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 the shape of leadership

The Accountable Leader

Now more than ever, ministers need friends to keep them from falling

John Davidson on February 10, 2020

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The truth is, I need accountability. I don’t like admitting that because it makes me feel weak. It makes me think somehow I’m not trustworthy — like I can’t count on myself to make good decisions. By now I should be confident in my ability to resist temptation, treat others respectfully and act ethically.

Do I really need someone looking over my shoulder, checking in on me, even babysitting me? I’m a grown man for goodness sake ... a minister for over two decades.

And yet, I’m painfully aware of my own sinful tendencies. I know that left to my own devices, there’s a reasonably good chance I could compromise what I stand for and make decisions that hurt myself and others.

If that weren’t enough, I’m reminded how easy it is to fall every time I read about the latest Christian leader to experience a moral failure. I never want to be that guy, but it’s wise to remember that much stronger (dare I say godlier?) people than me have allowed Satan to sabotage them. So I need accountability to stay on the straight and narrow.

But I need accountability for other reasons too. Accountability doesn’t just prevent me from doing wrong; it encourages me to do right. Accountability can be a tool to help us get the results we want from life. In other words, it’s for our benefit to help us reach our goals.

Your desire for accountability is directly tied to your desire to be everything God has called you to be. If you want to be your best, you need others pushing you toward that end.

When a leader falls due to an ethical breach, it’s not unusual to hear those who know him say two things. First, “He had no one in his life who was holding him accountable.” Second, some will say, “I could have told you there was something wrong with him, that he was heading for trouble.”

Both of these statements are a terrible commentary on the result of ministerial isolation. All of us — from youth pastor to lead pastor, and from entry level employee to CEO — need people who love us enough to stop us from driving over a proverbial cliff.

God’s Word is clear that we need each other. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Now more than ever, ministers need friends to help them up. Better yet, we need friends to keep us from falling.

Make no mistake, all of us are accountable.

We often resist accountability because we think we can handle it. We don’t want people looking over our shoulder, telling us what to do or telling us “no.” Sometimes we resist because we know we’re a sinner, and we want to keep doing what we’re doing. And very often, we’re scared of being embarrassed or ashamed if we’re found out. Those are all very real feelings ... and very dangerous. Ultimately, accountability only works if my desire for holiness outweighs all other desires.

I’ve been a part of multiple failed attempts at maintaining accountability partners and participating in accountability groups. Here’s what I discovered in the process. Accountability fails in the following scenarios:

  • It’s set up to help me reach someone else’s goals for my life.
  • Those involved are scared to ask hard questions or have difficult conversations.
  • Those involved won’t tell the truth.
  • It’s based only in discipline and not in redemption.
  • Individuals won’t prioritize the time it takes to foster accountable relationships.

On the other hand, accountability works when these things are true:

  • I’m willing to be held accountable.
  • I not only tolerate, but seek out, people to hold me accountable.
  • I kill isolation by practicing self-disclosure as a spiritual discipline.
  • I am humble enough to admit I need help.
  • I am self-aware enough to invite others into my weak areas.
  • Those holding me accountable love Jesus and are growing spiritually. They love me and have my best interest in mind. They know me well and are close enough to me to know what questions to ask me.
  • I love others enough to do the hard work of holding them accountable.

Whether you and I submit to the accountability of others now is up to us. But make no mistake, all of us are accountable. We just may not know it yet.

The Parable of the Bags of Gold in Matthew 25:14-30 makes it clear that God is watching, and the Master will hold us accountable for how we steward what He has given us (family, finances, power, leadership of others, etc.).

Just as ministers should lead the way in discipleship, evangelism and spiritual disciplines, we should also lead the way in demonstrating personal accountability. Doing so will honor God and safeguard the reputation of His Church in the world.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2020 edition of Influence magazine.

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