“I Don’t Think We Need to Write It!”

We don’t need to write anything down. We’ll just trust each other like Christians, and I promise you we’ll take care of you and work out any problems that come up along the way.” And that’s been the beginning of disappointing “agreements” between leaders and their new preacher.

But what could go wrong when we’re all sincere, honest, and faithful brethren?

Let me suggest a few things I’ve learned from the University of Hard Knocks, whose colors are black and blue and the school yell is, “OUCH!”.

Some possible agreements:

  1. What do you expect of me?
  2. What are my responsibilities?
  3. How will I know if I am doing well, mediocre, or if I am in danger of being terminated?
  4. Will I know that in advance of termination or will I be informed on the way out?
  5. What spiritual support will I receive?
  6. How often and when will I meet with the shepherds?
  7. As your preacher, how many weeks do I get for vacation?
  8. Will these be with or without pay?
  9. How many weeks do I have for workshops and gospel meetings?
  10. Who arranges for speakers when I am gone and who pays them?
  11. Are there provisions for medical and life insurance, car mileage reimbursement, provisions for continuing education or lectureships or seminars, reimbursement for half of social security, retirement, or other benefits?
  12. When I decide to leave, or you decide for me to leave, will there be severance compensation until I relocate?
  13. How long will that be?
  14. Etc., etc., and etc.

If any, all, or some of those are discussed, how many in the group remember them fifteen minutes after we agreed on them?

In the last two posts, I wrote about the importance of specific written agreements. Not everyone agrees with that concept. Here are reasons people have for resisting.

  • “If we don’t trust each other any more than that, we have no business working together.” It isn’t a matter of trust, it’s a result of imperfect memory. When you fail to record agreements, a week or five years later, two or more people may have different memories of the facts. After that, each will regard the other with suspicion and distrust. Each is sure he remembered correctly. A way to eliminate that is to write it, sign it, distribute it to all parties, scan it, save it on your computer, back it up to external hard drives (I use three in rotation), secure it in the cloud, and put the original in your safe-deposit box in the bank. Since I’ve done that, I’ve never had a disagreement on details of my agreements that wasn’t solved by reading the document.
  • “In my daddy’s day, people just shook hands and did what they said they were going to do.” If it worked for your daddy, I’m pleased. My experience is I forget. We had written agreements with our children when they were growing up. Every time I remember having a disagreement, I was wrong. I wasn’t trying to cheat my children. I forgot the details. When we checked the document, I had no trouble doing what I promised to do.
  • “I don’t think it’s spiritual for brethren to have to write every detail. It seems like Christians should be able just to agree and do what they said they’d do.” God didn’t think it was unspiritual to write agreements. In His two big agreements, the Old Testament and the New Testament, He chose to have details and stories recorded in writing. Some of the big agreements, He wrote in stone — twice! When the first copy was deleted by breakage, He had another copy made and placed in a safe-deposit box (the Ark of the Covenant).

My conclusion: the only people who don’t need to write their agreements are those who’ll never forget and who’ll never die — and they need to work only with people who’ll never forget and never die. Otherwise, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and damaged relationships are likely.

What are your thoughts and what’s been your experience in recording and keeping of agreements?
Please comment below:

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Jerrie Barber
Disciple of Jesus, husband, grandfather, preacher, barefoot runner, ventriloquist

10 Responses to ““I Don’t Think We Need to Write It!”

  • Someone once told me, “A short pencil is better than a long memory”. Really can help eliminate misunderstanding and bad feelings.

    • Don, You are on target. It’s not a matter of trust, but memory. When it hasn’t been written and we disagree, I trust my memory better than yours and I begin to distrust you.

  • Ronnie Kephart
    8 years ago

    Jerrie, did you and Gale have a written agreement when you were married? If not, do you see a marriage benefitting from such a written record?

    • Ronnie, We started a written budget the year we began full-time preaching, 1967. With the exception of one year, 1969, we have used that to manage our money. It was the most miserable financial year we’ve had in the 52 we’ve been married. When it’s written, there’s no argument about “You’re spending too much on clothes.” Am I on or under budget? I’m not spending too much. Have I spend twice am much as I promised to spend? I’m spending too much.

