When I was in South Carolina, I ministered under the pastoring of John Vaughn. PV, as we called him then and do today, taught me a lot about pastoral leadership and administration. One of the principles he taught me was The Levels of Freedom and Initiative. This concept helps one understand how to facilitate ministry in an area of responsibility. The levels are as follows:

  • Act and report routinely (Level 5)
  • Act and report immediately (Level 4)
  • Recommend then act (Level 3)
  • Ask what to do (Level 2)
  • Wait until told (Level 1)

Think of these levels in terms of freedom and initiative—the higher the level, the higher the freedom and initiative; the lower the level, the lower the freedom and initiative. In any context (ministry or secular) all employees and volunteer workers should at least be at a level 3. Notice the different levels and who would be responsible for the next step in a given task (“the Monkey”). At levels 2 and 1, the supervisor is the one who must hunt down the “volunteer” and assign him tasks. From a management perspective, this is too time-consuming and undesirable. At levels 3, 4, and 5, the worker has the monkey, alleviating the supervisor’s time, depending on which level the worker is on. Notice that a worker is always under authority; they should never be allowed to act independent of authority.

Scenario: Say we are in a church ministry context. You are the supervisor over, say, the nursery. You need to manage your volunteers in the week-to-week operations of the nursery. If all of your volunteers are on level 3, they will come to you for every little task and recommend an action (and receive your approval to act). For example, the batteries in the pagers need to be changed so a worker comes to you and reports that some pager batteries are dead and that she recommends they be replaced. You approve the recommendation and the worker acts, completing the round-trip-ticket and notifying you that the batteries were changed. Now, you as a wise supervisor realize that your workers are capable enough to change batteries on their own; they don’t need your approval each time they need to be changed. Therefore, you communicate with each worker that they are on level 4 (act and report immediately) when it comes to batteries. You have acknowledged the initiative of your workers and granted them freedom in this area.

But, say one of your workers sees some deficiencies in the opening and closing procedures for the nursery. You, as the supervisor would not want the worker taking it upon herself to make the necessary changes to the procedures on their own (level 4 or 5)—that is not their monkey. Rather, the worker should understand that the writing of the procedures is not their monkey and propose (level 3, recommend) an evaluation of the procedures. You, being a wise but busy supervisor, will see that the recommendations has promise and grant the worker permission to engage in a review. This review has become a project that the worker is on level 4 or 5. You will ask her to report routinely on her progress and immediately on the specific recommendations she comes up with.

I won’t take any more space to flesh out examples. Let me encourage you to think about this concept and how it might apply in your church ministry situation. It might even be applied in your parenting situation.