Why do we have so many liars in the church — even in leadership? Why don’t people do what they promised to do — especially in a written agreement?

I would rephrase the question:

Why do many people not do what they promise to do?

The best definition of lying I’ve heard: a lie is trying to get somebody to believe something you know isn’t true. Most people I’ve worked with don’t do that.

In the elder-preacher relationship, the courtship is often short and superficial. One or both are uncomfortable talking about important things and they’re in a hurry to finish the process.

A Seth Godin classic describes many interviews:

Toward the honest job interview

The candidate thinks, “I really need this job.”

The hiring manager thinks, “I’m tired of this, I really need to fill this job.”

As a result, the candidate says what he thinks will get him hired. He’s not listening, not really. And he’s not telling the truth, not really. He knows that he needs to thread a needle and say what needs to be said to get the job. He lies to himself about what he wants and lies to the interviewer to get the job.

As a result, the hiring manager isn’t really listening, not really. She’s looking for clues, unstated hints about what this person is really like. And when she shifts to sell mode about the organization, she alternates between glossing over the bad bits, exaggerating the good ones (“Everyone here is really creative, and there’s no office politics…”) and being impossibly skeptical about the potential of the person across the desk.

No one is acting badly here. Cognitive dissonance is real, and the hope is that once in the new role, the hired person will grow to love it. And no job is static, and the hope is that with the earnest and generous work of the hired person, the role will get better.


We could all save a lot of time and energy if we could figure out a way to find an actual fit.

One person thinks, “I have room in my career for just a dozen jobs. Is this one worthy?”

And the other realizes, “We could outsource this work, but we’re going to keep it in house if we find the right match. Is it you?”

— Seth Godin, September 18, 2018, https://seths.blog/2018/09/toward-the-honest-job-interview/

Two frequent mistakes in the transition process between preachers (and elders, deacons, youth ministers, song leaders, administrative assistants, custodians) are:

  1. Not taking time to do the selection excellently.
  2. Not checking references with creative doubt.

They fell in love during the courtship and were willing to promise anything to get the wedding over and start living together.

My observation on why people don’t do what they promised: they forget.

After I started writing agreements, I’ve had to remind elders about what we said.

  • Cost of living increases.
  • Consideration for a merit raise and discussion of why it’s being given or why it isn’t.
  • Meetings with elders.
  • No anonymous criticism. (Read about Criticism.) (See page 2, #8 for No Anonymous Criticism: Contract.)

Elders, and others, have to remind me of the rules. Last Wednesday night a few people reminded me it was time for Bible study to be over ten minutes ago. Others just walked out. People (I) forget.

Written contracts don’t eliminate oversights and discussions. Written agreements record what each agreed to do or not do. We go back and read what we agreed and do what we promised. Few people are lying. Lying is trying to get somebody to believe something you know isn’t true.

Failure to keep promises may be due to:

  1. Dishonesty, lying.
  2. Disability.
  3. Lack of information.
  4. Fear.
  5. Forgetfulness.

The question becomes, what do I do when somebody doesn’t do what they promised?

Do I sweat in silence because of their oversight or do I gently remind them of our agreement?

If a situation is chronic and I’m upset, it’s because everybody likes it the way it is better than doing what it would take to change it.

The Macedonian churches gave to Paul’s request for aid to suffering Christians and promised to give more (1 Corinthians 8:10-12). A year later they hadn’t finished what they promised to do. Paul reminded them of their promise. They hadn’t lied. They promised. Either they had forgotten, were no longer able to do what they promised, or both.

Christians need to do what they promise to do. Christians need to remind Christians who haven’t done what they promised, forgot, or are unable to keep their promises.

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

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