I was having a conversation with a church’s staff members the other day and mentioned that the words that church leaders should dread are, “That won’t happen again, will it?” As in, if that happens again – or perhaps just a couple more times – then they will be replaced by someone who will make sure “that” won’t happen again.

Related: The Six Most Powerful Accountability Words

One of the staff members turned on his heels and responded  “What are you going to do when you run out of leaders?” (It was a dismissive final-word “gotcha” move on his part.)

So, when did systemic mediocrity become tolerated, and perhaps even expected, in the church? The staffer was clearly suggesting that it’s not okay to hold church leaders, and in particular “volunteers” accountable for their performance and behavior.

Related: Five Secrets to Getting Volunteers to Perform

Some of you may remember Candy Stripers. They were young ladies who volunteered at hospitals and helped out the nurses by taking on some of the important, but mundane, tasks. These “volunteers” were held to the highest accountability, because people’s medical health and even their lives hung in the balance. Indeed, I was told by one former Candy Striper that if you missed your shift you might get one additional chance, but miss a second shift and you were relieved of your duties – not to mention your red-striped Candy Striper uniform. People’s health was just too important!

But when it comes to eternity, apparently, the typical church doesn’t seen to take it that seriously.

  • If you’re on a committee and don’t feel like showing up, that’s okay. You can catch up next meeting.
  • If you’re scheduled to serve in worship, but Aunt Betty-Sue drops in, you get a Bye and don’t need to even get a replacement.
  • And if you’re in charge of the projection during worship and you’re preoccupied and forget to advance the slides during the hymn of invitation, you’ll just be encouraged to do better next week.

Apparently, for these … or any of a thousand other mistakes, missteps, etc. … the church is supposed to just shrug, say, “You can do better, but please don’t leave your position because God really doesn’t count on us for excellence in much of anything.” The thought of saying to a “volunteer” That won’t happen again, will it? and replacing them if they continue to perform poorly is abhorrent and unthinkable.

The solution to systemic mediocrity is accountability. But it’s only fair to hold someone accountable to the goals and the level of excellence that have been agreed to in advance. Therefore, every staff member, every leader, and every worker-bee needs a written position description that outlines the expectations of the position … including meeting attendance and what the position responsibilities (and preferably authority) entail.

In a perfect world, the description is less a bullet point list of “Do this; Do That” and more of mission and vision. For instance, a Children’s Sunday school teacher’s position description might look something like this:

Mission: To help children not only learn about Jesus, but to connect with Him and begin the process of becoming a committed disciple of Jesus Christ.

Vision: To create an effective environment where learning, training, and mentoring meet fun and a yearning to return again and again!

Goals: (1) To increase the average attendance by 50% by this time next year; (2) To lead 5 children into a commitment to Jesus Christ and to baptism; (3) To increase the number of parents who participate in adult worship/mission/ministry.

Rubrics: (1) Embody the congregation’s Membership and Leadership Covenants; (2) Pray, plan, and implement a comprehensive and effective children’s disciple-making program; (3) Meet with the Children’s Director monthly for one-on-one encouragement; (4) With the support of the Children’s Director, recruit, train, supervise, and coach Teacher Assistants; (5) Identify and mentor at least one Teacher Assistant to be your backup and replacement; (6) Attend monthly Children Department planning meetings.

In this case, once a teacher is signed on, then it’s up to the Children’s Director to ensure that mediocrity doesn’t slip in through the back door. But we’ve found that when the expectations clearly communicated, when they are mutually agreed upon, then those who serve tend to step up … especially when there’s a coach who meets with them and holds them accountable.

Systemic Mediocrity has got to go. Yes, you may lose some volunteers, but others will step up if you set the bar high and cast a compelling vision.

The fact is all this is ultimately about what effective discipleship. Join us at an upcoming Radical Disciple Making Conference to put an end to mediocrity in your church!

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How are you dealing with systemic mediocrity in your church?