Accountability of Church Leaders



Accountability of Church Leaders

Kevin Simington

No one in Christian leadership should be above accountability. In fact, the more prominent one’s leadership role, the more important accountability becomes – for the sake of the leader and that of the whole church. It is essential that Christian leaders have “accountability relationships” in which they are regularly held to account in the areas of time usage, ministry activities, preaching, theology, personal spirituality, ethics and morality.

Many para-church organisations now have weekly, structured accountability meetings for their staff, where very specific questions are asked. For example, within Chuck Swindoll’s organisation, Insight For Living, each staff member has a weekly meeting with a colleague where they are asked the following questions:

  1. Have you been with a woman anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?
  2. Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
  3. Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
  4. Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
  5. Have you given priority time to your family?
  6. Have you fulfilled the mandates of your calling?
  7. Have you just lied to me? [1]

Many para-church organisations have now mandated this kind of regular interview for staff. These kinds of accountability questions, however, are not a recent phenomenon.  In the 1700’s, John Wesley’s colleagues were expected to answer the following questions each week:

  1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
  2. What temptations have you met with?
  3. How were you delivered?
  4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
  5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret? [2]

While modern para-church organisations are leading the way in this sort of structured accountability, pastoral ministry in the local church is lagging a long way behind. Many local church pastors, particularly senior pastors, have little or no accountability at any deep, personal level. Sadly, this sometimes has tragic results.

The recent revelation that the senior pastor of a mega-church in America had a 10-year affair with a woman in his church is one such tragedy. [3] After the woman came forward and reported the affair, two other female ex-staff workers also reported that the pastor had tried to seduce them. Several associate pastors have left the church over this issue. This is just one of a long list of ministry tragedies that might have been avoided had there been rigorous weekly accountability relationships in place.

Some denominations have sought to address this issue by encouraging their pastors to form buddy relationships with another pastor within the denomination, for the purpose of meeting together occasionally for accountability and support. Other denominations have appointed a “pastor to pastors”, whose job it is to visit pastors for the same purpose. Both of these models, however, have failed dismally, for three reasons:

  1. In some cases these meetings never take place or cease to take place after a short period of time.
  2. If the meetings do take place, they are usually spasmodic or too infrequent, and tend to diminish over time.
  3. Even in the case of regular meetings, the accountability relationship is completely removed from the local church scene. The “accountability buddy” is not part of the church and cannot give any accurate, detailed feedback on the minister’s ministry and conduct. The buddy is totally dependent on the honesty and insight of the pastor’s self–reflection.

Any meaningful accountability relationship for church leaders must be based within the local church itself.  Unfortunately, in the case of the professional pastor, there are several obstacles blocking this kind of relationship from forming:

  1. A perceived lack of a suitable “accountability buddy” candidate within the congregation. A pastor may feel that there is no-one suitably mature whom he respects and trusts to form this relationship.
  2. An unwillingness or awkwardness on the part of members of the congregation to ask their pastor the tough questions.
  3. An elitist view of the professional ministry. This is a deeply ingrained attitude within both pastors and congregations in the modern church. Some pastors view themselves as being “above” congregational scrutiny, because of their specialist training, anointed calling and professional status. Congregations often perpetuate this divide by attaching to pastors an Old Testament styled priestly status. Having experienced both sides of this divide myself (having been a pastor and now being one of the laity) I am convinced that even in the most humble of pastors, there often resides a subtle, yet insidious, attitude whereby the pastor sees himself as quite separate from the congregation, as if he exists on another plane that is beyond the understanding of the average lay person.

In many ways, the modern clergy / laity distinction has perpetuated a divide which undermines the truth that we are all simply brothers and sisters in God’s family. We are all now priests in the Kingdom of God (1 Pet 2:5-9), with equal access to God’s Spirit (Acts 2:17-18).  We all have equal access to God’s truth and wisdom.  For this reason, the Bible exhorts us:

“Let the Word of Christ dwell among you richly, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom” (Col 3:16).

Did you notice that we we are exhorted to teach and admonish (rebuke and correct) one another? This is the language of accountability, and this injunction is directed at the whole body, not merely the laity. This biblical concept of mutual accountability is a vital concept that the church must embrace. More about this issue next week.