Hello. I'm Sonny. I'm a retired pastor...
Accountabity is another one of the hip buzz words we're accustomed to but make us very uncomfotable. It's just a plain fact that few of us like to be called on the carpet, as those of us in the older cohort used to say. Or, using other idioms, we prefer not to have our feet held to the fire, or have our life under the microscope, or have someone poking around in our trash. An independent streak runs through us. You know, keep your nose out of my business.
Genuine faith compels us to leave the self on the altar, a first step of following Christ. At the same time, this new life dynamic opens a relational door of accountability for every believer. The reformers taught that church discipline was a mark of the true church. In one frame of reference church discipline is a formal respnonsiblity within the body of Christ for accountability, that is, a a means of restoring fallen church members through concerned, loving, prayer, confrontation, and restoration. It's been used and abused since the first century. But, even when misapplied by anxious humans, there's no running from the biblical need for such care.
Little is said in Scripture about accountability of spiritual leaders. Clearly those appointed by God to lead and shepherd his people will be held to account by him. The prophets brought harsh and critical words to the slovenly, self-absorbed shepherds. James warned about coveting the office of teacher because teachers would be held to a higher standard. The writer of Hebrews spoke about obeying and submitting to leaders who would have to give an account, the assumption that spiritual leaders would face God at a different level because they have been entrusted with much. So, the accountabiity measures of the Bible and church discipline seem to establish some exception clauses to those holding responsibility in Christ's church. Whatever there is, though little, certainly raises the bar a good deal.
I can only speak for myself, but being a part of a human accountability system has always been healthy for my personal development. Over the past thirty-five years the men in my accountability circle have been a crucial element in my own discipleship and leadership. Be assured, the people who were part of my accountability circles over the years weren't there to make mee feel good, to soothe over my sensitive ego, or give me the right hand of fellowship as we shared the hard things of mission. No, in fact, they often gave me the right fist of fellowship, or the left foot of fellowship when I did stupid things or took wrong paths or spoke words that contradicted Scripture. We didn't hold hands, form a circle, and sing Kum Bah Ya as we talked about ministry. Nor were there any sacks over our heads so we could be anonymous. Most of my accountability groups over the years were about frank talk, honest communication, and an occasional punch in the gut.
It's even more necessary, accountability structures, in the decades of the church cowboys, those individuals who lead congregations outside denominational circles and formal accountability systems. Every single one of us, afflicted as we are by a rotten human nature, needs to answer to flesh and blood in measuring and evaluating mission objectives. It's a delicate thing because we humans are quick to form our own systems at the expense of Scriptural guidance. I'd much prefer answering to men any day, such is the prospect of standing before God. But, without the contact of other humans, we tend to justify ourselves and provide self-serving outs when we've erred. Having to answer to a group of hard-heads about my personal devotional life, time spent with my wife and children, even my preaching strategy and the content of my sermons, was always a strong counter-balance to my independent ways.
Social media has been chasing rabbits lately about loose canons in the pulpit, biblical error in lessons taught, and poor old pitiful humans who make mistakes. Yawn. There' s really no excuse for being unprepared to lead God's people. His Word is worthy of our most diligent study and there should never be short-cuts in handling the Word of Truth. At the same time there are biblical cautions about the kind of heart that ventures into the territory of assessing others. In reality, most of this recent talk has been in the shallows anyway. We've got to deep. Or deeper, at least. Accountability may actually be the undergirding issue when discussing the important roles of ministry leaders. Governing bodies of every church should insure that their leaders are accountable to someone. And, not just a touchy-feely support group to embrace and pick us up when we've erred.
No, most of us, and that means me, need a real accountability friend who loves us enough to tell us the truth, and loves him so much they're compelled to do it.