Quit Making Assumptions

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Lewis Center Director Doug Powe says incoming leaders are often frustrated when others assume that they already know the ins and outs of the job. He says it is critical to stop making assumptions and provide new staff or volunteers with all the information and support they need.


How many times have you found yourself frustrated when taking on a new position or responsibility because those bringing you on board assume you already know everything they do? For example, an educational coordinator stepping down after 10 years in that role takes it for granted that a new recruit knows where the supply closet is and who’s responsible for bringing treats for the children’s classrooms. It’s common for old hands around the church to make such assumptions. But for a new volunteer, it can be confusing and demoralizing to not know the things others take for granted.

To help create a smoother transition, whether it is for a new pastor or a volunteer, we must intentionally avoid making assumptions. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Overshare

Sometimes, we avoid giving new people too much information because we don’t want to come across as a smart aleck or make the new person feel incompetent. But this can leave a lot of holes in the way we share information. For example, a volunteer outreach coordinator is expected to plan a fall back-to-school event. This leader is given the basic information about the event. But what is left out are details like key contacts at the local school and where to rent the inflatable play structures. The person orienting this new coordinator knows these things, but wrongly assumes the new coordinator knows how it has been done in the past.

Sharing very detailed pertinent information, including contact information, can make it easier for a new leader. Something as simple as including a chart that illustrates how things are set up may sound like oversharing, but it will help a new person who would otherwise have to figure it out. It gives the new person a starting point for creating a good event. Do not be afraid to overshare.

2. Be patient with questions

When we transition out of a leadership role, it’s tempting to want to leave it behind completely and focus on our next responsibility. The last thing we want to do is answer questions about the role we just left. Even when we are still part of the team, we can be impatient with questions about small details. When we step into a new role, we typically say to the person replacing us something like, “Ask me any question. I will be happy to help you.” We need to take these words seriously and have patience in answering all the questions, even the ones that seem obvious.

For example, when we ask someone to read scripture in worship, it sounds to us like a straightforward task. How to read scripture seems obvious until we are asked to do it. After all, we all see others doing it every week. But when asked to read for the first time, all kinds of questions come to mind. “Should I bring my own Bible or use the one on the lectern?” “Should I read from a particular translation?” “Where do I stand to read the text?” It’s easy to lose patience when someone starts asking such questions if we assume that anyone who comes to worship weekly should know the answers. Having patience with questions is important and helps individuals feel more confident the next time they are asked to do something.

3. Provide a mentor

Assigning a mentor to a new leader can be helpful. The mentor can help fill in the holes and be patient in answering all the questions. The role of the mentor is not to do the work or tell the new person what to do. The role of the mentor is to walk alongside the person as they are doing the job. Of course, it is even better if we can mentor someone to take over the position we are leaving, but this is not always possible. A mentor can help ensure a smoother transition and take some of the pressure off the new leader.

We all make assumptions every day. But for those taking on new roles in ministry it is helpful if we don’t assume too much.  Oversharing, being patient with questions, and assigning a mentor whenever possible are ways to help ensure a better transition.


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About Author

Rev. Dr. F. Douglas Powe, Jr.

F. Douglas Powe, Jr., is director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership and holds the James C. Logan Chair in Evangelism (an E. Stanley Jones Professorship) at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.


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