Whether in education, medicine, the trades, or a host of other fields, professional development usually includes a period of apprenticeship. It is not surprising when a teacher in a classroom delegates instructional responsibilities to a student teacher or when a physician asks a medical resident to take the lead in an examination. We understand that this is a necessary part of how people learn the skills of the field they are entering.
In the apostle Paul’s ministry, apprenticeship and delegation were a high priority. (See, e.g., Acts 14:23.) He was not so misguided as to assume that the prominence God had given him rendered other people’s ministries obsolete. Rather, he depended upon those around him to help him fulfill the task God had set him to, and at the same time, he prepared people to live in the fullness of their own callings.
As we seek clear principles of wise delegation, we should consider Paul’s words about Tychicus in Colossians 4:7–8. Paul’s exuberant praise for this fellow minister reminds us of the sort of people to whom we should seek to delegate our own ministries, and it gives us an opportunity to reflect on some important principles of delegation.
In the closing verses of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Paul highlights the work of a man named Tychicus: “Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord” (4:7). Notice that Paul emphasizes Tychicus’s character rather than his gifts or abilities. In this short verse, he provides a glimpse into the kind of individual to whom he would delegate his ministry.
Paul describes Tychicus as a “beloved brother.” He clearly holds Tychicus in high esteem. He was a man “beloved” by Paul and, presumably, by other believers. When people thought of him, he brought a warmth to their hearts and a smile to their faces. In another context, Paul expresses the importance of raising up leaders who are “well thought of by outsiders” so that they don’t “fall into disgrace” (1 Tim. 3:7). Tychicus clearly must have met this mark. The point is not that a potential leader must be popular but that, more often than not, godliness is pleasant and attractive. (See, e.g., 1 Tim. 2:1–4; 1 Peter 2:12).
Moreover, Tychicus was a “faithful minister.” The word used for “minister” here is diakonos, which is often translate as “deacon,” though a better translation here would be “servant.” Tychicus had gained prominence, but not though self-exaltation. Rather, the posture of his heart and the function of his ministry was servanthood—and he served faithfully. Whether the task was large or small, one could rely on Tychicus to follow through, and that set him apart.
Paul then goes on to describe Tychicus as a “fellow servant.” In distinction from diakonos, the root of the word used for “servant” here is doulos, which is the word for a bondservant or a slave. Like Paul, Tychicus understood that he had willingly given up his old life to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. He understood that he had been bought at the price of the blood and body of Christ (1 Cor. 6:20), and so he knew that he was not his own but belonged “with body and soul, both in life and in death,” to the Lord.
The final three words qualify all the previous statements: “in the Lord.” Tychicus was born again and committed to Christ and His people. One of the greatest hindrances to the progress of God’s people is the influence of unregenerate leaders in the church. It would be better if they weren’t “helping” at all! But people who are “in the Lord,” who are born again, are committed and involved in His body, the church—and because Christ is in them, He will use them to build up His body.
Such a foundation of character must be evident and growing in a potential apprentice, and it’s the first thing we should look for when we are seeking people out to serve the church. Only then, once we know the character is there, should we go on to consider the skills they will need.
There are many ways to serve within Christ’s church, and different roles will require different kinds of skills to be executed effectively. But Paul goes on to praise Tychicus for two attributes important in every kind of ministry: “I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts” (Col. 4:8).
First, Tychicus was given the privilege of speaking and answering on Paul’s behalf. Such a spokesperson needs to be able to supply more than the facts; they also need to understand all of the whys and wherefores of that information. As we consider who to entrust with the ministry of God’s Word, it is important to send someone who shares the vision of the ministry, understands its pulse, and is committed to the heart of the mission.
Second, Tychicus was sent to “encourage your hearts.” We ought to thank God for people who, with an embrace, an encouraging word, a telephone call, a note, or a smile can somehow change our day. These are the people who make church the warm, welcoming place it is meant to be. We should look to delegate responsibilities to believers who are bringing joy and refreshing the lives and ministries of those around them.
