Back in college I had a friend that no one trusted to be anywhere, ever, on time.
She was ebullient and funny, a wonderful singer who was gifted in the Lord and a great encourager. But if you wanted her to be somewhere at ten, you had to tell her the event started at 9:45. If you showed up to meet her at a predetermined time, it was wise to bring a book that would keep you occupied until she blew in.
And it wasn’t just time she had trouble with. If there was a meeting planned for sixteen people, she’d only show up (twenty minutes late) with eight agendas. She forgot notebooks and notes and left things behind. She liked to “wing” her Bible studies, but often lacked the capacity to do so properly, and as a result her lessons ran either remarkably short or lasted long after the allotted time. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and through some remarkably bad planning barely made it home on time from a long-distance trip to arrive for the ceremony!
She didn’t do these things out of malice or cruelty or unkindness. She just was, as my grandmother often put it, “a flake”: an easily-distracted and often-unreliable person.
I’ve run across believers like this more than once since that time. They mean well, always. They’re almost always likeable and friendly and good workers in service to the Lord. They’re just not dependable. And that’s a problem.
When you’re flaky, you constantly forget the prayer requests that people give you – sometimes even before you manage to pray over them. When you’re flaky, you’re constantly running late. When you’re flaky, you often expect that people will change their schedule (“we were supposed to meet at three!”) to accommodate yours (“well can’t we just do it an hour earlier? Because otherwise I won’t make it until 3:30, sorry!”) You never really plan out events and you tend to be under-prepared (although you might like to call it “spontaneous”). You constantly become distracted and forget both events and people’s needs. You wouldn’t describe yourself as “reliable.”
Please, believers: don’t be flaky.
A note before I continue: I’m aware that some of these issues, like running late or struggling to be organized, can be traced back to certain learning disabilities. This isn’t directed at people with such diagnoses. If you’re one of these people, your issues are understandable! And hopefully those who know and love you, and the body in which you serve, will be able to place those issues in context with your particular disability.
Rather, I’m referring to people who are simply distracted, unreliable, and prone to under-planning. Sometimes this is just a character trait that develops over time. Sometimes it comes from being overwhelmed and over-burdened and trying to juggle too many things at once. Sometimes it comes from an attitude like my friend’s: the sort of attitude that says, “What’s the rush, man? I’ll get where I’m going eventually.”
As I write this post, I worry I’m sounding like a Martha – like a meticulous type-A busybody fretting over details (I am, I am) while Mary, nearby, sits at Jesus’ feet and drinks up His presence. But this is very different from the Mary/Martha situation. In fact, I believe unreliability can do a lot to draw us away both from Jesus and from our ministries. While I don’t believe that Christians should live as slaves to clocks and schedules, so caught up in doing that we forget what we’re about, I also believe that it’s vital to our relationship with Christ and with others to be…well, reliable. God holds Himself accountable to His appointed times; why should we do any less?
When you’re not prepared for a meeting or an event, that lack of preparation can read to others as a lack of respect or care (even when it isn’t). When you’re constantly late, that reads as my schedule is more important than yours or, worse, I don’t value your time. When you’re always forgetting things, it makes people wonder if you care about them at all (even when you do). When you’re easily distracted, the task of maintaining a committed relationship with Christ is even harder.
I love the “flakes” in my life. They bring me joy and love and, sometimes, service. If they ever needed me, I’d be there in a heartbeat. But I’ll also admit that they’re not the sort of people I’d ever rely on for anything remotely necessary or important; they’re not the sort of people I trust with prayer requests that matter dearly to me; they’re not the sort of people I anticipate can be there when I need them. And aren’t those things the heart of our ministry to our brothers and sisters in Christ?
If you’re looking for ways to deepen or enrich your ministry to other people, start by being as reliable as you can be. Do what you say you will do: let your yes be yes and your no be no (Matt. 5:37). Be constant. Show up at the appointed time. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Be as prepared as you can. And yes, there will be times you’re accidentally late and you didn’t make enough copies. It happens. As long as those actions don’t define your relationships with others, it’s simply a part of life.
Your consistent, constant presence and your dependability can be a greater ministry than any loving word or gift you might be able to offer. Don’t underestimate it.