The Problem With Commitment

I hear it over and over again:

He didn’t show up to serve on his scheduled Sunday.

She signed up for the retreat, then cancelled at the last minute.

Everyone thought hosting the event was a great idea, but no one showed up to help.

Culturally speaking, we have a problem with commitment. Perhaps it’s a problem with definition. Oxford Online Dictionary offers these definitions for commitment:

  1. The state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.
  2. An engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action

I find this to be something of a paradox. It’s hard to be dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. that restricts one’s freedom. Yes…exactly. It’s hard. Keeping a commitment sometimes requires making a hard decision.

If we are honest, perhaps we might acknowledge that…

  • The problem with commitment is that it requires showing up to do something when I would rather be home relaxing, going out with friends, spending time with family, or any one of a hundred other things.
  • The problem with commitment is that it requires me to be responsible to those who are depending on me, and I don’t want that responsibility.
  • The problem with commitment is that it often requires some sort of sacrifice–and I don’t like to give sacrificially.

I can absolutely own any one of those statements on any given day! I don’t know a single person who is not tempted at some time or another to renege on a commitment. We can chalk it up to our innate desire to serve self.

But here’s the problem with failure to keep our commitments: it undermines trust and tears away at the fabric of our families, our church, our communities, and our world.

It’s not rocket science. Before we say “yes,” we need to stop and ask whether we really mean it. Better to say “no” and do it commitmentanyway than to say “yes” but not keep the commitment. (Matthew 21:28-32)

Before we give in to the temptation to renege, we should ask who will be effected by this decision–who will be inconvenienced, disappointed, left “holding the bag?” (1 Corinthians 12:25-27)

Before going back on our word, it is wise to ask whether the sacrifice of our character is worth it. (Acts 5:1-5)

I don’t want to communicate judgment or unforgiveness. Of course there are times when something unforseen arises that necessitates breaking a commitment. Let’s be sure, however, that this is indeed the case and not a refusal to prioritize, to make the hard decision.

What happened to commitment?

It’s that time of year again when ministry leaders face the often arduous task of trying to find enough volunteers to successfully meet all the ministry needs. Frustration often runs high and, as ministry leaders, we have a tendency to wonder why people won’t commit to serving.

In his recent article, “The Commitments People Make,”* Dr. Dan Reiland, reminds us that people do indeed make commitments all the time. They commit to things like work, marriage, raising children, 30-year mortgages, and leisure activities in which they find value. And, if I stop long enough to think about it, I do know many people who also commit to ministry in and through their church. But when I’m facing gaps in my ministry, it’s easy to allow myself to be deceived into believing that there is a wide-spread aversion to commitment among the people I serve.

Dr. Reiland writes:

I want you to consider that from a leader’s vantage point, it does little to no good to focus on what people won’t do. Or to focus on what certain people won’t do. That only wastes time and energy, discourages you, and discourages the people around you. To concentrate on the negative makes the issue worse than it really is. In fact, the more you think and talk about the negative aspects about lack of commitment in your church, you literally help lower the level of commitment even further.

That’s it. I’m convicted.

So, what’s the antidote to this kind of negative thinking? Dr. Reiland goes on to make some excellent suggestions for the way you can improve your process for inviting people in to ministry and I commend them to you. … But what about right now? What about the knot in your gut as you wonder how your ministry will survive with this dearth of volunteers? Well, as trite as it sounds, I encourage you to count your blessings. Each person who says “yes” to your invitation to serve is a blessing. Celebrate them! Be faithful to those God has provided and see if he doesn’t add more (a little twist on the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25!).

At my church, we will be conducting a volunteer ministry training on Saturday. We are a very small parish and we are certainly struggling to have a full complement of volunteers for our ministries. Like many churches, our budget is tighter than tight. But this Saturday I am committed to making sure that every servant minister knows how much I appreciate his/her willingness to serve. We will have home baked goodies, we will have fun as we get better acquainted, and everyone will get the training they need to successfully accomplish the ministry they’ve committed to. My prayer is that each one know that they are blessed to be a blessing… and that it will be contagious!

*The Commitments People Make, by Dr. Dan Reiland

Recruitment Tactics

I’m quite frustrated by the use of the term “recruit”—and all variations of said term—in conjunction with volunteer management. (Listen carefully and you will hear the sound of my soapbox hitting the ground!) I cringe when I hear leaders talk about “recruiting” new volunteers, especially when spoken with an air of desperation.Why am I irritated by this silly little word, you ask? Because it evokes a strong memory.

When each one of my three children entered their junior year of high school, we would receive at least three calls a week from well-meaning recruiting officers who represented each of the four branches of the armed services. Now, please don’t misunderstand! I am very grateful for the selfless service of our military men and women, and respect their commitment to defending our nation’s freedom. My irritation was over the fact that these recruiters not only interrupted our family meals (why did they always call at dinnertime?), but they seemed insistent on trying to “recruit” my children prematurely. I felt they were taking advantage of their innocence by trying to convince my kids to commit to something they didn’t fully understand.

Today I was compelled today to look up the word “recruit” in the dictionary. I wondered if perhaps I was being too narrow-minded about the definition and needed enlightening. I found it interesting that Webster’s Dictionary defines “recruit”—in both verb and noun forms—first and primarily in the context of the military. Maybe I’m not so narrow-minded after all!

“…trying to convince them to commit to something they didn’t fully understand.” Does that grab your attention? Prick your conscience? Are you using recruitment tactics? I hate to admit it, but I have. I’ve experienced the desperation of needing a body to fill a ministry slot, of coaxing someone to do something when I know they don’t fully understand what they are committing to… whether that understanding relates to the purpose of the ministry, the time involved, or the skills needed to accomplish the task.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog titled No-Show Volunteer Syndrome. According to my handy blog stats report, that post garnered more attention than the others combined! If you are struggling with this problem, you need to know that there are more reasons for it than devaluing a serving opportunity, which was addressed in that post. Using recruitment tactics is a common cause of AWOL volunteers. Once a volunteer realizes that they’ve committed to a ministry that they aren’t passionate about, a task for which they are not gifted,  a service that saps their precious time and energy, they simply don’t show up. They quickly reason that, in spite of the recruitment tactics they succumbed to, church is not the military and  there will be no court martial!

So, does terminology really matter? It does when it evokes a memory that triggers an automatic defense! What, then, is the alternative to “recruitment,” regarding both terminology and practice? I’ll address this in my next post, so stay tuned… In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject of no-show volunteers!

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