#4: The Responsibility Riddle

QUESTION:  Pastor, who is responsible for your spiritual maturity and vitality?

ANSWER:  I am, of course!

Ok, fine.  Now answer this…

QUESTION: Pastor, who is responsible for the spiritual maturity and vitality of your congregation?

ANSWER:  Again, I am!

Really?  Are you sure?

If you are responsible for your congregation’s spiritual maturity, what are they responsible for?

Er… Um… Uh…  Ask me that again??

There’s a troubling trend in the Church these days.  We, in ministry, see the evidence of this all the time.  It can be found in a complaint, and more often than not, the complaint sounds something like this:   “I’m just not getting fed, here…”  “I don’t experience the presence of God here…”  “The worship no longer ministers to me…”.  And then off they go, out the door, on to another church, or maybe to no church at all.

The thinking, both of the pastor above, and the complaining congregants flows from the same fallacy: that the pastor, the church, the elders are somehow responsible for the spiritual condition of those they serve.

Thinking like this, it’s no wonder the Church is diapered in perpetual spiritual infancy.

Isn’t it?

So, you who are reading this blog, who is responsible for your spiritual maturity and vitality?

You are.

Only you.

The responsibility riddle can be solved in this important, seldom recognized distinction:  Your pastor is responsible to you, but is not responsible for you.

Think about it.  A pastor is responsible to the congregation to model mature faith in action, to proclaim God’s Word faithfully, to represent Christ ethically.   Each believer is responsible for what they do with the Word of God: both the preached Word and the Word that sits in their lap, on the bookshelf, or on the coffee table gathering dust.

Are you responsible for your spouse’s happiness?  Of course not!  How could you be?  If you husband has handed you “the keys” to his emotional well being- give them back!


When you notice that someone has tried to make you responsible for whatever it is that God has made them responsible for – their attitudes, their behavior, their “stress”, their decisions, their depression, their optimism – invite them to embrace this reality: you may have a responsibility to them, but can never be responsible for them.

Do I have a responsibility to Annie, my wife?  Absolutely!  I am responsible to keep my promises to her.  I’ve promised to value her above every breathing human being.  I’ve promised to honor her whether she deserves it or not.  I’ve promised to pray for her.  I’ve promised to champion her toward all God’s called her to be.  I’ve promised to be faithful sexually and emotionally.  I’ve promised to walk with God and to submit my life to Jesus and his Word.  And, I promised to treat her better than she deserves.

And, she is responsible for herself.  Completely.

When our kids were small and unable to take responsibility for themselves, as parents we bore the responsibility for them.  When our pre-teen had a friend over, and they snuck out at night and lit a porta-potty on fire, we were legally responsible—because they were minors and under our supervision.

Now that he’s in his twenties, it would be foolish to take responsibility for his decisions.  In fact, it would be irresponsible of us to do so.  To take responsibility for another adult is a violation of his or her autonomy. It is an invasion of their sovereignty.  And, I believe it represents a kind of abuse.

Yes.  Abuse.

When you are with an otherwise capable adult as if they were incapable of adult choices and incapable of bearing the adult consequences for those choices, what is your impact – really – on that person?  What is the “fruit” that is produced when you persuade another to live irresponsibly?

The distinction of being responsible to vs. responsible for is central for any of us in leadership. There’s actually great freedom when you are clear about this distinction, and lead in such a way that those you influence are clear about it too.

To stand in life responsible to others and responsible for your own emotional being and destiny may call for courage you’ve not been willing to summon, up ‘till now.

I say, it’s time to call it up!