirit.

  7. Thanks for sharing these points Brian. The story that comes to mind is Job’s friends. I guess they fell into pitfalls 1, 2, and 4.

    The past few months, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with an unbelieving friend. I had reached out to him for a long time while I was in UBF, but he didn’t respond. However, now that I’m not so concerned with bringing him places or inviting him to events, our friendship has blossomed. I think that my attitude has changed away from being a “recruiter” into being a genuine friend. Also, I care a lot less about what others may think if (for instance) I go to a pub with him and approach him on his own terms. I’m urgently praying that God may use our friendship to open his heart to the Lord. Please pray for me and for him and his wife, particularly that they may accept my invitation to attend church with us this Easter Sunday.

  8. @Joshua, Making friends without an agenda to “recruit” them is such a joy. It is to love and enjoy them, as God does us as his children, despite our sins.

    @Brian, I guess I have termed the 4 pitfalls as “playing the role of the Holy Spirit,” which will eventually blow up because no shepherd is ever the Holy Spirit. To think so is really quite presumptuous.

    @Vitaly, what I was trying to say is that the Christian leader responds to his disciple who failed, as Jesus responds to us, sometimes with severe overwhelming mercy, and at other times with loving tender discipline.

  9. Dr.Ben. I think that in a church nobody can delegate anything to anybody, but the church delegates this or that to some serving people. Pastor is himself a person to whom the church delegates something to do. Or what? Does the church vote for and delegate something to the pastor so that he would delegate something back to the church members? I think that in a normal church there should be no one who is in the position of delegating. I see it in the church I attend. There are regular church members meetings and they make decision for everything. My opinion is that it seems biblical and right. And if I look at ubf, there are selfproclaimed leaders (not voted for nor chosen) and you give them an advice to delegate without control (though we all know they won’t). I tried to express it several times, that the ubf leaders are not leaders actually, and why wait for their decisions or change or give them advices? Why not to explain people what God has delegated them so that they would live in freedom, with God, and use God’s gifts without waiting for Korean leaders’ blessing them (if ever)?

  10. Hi Vitaly, I am really not trying to “advise” anyone in UBF to delegate without control. I am simply stating and sharing what I see and believe is the pattern in the Bible at least with Moses in the OT, and with Jesus in the NT. Their delegation to their leaders or disciples was not controlling, but empowering and respectful.

    I realize, Vitaly, that your comments are very powerful and strong, which is good. I am just wondering how you were not able to be like that for 14 years in UBF, based on what you have been sharing.

    • Ben, I’m sure Vitaly will answer your question soon… but it is a good general question for us ex-ubers: Why weren’t we as outspoken during our time in ubf as now? There are two answers in most cases

      1) to speak boldly as Vitaly speaks, as a jr. shepherd or as a sheep, you would have been given dead-dog training, or some form of it. That was always too risky and too fearful to pursue, especially if you wanted to MbF.

      2) most of us have gone through a transformation process by leaving. We became stronger through the sudden shunning and vitriol hurled at us as we did in fact begin to ask questions.

    • Hi, Dr.Ben. I spent almost 17 years in ubf (from Jan 1995 till Nov 2011). I was under pressure from the very start. At first it seemed normal, not so strange. e.g. at the first conference my director said, “Write down what grace you received”. I didn’t feel I received any grace but he pressed and just dictated what to write in order to share at the CIS conference. At my second CIS conference I read a message (since that time I read messages at every conferences I participated). Mark Yoon whom I respected very much said to my director, “He is young and he delivered the message very well, he can become proud, so train him”. On our way back from Moscow in the train suddenly my director told everybody, “Look, we have a slave here! Bring us tea, serve us, take all this garbage from the floor…”.

      Then as I shared already there were every day “prayer” meetings devoted to rebuking us. Several times I asked questions and almost made decision to leave. But the director pressed me very hard. They told me, “The missionaries are great, they sacrificed so much to come to Russia, and they are God’s servants, they hear God directly, they know what is right. Are you going do disagree with God’s servants and ask God’s servants questions?! Are you the wisest person on the earth? Look at your wife how humble and obedient she is, learn from her”. I didn’t feel I was the wisest, so I stopped asking questions and talking. I became a ubf native leader but that meant that I became an exemplary obedient young man. Many years have passed and one day I opened my eyes and saw that I am no longer a young man. That constant every day pressure brought me heart problems. The chapter center became the most stressing place for me.

