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Creating a Leadership Vacuum

By April 12, 20103 Comments

In the past decade, the church has increasingly challenged men to step up and be leaders in their families, and their wives have been enlisted toward this goal. Interestingly, one of the key strategies of this movement has centered around the following counter-intuitive advice to women with passive husbands: Do nothing.

The idea here is that women need to create a leadership vacuum in their marriages. If they’re always the ones stepping up and taking the kids to church, keeping the house clean, managing the finances, and basically treating their husbands like another one of the children, then their husbands will act like it. Men will have no incentive to change or step up. They simply left one mother to inherit a new one.

That said, wives with passive husbands are encouraged to stop doing everything for their husbands. They need to create a leadership vacuum so that their husbands are forced to step up. Rather than beat him to the punch when someone needs to take the reins, wait him out. The aim is not to do this spitefully, but to draw the leader out of him.

I was reminded of this teaching tonight as I listened to my small group discuss their constant state of over-commitment. Most of us are leaders in our church, and a lot of the women in our group are burned out from being stretched too thin with service.

Some of this urge to over-commit comes from a fear of man, but it also stems from a lack of faith. Just the other day I spoke with a young woman who was also stretched too thin. She needed to stop serving with the children’s ministry but she was afraid to abandon them since they’re already short on workers. The fear of leaving her church in a tough spot was leading her to do too much, yet nothing well.

We over-estimate our importance when we fear the church will crumble without us. We also underestimate God’s ability. Yes, the church is composed of God’s people and we all play an important role, but we also serve a God who can take a few loaves and fishes and feed as many people as have need. God desires to use us, but He does not need us at the expense of our health and spiritual well-being. God’s victory is not achieved by trampling over His children.

But I digress. The over-commitment of the few highlights an equal but opposite problem: The under-commitment of the many. What has transpired in the church is a dynamic similar to many marriages today. The same people keep stepping up to serve over and over again, thereby preventing other church members from stepping up. That was the tremendous irony of my young friend’s fears that the children’s ministry would fail without her. There are literally hundreds if not thousands of other people who could step in and take her place. But the need had already been filled by her.

With all of this in mind, we need to create a leadership vacuum in the church. If you are currently serving at your church and you feel stretched too thin, pull back. That is not to say you should pull back altogether–continue to use your gifts in ONE strategic area. But in all the other areas that you serve, consider stepping back and letting someone else step up. In all likelihood, there is someone who is much better suited to take your place.

This does require faith. In the same way that a wife has to trust God that her inaction will make space for greater action, we must do the same. Decreased church involvement is not always a sign of less commitment; it can be a sign of faith that God has much greater plans than we are currently witnessing, and they will not be carried out on the backs of the burned-out few.

So as we approach the summer and things slow down, consider using the next couple months to reassess your church involvement. Pray for clarity on the use of your gifts, and then I challenge you to pick ONE place to use them. Say no to everything else. Not only will you avoid getting burned out and be able to serve your church more effectively, but you’ll have the chance to actually ENJOY serving as well. For some of us, that is an aspect of service that, sadly, we haven’t experienced in quite some time.


  • e-Mom says:

    Just clicked through from Bloglines to comment. I very much appreciate and agree with your thoughts on this topic. Well done! Creating a leadership vacuum really works, in both marriage and the church.

    I don’t mean to spam you, but if you have time, my latest post touches on similar themes. Take a look here:

    Blessings! e-Mom @ Chrysalis

  • Emily Gidcumb says:

    I think that is a great idea for getting people more involved in church. Also, I always felt something was wrong about over extending yourself at church and could never quite put my finger on it, but I think this is it! You are sooo smart, no wonder you are gonna get your PhD!!!!!!!
    p.s.- i miss you and better hang out with you before you move whenever that is.

  • Lucie says:

    You must somehow have an insider look at my life; this exactly where im at: streched too thin and trying to figure out what to let go of…

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