Work Yourself out of a Job

In the eight years I have been in ministry, I’ve had the incredible benefit of learning about leadership from many wise, godly men who have mentored me and shaped me as a leader. One of the most beneficial things they’ve shared is that I should always strive to work myself out of a job. As much as I love and respect these men, I confess that this seemed so counterintuitive. But over time I have seen the wisdom in their challenge.

It’s Good for Your Ministry or Organization

Many of us want to feel needed and valuable. We want to know that we matter and that we have something worthwhile to contribute. This is true in interpersonal relationships, but it is also true within ministries and organizations. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this. But sometimes our own insecurities and desires for control, validation, or approval tempt us to create an organization in which we are indispensable, one that is dependent upon us. When we do this, we put the organization at risk and limit its potential.

In the book of Exodus, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro observed all that Moses was doing—laboring from morning until evening for the people of Israel. One day Jethro confronted Moses and said, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (Ex. 18:17–18).

Moses may have felt responsible for the Israelites and that he was the only one equipped to do the job. But Jethro recognized that Moses could not sustain this pace over a long period of time.

Moses was setting himself up for burnout.

So Jethro proposed a solution to Moses:

“Look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace” (Ex.18:21–23).

Jethro’s direction to Moses was that he entrust the work of ministry to others and that doing so would lead to sustainability, longevity, and peace for Moses and for the people of God.

The work of ministry is often hard, and the list of needs is never-ending. And the unfortunate truth is that many leaders burn out, sometimes taking whole organizations down with them. As a leader, an important lesson I must heed is that if I create a situation where the organization is dependent upon me, then burnout is inevitable and the people God has entrusted to me will suffer. A good question to ask myself is this: If I were to leave today, could this organization not only be in a position to survive but thrive?

It’s Good for the Body of Christ

The Creator, in His infinite wisdom, uniquely fashioned every person to reflect His image. He entrusted each man and woman with gifts and strengths that serve a unique function in ministering to the Body of Christ.

In the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul tells us that as leaders of ministries, our job is to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11–12). That is, we are to equip, empower, and deploy God’s people to do God’s work and “for building up of the body of Christ.” This work is to continue until we attain unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that results in maturity in the Lord.

As I think back on how those in authority over me equipped and entrusted me with the work of ministry, it’s easy to see the impact their influence had on my growth in the faith. The lessons I’ve learned in the work of ministry are innumerable and of infinite value.

Through the years, God has exposed my desires for glory and control. He has revealed my pride and humbled me countless times. He continues to teach me how to receive criticism and harsh words as well as how to receive praise and affirmation. He has led me into times of deep dependence upon Him as He exposed my inadequacies apart from His grace at work within me. He’s taught me that no matter how hard I strategize and plan, He is in control.

When I refuse to equip and entrust the work of ministry to those I lead, I rob them of the same valuable lessons I’ve had the opportunity to learn, and as a result the whole Body of Christ suffers. Striving to work myself out of a job by equipping saints for the work of ministry is to make a conscious choice to build up the Body of Christ rather than my own little kingdom. It is not my natural tendency, and it requires intentionality on my part. A few questions I can ask myself are:

  • Whom am I sharing knowledge, resources, and opportunities with?
  • How am I moving into the background and moving others into the foreground?
  • How am I helping them discover and utilize their gifts to build up the Body of Christ?

It’s Good for Your Own Soul

If I am honest with myself, there are days that I don’t want to entrust the work of ministry to others. I don’t want to strive to work myself out of a job or empower others to lead. Sometimes I have this attitude because I fear they will do it better than me. Other times it’s because I fear they won’t do it as well as me. Both reveal the pride, idolatry, and mixed motives still at work deep within my own soul.

Too often we use ministry as a vessel to seek affirmation and approval. We use it as a platform to build ourselves up rather than to build up the Body of Christ. Ministry becomes our identity, and we feel threatened when someone more gifted, more popular, more powerful comes along.

Our egos are fragile. Comparison, insecurity, competition, and jealousy are powerful motivating forces that tempt us toward control. They often lurk beneath the surface, and we’re not always aware of how they direct our daily leadership decisions.

We may find that we are tempted to minimize the gifts of others or point out their flaws when we are discussing them with others in leadership positions. We may withhold important information that could help them succeed or ministry opportunities for fear that they will “show us up.” Or maybe we just feel this tension within us, but we don’t act on it. Whatever we find, consciously choosing to exalt others by empowering them to lead is good for our own soul. It exposes these forces at work within us and denies our flesh its craving for glory that we are not equipped to handle on this side of eternity.

Three Practical Steps

Over the years, I’ve battled against my own flesh in three specific ways. I find these are practical steps leaders can take to build healthier ministries, equip the saints, and shepherd their own souls.

1. Seek often to engage new women.

Get to know them, learn their strengths and weaknesses. Help them learn how God has uniquely crafted them, and then help them seek out opportunities to deploy their strengths within your organization.

2. Equip and empower other women . . .

by sharing knowledge, resources, relationships, and experiences. Build into them. Develop them. Pray for them and their ministry to the Body of Christ.

3. Entrust others with real responsibility.

It’s easy to offload things we don’t want to do, things that have no “reward” and bring no accolades. But that is not what we are called to do. Instead, eagerly recommend others for leadership roles. Pass off opportunities to others you think are capable, even if you would love the opportunity for yourself. Start building into your successors and give them opportunities to shape, direct, and lead now.

As we lead in our organizations, we would do well to take heed to wise words from Paul. In the book of Philippians, Paul warns us to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility to consider others as better than ourselves, looking not only to our own interests but also to the interest of others. He exhorts us to have the same attitude of Christ, “who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:6–7).

As women to whom Jesus has entrusted His beloved children and for whom we will give an account, may our leadership reflect His humility, sacrifice, and servanthood.

About the Author

Chrystie Cole

Chrystie Cole is the former Women's Discipleship Advisor at Grace Church in Greenville, South Carolina and a Bible teacher and author who longs to see women find hope, healing, and freedom in Christ. She was a contributor for Grace Church's Biblical Femininity and Shame: Finding Freedom studies and authored Grace's Redeeming Sexuality, Body Matters, and A Woman's Words studies. Chrystie and her husband, Ken, are empty-nesters and avid sailors who currently reside on the east coast.