“What were you doing last night?”
“I said, what were you doing last night? After your spouse went off to bed, what were you doing?”
Does this question make you feel defensive? Am I stepping over your boundaries? Do you feel the urge to tell me to shove it? In the nicest possible way, of course, because you’re a church leader.
Accountability is one of those buzzwords, which cause people to nod sagely and say, “Oh yes, very important, very important.” The problem is, hardly anyone ever asks a church leader if they’re in relationships of accountability, let alone what the word actually means. Here are some vain attempts:
“So, *Rev. Smith, are you, er, meeting with anyone right now?”
“Oh yes, I am.”
Sum total of useful information: zero.
“Do you have a group of people who hold you accountable, *Rev.?”
“Oh, yes I do.”
Slightly better, but still well short of satisfactory. Who are these people? What is the *Rev.’s understanding of accountability? And most importantly, who keeps the *Rev. accountable for the frequency of his meetings?
What is accountability and what function does it serve? In recent weeks and months, the church has had several incidents of high-profile Christian leaders/speakers who have fallen. Very badly. Abuse of power and position. Sexual indiscretions. No, let me use the right word. Abuse.
You may have read the stories; you may have avoided them. In almost every case, the famous Christian speaker/leader has had woeful accountability. Strike that. No accountability. In fact, sometimes the deficiencies within the organisation or church were so extraordinary that it’s mystifying that the person managed to get away with their behaviour.
Furthermore, when the famous fall, they drag others with them.
The gospel of our Lord is never advanced by these events. It always suffers damage.
So what is the function of accountability? Well, at the very minimum, it’s to avoid these headline-grabbing events which do so much damage. But what about us? Most of us aren’t headline material, yet we still need accountability.
What is it?
At its core, it’s the process of opening one’s life up to examination and questioning by people who love and care for us. Its purpose is to make us better people, better leaders. Every leader, I believe, should be accountable to a group of friends of the same gender. Two or three others who meet with us reasonably frequently. But more to the point, it should be a group of friends who love and care for us AND are brave enough to ask us hard questions. Here are some possible options:
• Have you been viewing pornography?
• Are you hiding anything from your spouse?
• Do you think you have an anger problem?
• Do you involve God when you make financial choices? Any examples?
• Is there anything that is taking up too much of your time?
• How honest are you with your tax returns?
• Describe your most challenging family relationship right now.
• What is God actually teaching you right now?
If you’re uncomfortable with some of these questions, you could simply opt for a catch-all question:
Have you done anything this past week/month which causes you shame?
Of course a group like this isn’t ONLY focused on unearthing bad behaviour, it’s much more than that. But unless it includes the kinds of questions I’ve listed above, it doesn’t rise to the definition of accountability. Not really. Because accountability entails the idea of ‘giving an account.’ It, therefore, means exploring those areas of our lives which we would prefer to keep hidden. It’s done in the hope that the answers to these questions will eventually cease causing unease and discomfort.
Why is it important to be held accountable?
In short, because we need protecting from ourselves. Listen to Jesus.
For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. Mark 7.21-22
Then add in the words of St. Paul in Romans 7.
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Rom 7.18-19
Finally, there’s the famous verse in Jeremiah.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Jer 17.9
Are we new creations? Yes indeed, but as we all know, we’re a work in progress.
Most leaders I know offer two reasons for not setting up an accountability group.
It’s too difficult. I live in a remote area and I really don’t have the ability to meet with two others. I’m not sure I could name two others who would be suitable.
I can see this a good idea, but I just haven’t got round to it.
In response to the second of these, please see my post on procrastination. The road to the bad place is paved with good intentions, a hokey saying perhaps, but one that contains a warning. Excuses are excuses, even when they’re called reasons.
To address the first objection, here’s a word: Zoom. But now I must stop and pull back for a moment.
The purpose of our blog posts here at Living Leadership is never to load our readers up with impossible demands. It’s hard enough being a leader without another person taking us to task. Instead, the purpose of our posts is to provide insight perhaps, encourage, and challenge, all with the goal of helping our readers become better leaders, better people.
I wonder what you think of those Scriptures above. Do you see the need? Because it’s almost certain that your church won’t require you to be part of such a group. That’s extremely rare. It’s even rarer that they check to see that it’s functioning properly. No, if you’re going to do this, you have to see the need, and you have to take action yourself.
No one is going to push you. This is up to you.
What converts desire into action? Ah, now there’s a question. Perhaps, at a minimum, it happens when a person understands the benefits of the proposed behaviour.
I can only speak from my own experience but I can testify to the tremendous benefits of meeting in a small group. In fact, the most enriching times in my spiritual life have been during those times. Have the groups risen to the level I’ve described above? Not always. It is hard to find a friend who is brave enough to ask those questions. But when they do, let me tell you what that means. It means they are willing to step out boldly for your sake. Because they love you. Because they want the best for you. That is walking in Jesus’ footsteps.
That is making a sacrifice for another which entails a cost. That is genuine love.
And who doesn’t want relationships of genuine love?
*Other ministerial titles are available