Holding Staff and Saints Accountable

Here are four sequential steps that will provide clear choices to those who follow in your spiritual wake.

by Cal LeMon

You have been praying, hoping, and, even in a weak moment, crossing your fingers. But nothing has changed.

You have administrative responsibility for six people in your ministry. These committed professionals are passionate about their ministries and connect well with their particular constituencies. There is a problem. Two of six staff have a checkered history of not “delivering” on their spiritual dreams and strategic promises.

And then there are the saints (nonsalaried volunteers) who are always euphoric at the launching of a new ministry but often no-shows when it is time to deliver on their commitments.

“This Is Not the Time to Rock This Boat”

There is never a good time to confront someone about his or her performance in the church. You openly admit your spiritual community is not Google, AT&T, or JPMorgan Chase. You are not building a for-profit enterprise that comes with the unapologetic privilege that you can get in someone’s face to clarify employment expectations.

No, you remind yourself, biblical protocol quietly whispers sanctity, civility, and vast choruses of patience. When frustrated, the church usually goes silent and waits for the underperforming saint or parishioner to receive a calling to another expression of the body of Christ.

But, after spending time on your knees, you need to confront the fact your expression of the kingdom of God is anemic and stumbling. Staff or volunteers consistently miss deadlines. Enthusiasm is pathetically episodic and highly dependent on the right voice speaking at the right time. And, your divine dreams have become ecclesiastical nightmares.

In the wake of these profound confessions we often say to ourselves, the last thing we need right now is to rock this boat. So, you, the spiritual leader, button your lip and internally begin to blame the spirit of the age for this epidemic indolence.

Frankly you are frightened that if you “lowered the boom” on members of your staff or the folks who warm the pews, the advancements made in your ministry would stagger and self-destruct as a result of another internal conflict.

The Call Inside Your Calling

The only reason you may be reading this column is your “calling” to ministry. You have erected a fulcrum on which your entire life teeters: God, the Creator of the universe, knows your name and called you to serve Him in some divinely appointed mission. But, your calling also assumes you will be an adept leader.

Leadership is your unique ability to get out in front of fellow believers, point in a specific direction, and then look behind you to see the faithful follow. Your skills will normally include verbal alacrity, positive use of positional power, spiritual conviction, divine creativity, and always ready to say with conviction, “This is the direction we will move.”

Someone has to stand in the gap between spiritual dreams and a strategic future. This person cannot be a George C. Patton or Casper Milquetoast. Leaders are definitive persons who open a door that no one saw or thought was permanently locked.

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence,captured it best when he wrote in Primal Leadership,“Quite simply, in any human group the leader has maximal power to sway everyone. …”

Therefore, leadership creates mirroring. The people who sit with you and in front of you will, over a period of time, reflect your connection with Christ. You, the spiritual leader, are a powerful person in God’s kingdom.

Steps to Accountability

If you need to mature your skills of accountability with a staff person or a fellow believer, here are four sequential steps that will provide clear choices to those who follow in your spiritual wake.

First, use concise, transparent, and accurate language. It is important that you not use glib generalities (“You haven’t responded positively to any of my requests over the last 5 years”) in this conversation. Rather, the words will offer clarity: “I asked for a report last Tuesday on the junior high ministry and have not received it as of today.”

In this first step, stay away from “you” accusatory language and replace it with “I” statements. When you speak just for yourself, there is nowhere for the conversation to wander and become a blame game.

Second, make sure you are not requiring accountability from someone who has no control over specific people or circumstances. If a parishioner does not have access to names, addresses, and phone numbers of potential givers, how can this person be accountable for designing and executing a building fund pledge drive?

Third, ask yourself, “Does this person, who I am counting on, have a long history of failing to keep commitments in this ministry?” If the answer to that question is yes, here are two responses.

If this is a staff person, are you using a semiannual or annual performance review? The best way to fairly and consistently address under-performing staff is to create a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), which is usually reviewed every 90 days for one year with special attention to specific due dates for changes in attitude and/or increased productivity.

On the other hand, do you have a nonsalaried member of your ministry whose “reliability quotient” (cannot be trusted to follow through) is in negative numbers? If so, suggest a change in responsibility with this statement, “I sense this assignment does not match your spiritual gifts in our ministry. Tell me, am I right or wrong?” Notice you are not criticizing; you are opening a conversation to uncover greater fulfillment for this member of your ministry.

Fourth, devise a method to continually initiate contact between you and this staff member or parishioner. If you only showed up once to let this person know how disappointed and confused you were with him/her, there will be little or no progress between the two of you.

So, if this person has a long history of failing to complete mutually agreed on tasks, and you never question how he/she is doing with wrapping up important commitments, plan on more misunderstanding and emotionally laden silence between the two of you.

Specifically, I am recommending you send the staff person or the member of a congregation a summary e-mail or handwritten note following your first accountability conversation. In this correspondence, give a date when you will either initiate a phone call or personally make an appointment for the two of you to evaluate whether there has been any change. Place this appointment on a written schedule or in an electronic organizer that will audibly remind you of your commitment to follow up.

If you said a year ago to someone in your ministry who makes commitments and does not keep them, “Let’s get together some time and revise our expectations of each other” and that conversation never happened, you may be bobbing around today on the placid surface of ecclesiastical mediocrity where no one rocks any boat.

Accountability With a Gentle, Thundering Hand

Dan Fogelberg, a well-known musician, wrote and performed his popular song, The Leader of the Band.1 He wove the lyrics around his father’s profound influence when he applied a “gentle, thundering hand” to the impressionable wet clay of Fogelberg’s emerging life.

In the same way, accountability, for those of us who speak for the Eternal Father, must always combine a gentle review of commitments made to Christ and His church coupled with the thundering insistence these promises must be kept.

Accountability — or your responsibility as a spiritual leader to gently review the promises made to Christ and His church and deliver this message with thundering reminders that these commitments must be kept — is the Holy Spirit’s message of grace and grit to those called to build the kingdom of God.


1. Dan Fogelberg, “Leader Of The Band” ©EMI Music Publishing, 1981.