So, giving account isn't among the talking points these days. Yes, accountability partners and groups are trendy. But, from most reports they typically devolve into hug-a-thons of affirmation and approval. Often, they're misinterpretations of grace and seem to selectively ignore the "...go and sin no more..." elements of our Lord's consistent teaching. Fallen humans tend to accept our fallen nature with a shrug. Lost in the sanctification jumble is the "greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world". The mantra is that He accepts us as we are and leaves us that way.
My affiliation with Southern Baptists is more than a legacy from many generations of like minded believers. In our early marriage Harriet and I decided to join a Southern Baptist congregation. When we finally yielded to His call we searched out hundreds of seminary options and decided to stay with our SBC roots. Yes, the SBC Cooperative Program, commitment to missions through the now IMB and NAMB, six seminaries, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the conservative resurgence were significant factors in our decision. More, however, is the system of accountability facilitated by affiliation with state conventions, local associations, pastors affinity groups, formal and informal, that stand around us in the pursuit of Kingdom service. In more than 30 years they have provided a solid network of affirmation, support, encouragement, and yes, accountability.
Accountability is hard. Most of us don't like it, including me. There's enough self- absorption lurking in my dark heart to make the truth about me difficult to stomach. And, I'm not lone ranger here either. Most of us clergy types revel in the adoration so much a part of congregational dynamics. There's some approval addiction in the ego mix of people like me. Read through Twitter one day to see the parade of ministry eogs in display mode. It's pretty common stuff, a danger of standing center stage. Unchallenged, is can become ego-mania in a heartbeat.
So, there's the accountability thing. In thirty years of pastoral ministry there have been a few people willing to strategically tell me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing by the truth. It's not always warm fuzzies either. Usually I hate it. You know the deal: who appointed you to be judge and jury over me today? Anything to side-step the jab. The rope-a-dope move. One of my high school English teachers was a member of an earlier church and she handed me a piece of paper with my English mistakes after every sermon. She was a language legalist and called me to know my words better. It stung every time.
You see, accountability can be painful. Yes, sometimes it's a kind word, at others a warning, and once in a while it's a slap in the face. But, He usually puts someone along-side or in my face to give me the word for the moment. In my house her name is Harrriet, my spiritually alert wife, the Assistant Holy Spirit, if you'll permit the title, no irreverence intended. She knows me best, can read me like a first grade primer, and isn't one speck fearful of me. When I'm off base, she will tell me so. She took me to the woodshed one Sunday after I said from the pulpit, "God is totally unbelieveable". You know what I meant.
God usually positions someone in the congregation gifted with a word of wisdom or prophesy to handle my mis-directions. This is delicate stuff for church people, however. King David declared, "Do not touch My anointed one or harm my prophets" (1 Chronicles 16:22). For years imperial pastors and church staff and other ministers have used this verse to deflect criticism or accuse congregational leaders of mistreatment. As a result, abuse is no longer a housefold or playground word, but is applicable to many churches as well.
Formal pastor networks are often artificial filters to accountability. There is, of course, a reluctance to talk about the speck in someones eye while ignoring the plank in our own. So, the associational or denominational efforts often group people through geographical alignments and not ministry affinity. In meetings there's often some one-ups-man-ship, competition, envy, and all the other emotional tags us sinful humans can muster. It's a good idea though, and may provide a welcome mat for people interested in going deeper in the accountability area.
My greatest blessing has been an informal network. These are other ministers in similar church situations, shared vision of mission, and some theological kinship. Several of these individuals help keep me on point. And, I am always grateful for their input.They're like a flag-pole in some respects. When I run things past them I can usually sense how the wind is blowing. Sometimes the flag gets about half-mast before they give me a thought or criticism or question mark. Sometimes they tell me to get a life, in between waves of laughter, wiping tears from their eyes. They know about keeping someone humble...and human.
God's system of accountability is actually multi-layered. Self-denial places us under His grace and is our first accountability as believers. Then, there's a hierarchy of leaders who encourage, support, challenge, and influence us. Then, naturally, there's submission to the Body of Christ as God's speaks through the community of faith. His system of guidance and mission pursuit insures leaders who are totally accountable to Him.
It's not all about approval. That's because the distance between approval and enable- ment is short indeed. And, even high octane achievers like pastors don't need to be enabled when we're on the wrong track.
It's about accountability. And, pastor's need it too. Me included.