“It’s not My Fault” and Other Leadership Excuses

Despite our faith, church leaders don’t always have the healthiest practices.  

One of the practices I’ve been thinking about lately is our tendency to give a reason for every bad thing that happens in ministry. It’s as though we need to defend ourselves or try to paint ourselves in a positive light. It’s as though we come pre-programmed with a need to avoid blame.  

I know this, of course, because I wrestle with the desire to escape blame.

Sometimes, this tendency expresses itself when we throw someone under the bus; other times, it’s far more subtle. In every case, it’s just not a healthy thing to constantly want to escape blame.

Our desire to avoid blame expresses itself in a variety of ways:

Someone leaves your church, and you say, “Well, they never fit into the culture here anyway” or, “I think we were his third church in the last five years.” 

Translation: It’s not my fault.

An event comes off poorly, and you say, “If we just had more help, it would have run smoothly.” 

Translation: It’s not my fault.

You’re scrambling to get a project done at the last minute, and you say, “Well, if I had the source material on time and if the printer hadn’t been down on ink, I would have been done earlier.” 

Translation: It’s not my fault.

Your church hasn’t grown in three years, and you say, “If only we were in the Bible Belt” or, “If that big church hadn’t opened its new building, I’m sure we’d be growing.” 

Translation: It’s not my fault.

Whether or not something is your fault is kind of beside the point: if you’re the leader, you’re actually responsible.  

And while it’s not your fault every time, sometimes it is your fault, whether you admit it or not. When you fail to admit to yourself that it’s your fault, you will never grow. As long as someone else was to blame, you don’t need to do anything about it.

Even when it is a series of outside circumstances or a pattern beyond your control that influences the negative event, as a leader, you’re still responsible. And besides, none of this is healthy if you want to create a great culture. Who wants to work in a culture of “blamers,” even when the blame is subtle?

So how do you tackle those issues differently? 

Healthy leaders:

  • Assume responsibility
  • Empathize appropriately with the disappointment someone is expressing
  • Don’t blame events or people for the misfortune

So let’s re-imagine all four conversations:

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Carey Nieuwhof
Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.