Ministry Systems: Promises Made and Accountability

On Monday I made a quick trip to the Baltimore area to be a part of a men’s ministry known as the Man Cave.  The trip began with a early morning train to Penn Station, continuing on to Baltimore where I would pick up a rental car.  During pick up I asked about the possibility of getting a ride to the train station to meet my 10:30 PM train later that night.  The counter person said it should be no problem, and gave me the name of the person to ask for when I got back.

Fast forward to Monday night when I returned to the rental counter.  I asked about a ride to the train, told the lady working the counter that my train left at 10:30, and was told that a ride would be no problem.  I was told where to wait, and the adventure began.  The driver at first had a difficult time finding a car to use (um, it was a rental company) and then he handed the job off to someone else.  Long story short, after being assured four times that my ride was coming, I arrived at the train station just as my train was pulling up (after a harrowing high speed drive to get there).  As I watched the chaos surrounding getting me to the train station, here is the insight I am taking away:

  • Know Your Limits.  There are times that you should say no to a request.  This can be because you don’t have the resources to handle it, the time to take care of it, or the focus to invest in it.  Had they told me know at the rental desk I would have had just enough time to take the two shuttles required to make it to the train station with a few minutes to spare… and not have minded.  Saying no is a discipline that not nearly enough church leaders have developed, and it is killing them.  Steve Caton had a solid post on this early this week.
  • Know Your Role.  The person who committed to giving me a ride was the manager.  He was planning on giving me the ride until he realized that he needed to be at the desk to take care of two other issues.  That was when everything started to break down.  As a leader, there are times when you need to stand your post and delegate tasks to others.  By knowing our role, and what it is most important for us to do, we are able to delegate from the beginning, rather than needing to make mid-stream corrections when a crisis arises.
  • Know Your Resources.  One of the most important things a leader does is know the resources that they have available to them, whether they are financial, manpower, emotional, spiritual, or personal.  A great idea without the required resources to pull it off will end up an utter disaster.  Starting an intense initiative with a staff team that is exhausted will result in failure that can scar a church for years.  Jesus tells us to count the cost before moving on a project… know the resources that you have available before saying yes to something.
  • Know Your Plan.  When you make a commitment know how it will be accomplished, and who will be doing what.  While waiting for my ride I saw many people with radios asking one another whose responsibility it was to get me to the train.  No one knew.  As time continued to tick and my 10:30 departure grew closer and closer the radio conversations grew more and more frantic until someone stepped up and decided to just do it.  Know how you will deliver on a promise or initiative.  Know who is responsible for what parts of the plan, and hold them accountable to the tasks that they are assigned.  If they are unable to meet expectations, it may be time to reassign (or release) them.

Let’s be honest for a minute, church leaders have a horrible reputation when it comes to delivering on promises made.  In a conversation a few weeks ago someone told me that a church leader had promised them something that never materialized.  He then told me, “but I knew it wouldn’t happen because he is a pastor… and they make a lot of promises they can’t keep.”  Those with church staff experience can wink and nod, and know the specifics of why this happens… but to the world around us, whether it be our congregation or our neighbors, all they know is that they can’t count on us to come through.

It is time to change that perception.

How do YOU ensure that you make good on YOUR promises?


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.

  • Steve

    This is all too true.  One of the problems is that the person making the promise does not completely own the process.  We say “Yes” and then the church board or a higher up staff member shoots it down.  The other BIG problem is that pastors are often people pleasers and we like saying yes to people even when we are not totally convinced that this may be the best idea and then to cover ourselves we hide behind church boards or something or someone else.  Shall we call it an ill conceived lie rooted more in our egos and desire to be liked over a pathological need to lie.

    • Matt Steen

      Thanks for commenting, Steve!  

      I hear what you are saying about others forcing you to back out of a promise, but I think that is where knowing your role comes in… We need to be honest about where we stand, and whether we are able to make the promise positionally.

      But, I think you nailed it at the end… the reason we make promises that we can’t keep, ultimately comes back to our people pleasing tendencies as opposed to a pathological need to lie.  The problem with it is that in the eyes of the outside world, it really doesn’t make a difference… we didn’t come through.