      Also I had no personal time, ubf knows how to control and suppress people very well. I couldn’t pray but at home. (I want to share our daily bread process. Everybody sits quietly and reads and writes. Only one man breathes very loudly so that all hear that sound of breathing. The director was sure that such way of breathing is a sign of the Holy Spirit working in him. Then everybody takes mats and prays on the knees. Only one man stands on his knees, moves his hands very actively like a butterfly and shouts at the top of his voice, “Uhnananabrinabrinaabozhy uuuuah…powerful leaders… (many strange sounds) … repent!… satan…powerful”. Nobody can pray but have to listen to this… director’s “prayer”. Then the man rebukes those who didn’t shout during the prayer and doesn’t allow them to go to work until they kneel and shout e.g. “Lord!” for 12 times You can see that this “prayer” is something very strange, even stranger than a shaman’s prayer, but while you are in ubf you can’t see the obvious).

      Yes, I became very fearful and sick. When I left I was broken physically and psychologically by the stress. I wanted to follow Brian’s advice to leave suddenly and without “the leaving process”. But I had some talks. Then outside of ubf I could start praying and reading the Bible and Christian books and attend a Christian church and it is amazing and I want to share. Well, it is interesting that at every Bible study I can see ubf problems before the word of God. I can say that Jesus had a hard time while I was in ubf but now he is free to work in me. I hope you don’t mind my messy sharing. Dr. Ben I want to ask you about your chapter. As far as I understand you are the leader. I can see that you are “better” than “hard-core” ubf leaders. But do you have other leaders in your chapter? How does your chapter operate? Are you a positional leader or chosen and voted for by brethren? Who and how delegates anything in your chapter? Who is in charge, a leader or the church? Thanks.

  11. While in ubf I thought that leaders are representatives of God. But such thinking lead me to a wrong apprehension of God, of Jesus and Bible leaders (like Moses). Now as I think about Jesus and Moses without their “representatives” nearby I can see how beautiful they are and I love them more and more. And Moses is my absolute favorite after Jesus. I long for the time I meet Moses in heaven and have a talk with him. I am sure that God has made him very Christ-like and beautiful spiritually. He is a brother I want to see personally. But I don’t want to see the ubf “representatives”, at least until “Christ is formed in them”.

  12. I think Vitaly in his first comment made a very important point that is always neglected. Yes, it’s a problem that leaders are not humble like Moses or Jesus. But the major problem is the very idea that we must be leaders like Moses or Jesus to others, that a church needs leaders like Moses. Jesus made it very clear that this time is over, it belongs to the Old Testament. In Jesus’ church, there are no Moses-style leaders, even if they would be as humble as Moses himself. Members of the church should consider each other brothers, nobody should be called “father” or “teacher”. John 1 makes a clear cut: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” If you want the law, then go back and establish Moses-style leaders. If you want grace and truth, learn to live as brothers. Even worse than the idea to be a leader like Moses is the idea to be a shepherd like Jesus. Yes, it sounds so Biblical, in view of John 21 as preached by UBF every summer conference. But we cannot be like Jesus! Jesus is God. Jesus is without sin. We are mere humans, sinful humans. We should not strive to be Jesus for others. Jesus says “you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.” We must lead others to Jesus, not try to be Jesus to others. If we have 1:1 Bible study, we should do it like John-the-Baptist: “He must become greater; I must become less.” The third crucial misconception of leadership is the idea that leaders must give “orientiation” and “direction” to Christians, replacing the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers.

    The ideas of personal and hierarchical shepherding are fallacies. The elders of a church should take responsibility like shepherds, that’s true. But this does not mean they should replace the role of Jesus or the Holy Spirit. They should not lord over anybody, and the shepherds should act as a group (the group of elders). 1 Peter 5 sums it up very well: “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” Even Peter, the rock on whom Jesus wanted to build his church, did not consider himself a new kind of Moses, or General Director of the “New Testament Ministry”. He considered himself a fellow elder. No one of the apostles was looking for followers of themselves. Paul explicitly warned of such ideas (1 Cor 3:3-4).