As we consider who to entrust with the ministry of God’s Word, it is important to send someone who shares the vision of the ministry, understands its pulse, and is committed to the heart of the mission.
But people with the kind of character and skill that Paul praised in Tychicus are not likely to present themselves. Christian ministers who want to delegate their work and raise up new leaders in the church will have to look for them.
When it comes to finding the right people, many exhausted church leaders will throw up their hands in frustration and complain that they announced their need for help again and again, but no one responded. But how many of us became leaders by responding to an announcement? More typically, someone invited us to help them with a Bible study class or to play an instrument for a small gathering. If we would raise up leaders in the church, we will need to take the initiative to draw people close and train them.
Former University of Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson defined football as “22 men on the field who desperately need rest and 50,000 people in the grandstand who desperately need exercise.” What the twenty-two on the field often don’t realize is that in the stands is a large crowd of people who want to be involved. They would love to pull on a jersey and play, but no one has invited them to participate. (But unlike members of a football team, members of Christ’s church don’t need to have elite traits to thrive!)
If we would raise up leaders to serve the church, we ought not to wait for them to come to us. Let’s actively look for a Tychicus who is a beloved, faithful, and born-again servant of Christ and invite that person to come beside us in ministry. We should make a point of never doing a job ourselves that could be handed over to somebody else who is free, able, and willing to embark on that task.
As we welcome others to come alongside us and join in ministry, there are a few helpful principles we can follow to smooth the process of delegation.
First, test potential. We need to provide opportunities where people can gently be put to the test before they carry on. This often means there’s a good bit of “hand holding” while starting with smaller responsibilities that do not carry much risk if they’re not done well.
Second, give clear instructions. It is unfair, frightening, and discouraging to be given a task and not know what is expected and what direction to be heading. If we want leaders in the ministry to last, we need to make sure they know what to do.
If we would raise up leaders in the church, we will need to take the initiative to draw people close and train them.
Third, maintain an initial element of control. Write a period of transition into every job description in the church’s life so that nobody comes in and assumes the whole deal. Leaders need to be tested and probed even as they are helped and encouraged.
Fourth, institute regular reviews. This provides an opportunity to check in on how things are going for the individual and the ministry. Don’t assume that things will go on as they began. Apart from all the circumstances of life that may intervene, people simply grow fatigued and distracted, and they need ongoing encouragement—and occasional correction. We also need to be ready to end experiments in delegation when there are clear reasons to do so.
Fifth, take calculated risks. The twelve disciples were not obvious choices for leadership. Paul himself was far from being thought of as a likely minister of the Gospel before Christ called him. We shouldn’t raise up the unqualified, but we also can’t expect every potential leader to be an obvious candidate.
And sixth, provide firm support. If we delegate responsibilities, we need to be loyal to those individuals to whom we delegate. We should stand by the decisions they make—as long as they are not sinful—and do all we can not to undermine their position in order to protect our own.
While raising up leaders was clearly important to Paul, those leaders’ friendship and fellowship in ministry was also vital to him. It is clear from his language about Tychicus, as well as from the personal remarks about other fellow ministers at the end of his letters, that Paul derived a deep satisfaction from these relationships. These were the people who stood by him, who strengthened his hand in ministry, and who were indispensable to him.
It is possible for Christian leaders today to have similar friendships that encourage our spirits in the work God has called us to. Yet to build these relationships, we must first draw others alongside us.
If you’re a ministry leader, then, ask God to send you people like Tychicus, and keep your eyes open. Whatever else they might be, whatever their responsibilities might be, let them be beloved, servant-hearted, born-again bondslaves of Jesus Christ. When we bring people like that into the ministry of the body, then they may share in the responsibilities and carry on the task into the church’s future.
This article was adapted from the sermon “A Lesson in Delegation” by Alistair Begg.