If I lived in la-la land I'd invite the five individuals pictured above to be in my new pastoral accountability group. They are---
The Preacher (Clint Eastwood from the movie Pale Rider)
Father Guido Sarducci (from Saturday Night Live)
Reverend Shaw Moore (from our daughter's favorite movie Footloose)
Flip Wilson (as Rev. Leroy, The Church of What's Happening Now)
Charlton Heston (As Moses, The Ten Commandments)
Yes, I know they were actors playing roles when they portrayed men of the cloth in films or television. Reflecting on what all the research about pastor health relates these days I thought this would be an interesting group for some weekly stress relief. The Preacher's cold-eyed stare would certainly coax some honesty out of me, Father Sarducci would bring a twisted view of the world, Reverend Shaw could teach me a thing or two about personal change, Reverend Leroy would make me laugh at myself in some on-the-edge church satire, and Moses could convey some important lessons about leading a group of people where they don't want to go. In total, all healthy stuff. But, then, we're not living in la-la land and dream groups seem out of reach at times.
The facts about pastor isolation aren't funny and I'm not trying to marginalize the effects of stress on pastor's lives and families. Just the same, pulling the perfect group together, especially with the multi-layered pathos of Christian ministry today, is easier said than done. It may be one of the hairballs in our attempts to encourage this kind of small group ideal in the formal dynamics of the contemporary church. I'll be the first to give a hat tip to our institutional leaders seeking to bring affinity groups to the forefront of denominational life. it's a hard task because minister's, for the most part, aren't good patients.
Having participated in at least four such settings over the past thirty-five years, and having convened these kinds of informal gatherings when I was on the staff of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, several learnings influence me now---
1. Birds of a feather.
Affinity isn't just defined by roles. Successful groups are typically those where
the participants have common interests, similar approaches to mission,
compatible or complementary leadership views, and few variants of doctrinal
2. Try it on for fit.
Several of the longest tenured clusters I've coached didn't actually begin as a
lifetime connection. They were individuals who gathered on occasion for a
meal or a round of golf or time at the fun park. They enjoyed being together
and they grew into a functional accountability partnership.
3. Strength orientation.
Even the most casual arrangements need some order to them. Of course,
pastors may be prone to taking charge and then bumping heads over who's
leading or whose turn it is to provide the discussion topic, or where you're
going to meet. Several groups have discussed personal strengths, likes and
dislikes, preferences, biases, allergies, dietary nuances, and other formative
ideas so that duties, totally informal, are performed by those naturally attuned
4. Go light.
Longevity is often determined by the structure imposed on the sessions. The
colleagues should sanctify a regular day and time as guidelines for meeting.
Session duration should be set by the needs and schedules of the
participants. Boxed programs, reading assignments, homework, probing
questions, and more in-depth accountability may develop in time. But, I usually
say go light and let the agenda go where it will go.
5. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Forgive the reference to the gambling mecca of America. But, you get the
point. You will eventually grow into a community. As this occurs trust and
faith should predominate your relationships and you will experience genuine,
deep fellowship. Always remember the sanctity of these friendships and guard
Accountability? Yes, of course. Apparently, however, frankness is a product of trust, dependability, reliability, and community. In most instances, canned programs and pro forma questions yield stock and predictable answers. Solidifying the relational elements is therefore of prime importance. Accountability will be a natural outcome of those relationships.
Pastors and spiritual leaders certainly understand accountability. One of the unique stresses of church ministry service is the Scriptural emphasis on what is expected of those who shepherd flocks---
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your
souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and
not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Hebrews 13:17, ESV
Most of us have, at one time or another, preached through the many shepherd passages of the Prophetic books, and know the personal weight of responsibility that attends the call. By most accounts, pastors and church staff members aren't afraid of accountability. This kind of interaction is more possible in a circle of trusted friends who provide counsel, support, and correction when our minds and lives stray.
Encourage one another? We preach it enough to the church. Let's preach it to the man in the mirror too.