    “So then, no more boasting about human leaders!” (1 Cor 3:21)

  13. Let me give a concrete example of such “gopher delegation” that I experienced in my UBF chapter, so that we know what we’re talking about.

    I was in a fellowship that was lead by the “Abraham of Faith” of our chapter. He was considered the AoF because he was not only the first shepherd, raised by the director himself, but he was also extremely submissive, so much that it was already embarassing. Shortly before Christmas, before all our Bible students went home, we wanted to have a fellowship Advent evening with them. The problem was that they did not have time on the day we suggested, only on the Friday when we had our weekly Friday sogam sharing session. But I was very delighted when the AoF decided to skip the routine Friday sharing session in the center and have our Advent evening with the sheep instead. Not only because the Friday meeting was boring, but mainly to see him finally making a “tough” decision on his own. We really wanted to have fellowship with the sheep before they went home for the Christmas holidays. What happened? You guessed it already: The director bawled the AoF during the next Sunday meeting for having the audacity to consider skipping the Friday meeting. His good reasons were completely ignored, and his decision according to his conscience was slammed. Then, the AoF publicly repented for “not respecting the Friday meeting”. That was the only and last time I saw him making a decision on his own.

  14. yaruingam

    Its hard to resist not to share to others when one comes across similar experiences.
    During the last 20 years struggle I too experienced all the good and bad things like our fellow brothers and sisters. As I read, your experiences I am reminded of several events that I had gone through in the past. I still remember one brother who could not accept such ‘self acquired’ authoritative leaders’ dealing and quarreled with one missionary and left the ministry. That time we thought it was his mistake but ultimately we realized that it was the problem with us.
    Unknowingly, there is a deep hidden pride in the deepest heart of the missionaries or shepherd that he has the authority over the life of the sheep. Instead of taking care of sheep with sense of fear, listen to the voice of Holy Spirit in guiding the sheep, the leaders/shepherd created all more rules and regulations and impose upon the sheep and make the sheep more burdensome to follow. And when the sheep could not keep all those rules, they are being branded ‘proud’ and ‘rebellious’.
    This is being so due to lack of patience in helping the sheep. The shepherd wants to change the sheep immediately and raise as leader to show that the ministry is growing.
    If ubf overcome this problem, learn to wait upon the Holy Spirit to work in the heart of the sheep, ubf leaders will be great. In fact, ubf missionaries are very sacrificial and they suffer much for the gospel but due to such a small mistake, they fail to reap the fruit of their sacrifices and sufferings. I believe, we the young generation missionaries and shepherd can learn from the mistake and make the ministry once again fruitful and glorify God.

    • yaruingam, thanks for posting here! I wholeheartedly agree with everything else that your wrote, except one phrase in your last sentence. I want to just point out one thing that we really need to be clear about.

      I’m referring to the words “make the ministry once again fruitful and glorify God.” This assumes that once, UBF had been more fruitful and glorifying God more than today. In light of the 1976 open letter, I think this is a myth. Do you think the things reported in this letter glorified God? I don’t think so. Do you think the way UBF dealt with this letter glorified God? I don’t think so. Do you think UBF was really fruitful with a proper understanding of the word “fruit” as in Gal 5:22? I don’t think so. Sure, there was much zeal and devotion, but there is also much zeal and devotion in many other organizations, movements and cults which are not glorifying God. It’s not a sign that a movement is healthy.

      I’m not saying that all was bad in the old days. The adequate image is that of a batch of dough (which is actually good) with only a little yeast that spoils it. My point is that this little yeast has been in UBF from the very beginnings. This hidden yeast has much to do with the hidden pride, as you also noticed. And I think this pride that people from a third-world-country (at that time) would be able to “conquer the world” (“with the gospel”), teach elite students and become directors in a great movement was really there from the very beginnings, and it was stimulated and exploited by the founder. So honestly, we should not fall into the delusion that the past of UBF was so good and spiritual and UBF has fallen away from that good path. Quite to the contrary, I see many things which have actually improved compared with the state of 1976. The motto “Back to the Bible” is misleading because UBF was never based on a proper, pure and holistic understanding of the Bible to begin with, and I cannot see that UBF once was better or more Biblical than it is today.

      Sorry for sounding unforgiving but it’s time to be really honest and crystal clear in our talking.