      That is our main written agreement.

      We had written agreements with our children when they became teenagers — on buying their own clothes, when they became responsible for getting up on time and going to bed when they wanted to, phone contract (there were no cell phones then), driving contract (Who pays increase in insurance? Who pays deductible when there’s an accident? Who pays for traffic tickets? What are the consequences? Who and how many ride in the car during the first months of driving? What should be done when you know you will be later than you planned? What are the consequences if you fail to do that?).

      When our son had an accident, I forgot the agreement of how much he paid on the deductible. I thought it was all — $500.00. When we checked the contract, we had agreed to half for each, $250.00. I had no intention of cheating my son, backing out on our agreement. I forgot. When we read the contract, it was settled.

      We’ve had written agreements with people living with us, friends, family, young man who had been in drug rehab (Who pays for the groceries? Will there be any rent? Who does the washing and ironing?). We’ve found it easier to talk about these things before they arise than have hurt feelings after we’ve had it with what we perceive of someone taking advantage of us when it may be they never thought of the way their actions or lack of actions affected someone else. Also, when we discuss it, we don’t have to wonder if I’m doing what the other person expects.

      I like to build into an agreement a time to evaluate. We go over the agreement and express how we see ourselves and others doing what we promised. Are there other things that need to be included? With our budget, Gail and I check in once a week with a detailed tweaking at the beginning of each month. With a church, I like a detailed evaluation once a year with a 48 hour rule. If you are unhappy with what I’m doing or not doing, let me know within 48 hours of the disappointment. I will do the same for you. I don’t want to wait for my yearly evaluation and learn that I have been irritating and disappointing your for 11 months with 14 things I’ve been dong wrong. Why would we want to be miserable that long? Let’s stay current.

  • Chuck Lipford
    8 years ago

    Jerry, I have been a shepherd for 40 years and we have had a written agreement with every minister and employee. It has served us well to have everything in writing. It is difficult to evaluate performance if you do not know what is expected.

  • I recall a young preacher speaking in chapel years ago. He spoke at length of hear things. He might have been reading this article (I jest of course). The gentlemen that followed him got up and proceeded to tear down the whole talk on the basis of “if we’re Christians there should be no problem.” With that logic, there should never be ANY problem in the church between anyone. That attitude supposes too much, and gives us more benefit than we deserve. People will die. And before they die, they’ll be forgetful. Spot on. As usual. Thanks!

    • Rick, That is the reality. In one church, when there was a question about me receiving compensation on Sundays I was trying out trying to relocate, I was embarrassed and scared. I remembered: 90 days compensation or until I found another church — whichever came first. Two elders with whom I had made that agreement had died. The one elder who was there said, “It seems like we talked about that, but I don’t remember what we said.”

      Why do good Christians need to write it and preserve it? Because dead men won’t tell what they remember and the forgetful can’t recall. What can solve the realities of life, memory, and trust? Do what God did for thousands of years — write it. And if you lose it, if it gets broken, make another copy and put it in the safety deposit box.

  • Lindell Doty
    8 years ago

    Jerrie, this is also an issue when Elders change. Any time new elders are appointed this needs to be gone over again. The elders system changes even if one new one is added or one resigns as an elder. I don’t think many people realize just how much it changes. Lindell

    • Jerrie W. Barber
      8 years ago

      Lindell, You are correct. Since 1988, every time one or more elders were added, I resigned and applied for the preacher position as the next preacher for the new eldership. That happens whether we go through the formality or not. To ignore the new group(s) for twenty years often brings an eldership that “knew not the long-time preacher.” Even though the agreement was written, it wasn’t written, developed, explained, and discussed in this group. This new group says (thinks), “We didn’t agree to that and we don’t think this is best for the church.” And you have a hurt preacher because he is rejected and a hurt eldership. If he has been there that long, he has friends he has served well. They will be upset when he is dismissed without (or with) warning.

      I think a profitable conversation before the first sermon in a new congregation:
      1. From the elders, “How long would you like to stay and how do you plan to leave?”.
      2. From the preacher, “How long would you like me to stay and how should we work together on a good transition when I leave?”.