Responsibility: Getting Things Done (and Being Done in)

When I was in high school, I worked at an ice cream shop. I’d drive the family minivan to work after school (usually around 5pm), relieve the owner, and close the store down. For me, the pivotal moment in closing the store wasn’t counting the money, being sure the ice cream was covered, or making certain the store was clean. No, the pivotal moment for me was locking the door.

I can confidently say that I never left the door unlocked. How do I know? Most nights, after leaving, I’d wonder if the door was locked, then I’d turn around, drive back and check. One time I was already home in bed, and I couldn’t actually remember locking the door. I got out of bed and drove back to check.

The door was always locked.

While such a scenario might just come across as me being a bizarre high schooler, it’s all part of a value that has been developing in me over many years: responsibility. Someone else might call this “ownership” (I debated calling it ownership when I started writing the first post in this series.)

Responsibility is good, but it has its downfalls. In this post, you’ll get to see how this value plays out in my life—in ways good and ways not so good.

Positively, if you know me well, I hope you know that if you give me a task, a job, or an area that needs attention, I’ll do it as well as I know how. (I didn’t always do this great as a college student, unfortunately.) I’ll learn everything I can about it. I’ll be relentless in being sure that I become somewhat of an expert in it. I’ll be sure that those who are a part of the same team have all the tools they need, and I’ll be sure the job gets done. I’ll even triple-check that the door is locked.

Along with feeling this burden of responsibility, if (more appropriately, when) I fail at some portion of what I’m in charge of, you might become annoyed with my apologies about it. I hate when I can’t get the job done, but it definitely happens. If you’ve ever read the book Extreme Ownership, you know what I’m talking about (here’s the brief summary I wrote on that book and its application to ministry).

And remember how, in the first post, I talked about how I might find myself frustrated in certain ways? A ministry example for the church folk reading along: I don’t have a good category for people who are serving in an area of ministry but will also say something like, “Yeah, but I’m not staff,” when talking about their approach to their area of service. We serve unto the Lord—paycheck or not. Being paid or not paid shouldn’t fundamentally change our approach to service—regardless of the area. (I could go longer developing what I think is happening in this situation and how it often reflects my own failures as a leader, but that’s another post for another day.)

In many ways, taking responsibility plays out well, but there’s definitely a shadow side to how this all operates.

Pride can grab a hold of this area rapidly and rabidly. When that happens, there are some ugly repercussions. Two expressions that can show up here and that you’ve likely seen in me (if you know me):

  • Control Freak Tendencies: When you immerse yourself in something, you might hide behind, “I’m just being responsible.” However, you start watching everyone around you and ensuring that they do exactly as you think they should. People can feel crushed by you because they don’t feel trusted. Why don’t they feel trusted? Because you don’t trust them.
  • Inability to Give Things Away: Along with being a control freak, if you feel like you have to do everything, then you can’t do an important part of your job (especially in ministry)—you can’t give things away. You can’t ask people to do other tasks and you can’t hand them off well, because you don’t have a good category for letting others take and be trusted with responsibility.

What happens when you give in to the shadow side of responsibility? You’re crushed under the weight of the responsibility you feel, you can’t trust others, and you exhaust yourself and those around you. It’s a mess—and you might actually feel like you’re a martyr for it, but you aren’t. You’re a fool.

“He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got the whole wide world in his hands,” is something you may have sung about Jesus. And it’s true. He holds it all together (Col 1:17).

Jesus, who created us, this world, and everything in it, continues to hold it all together. At the very same time, he’s called us to follow him and he’s even entrusted his church with the great commission (Matt 28:18-29). The most important message in all the world and the most important mission in all the world was given to people by the one who actually holds the whole wide world in his hands.

Learning from Jesus proves a far better solution than trying to go at our leadership from the shadow side. Be responsible, but trust people. Own the mission, but know it doesn’t depend on you—there’s something greater going on.

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