Thursday, June 12, 2008


During the course of the last month I have had 2 dear friends challenge my thinking on the subject of accountability, one from Switzerland and one here in Poland. I’ve found myself wondering where I got my thinking about accountability and I realized that I had never actually searched God’s Word for myself or even thought about what others had said or taught me.
What does it mean exactly to be accountable?
Who should I be accountable to?
What should accountability look like?
Who is my leader?
Is accountability a linear process or could it possibly be more like a web like process?
What exactly does the Bible say about accountability?

I have always felt that accountability was very important…that there needs to be people in my life that know me and can speak freely and openly into my life. People who know how to challenge me in love and discipline but I realize that the most meaningful accountability partners in my life were not necessarily the people that one would think. They were mentors from mission agencies in other countries, prayer partners, Bible Study Leaders from ecumenical groups, but mostly they have been friends. Does that mean I’m not being accountable? How can that be if those people are godly, wise, and mature Christians who know me well and point me to Jesus’ best in my life?

It is very interesting to me that there are individuals who have had all the “appropriate” accountability structures in their lives; church counsels, pastors, support groups, etc, yet some of those individuals still seem to fail morally and in doing so they not only destroy their own lives but those of their family, friends and people from their churches. On the other hand, there are those individuals who seem to have no accountability structures, as we would recommend, that go on to greatly impact the world for Jesus. I’m thinking primarily of some of the early missionaries, who followed the call of Jesus to the jungle or some uncharted territory and people with their Bible, a coffin full of their personal items never to have contact with anyone “at home” again. One such person was David Livingstone. He lived a life that was morally pure in a pagan culture without his wife or peers completely cut off from “Christian” society for many years. Yet he greatly impacted Africa for Christ.

In this era of multiple ways to be and maintain connection with people and to get the support and encouragement to live a life worthy of the Gospel somehow we seem to be weaker in character than many of our predecessors. Why is that?

When I actually looked up accountability or to be accountable in the Bible I didn’t find any model like the one I had in my mind. I had envisioned a linear model, in which you/I had a pastor or leader that would be my primary source of input, correction and encouragement. That being said, rarely have I actually ever experienced such a relationship, yet that was the model I had envisioned in my mind.

As I have contemplated this I have explored what it means to be in a linear model of accountability. This model looks something like the chain of command found in the military, where the “less experienced/learned/wise” person submits to the authority and thinking of the wiser more experienced to do what that person sees as the right thing to do. Of course this is a VERY simplistic description but it gives the basic idea. Yet sometimes in the body of Christ, with the best of intentions, we set up accountability structures that mirror this thought. But what are the ramifications and messages that are sent by such a system?

Firstly, by having such a linear way of thinking about accountability I suggest that there must always be someone, a leader, who is over me and someone over that person and then someone over that person and so on. But eventually that hierarchy must come to an end and who is the person at the end accountable to? Secondly, what do you do if there is no one willing or capable of being that wise, loving, caring and challenging person in your life? Maybe they are busy with other people or responsibilities or you find yourself being one of those people who have move up the “line of accountability”. So, where does one go from here? Or are you just not submitted or you are not accountable? Hmmm.

Thirdly, and from my perspective most importantly, “Who is your leader?” I thought Jesus was to be my Leader. I think in the linear model of accountability it is too easy to rely too much on the “leader” and not on Jesus. It is also too easy for the “leader” to influence those they lead to follow their voice (unintentionally of course) instead of the voice of the Lord. I have also observed that “followers” in such a model can often have a difficult time hearing the voice of the Lord for themselves. They can become self-conscious and doubt what they have heard the Lord say. Sometimes they are afraid of asking questions about the advice for fear of being perceived as “rebellious” or “unsubmitted”. This is strange to me because God challenges us to ASK Him, question and even argue our case before Him, yet we as leaders can often be threatened by a follower who asks, questions, desires to know and understand the reasoning behind our thinking and advise.

Don’t misunderstand me, I believe strongly that we are to submit to leadership and that they have God-given insight and wisdom to speak direction, encouragement and correction into our lives. But I think when we follow a linear model of accountability we limit the effectiveness of that accountability and we set ourselves up for abuses. I know I want those who follow me to listen to my “great” advice but I’m challenged to encourage them to ask questions, seek the advice of other wise people, especially those who think differently then me and above all else ASK Jesus! I think too often we rely too much on our wisdom (godly though it may be) and experience, above challenging our followers to HEAR the voice of the Lord for themselves. Proverbs 11:14b “…there is safety in having many advisers.” Proverbs 15:22 “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.”

All that being said what is our Biblical model? The one I would like to focus on is one Paul shows us. He obviously was submitted to the authority of the leadership in Jerusalem but foremost in his thinking was being submitted to the voice of Jesus. There were times when there was disagreement, discussion, prayer and the Lord’s final will was reveal. But how did this work?

I’m no expert nor am I a great Bible scholar but may I suggest to you that perhaps a healthy accountability structure is more like a web or a network of relationship that represent a wide range of input just like the body is made up of many parts why shouldn’t those we receive counsel from be just as diverse and represent as many different aspects of the character of God. I’m sure there will be someone who would say that this could be confusing. Yes, this could be true but if we have taught our followers to hear the voice of the Lord and to screen all advice through the Word and Prayer, I am convinced that the God peace will reveal Himself. I think that it is better that those who follow me know how to think for themselves and to hear God’s voice for themselves than to be running to me with every issue. 1Sam 3:2-11. Not because I’m so bad or not wise enough but rather it is because my role is a secondary one to Jesus.

In my searching for some insight into accountability I found something interesting in Jack Hayford’s book “Pastors of Promise”. He described accountability as a boxing ring. He suggests that there are 4 influences that create the shape of the accountability structure:
Our relationship with our family/or household (he said wife but I have no spouse)
Our friendship with Christians
Our stewardship of our money
Our interaction with our Lord.
Pastor Jack says that the ring is to remind us of our own responsibility to “fight the good fight” and to follow the rules. I think it is also a good example of how accountability works in the sense that only the boxer enters the ring, no one else. Not the trainer, or the doctor or anyone else. Hayford says “The ropes establish a perimeter, guarding me from accidentally transgressing appropriate boundaries but they do not substitute for my own external performance, internal responsibility to fight by the Rulebook or my personal actions in the eyes of the Referee.”
In away I like to think of these four influences as the posts on which our web of accountability can be built.
Our relationships with those whom we live: Those individuals with whom we live know who we really are. There is no hiding how we live because they see it. I think this is why the Apostle Paul requires leaders to have their household in order. Accountability is about me being transparent and congruence between my inner self and my outer self. People with whom I live can help me to truly be consistent inside and outside.
Our Christian Friends: These are people who are truly FRIENDS. They know me. They can be peers or mentors or both. They know how to listen to me and how to help me clarify what Jesus is saying to me. They don’t necessarily have answers or advise but they continually point me to Jesus, His Word and His Ways. They pray with me and check back to see what the progress is. According to Hayford these relationships need to include the following in order to have the basis to be truly accountable:
Joke and have fun together
Relax, to “let down” from …pressures
Become transparent regarding personal need or concern
Enjoy & be unaffected in discussing spiritual matters
(Straight) communication – encouraging, critiquing, supporting & making observations
Submit to gracious “iron sharpening iron” confrontation
Pray together without pomposity, judgmentalism or mere formality – but with tears for each other’s needs, with faith for each other’s blessings and with joy in each other’s hopes.
Some scriptures for you to consult with this Rom 12:5, 10, 16, Rom 14:13, 19; Rom 15:7, 14; Heb 13:13, 1Cor 11:33; 1Cor 12:25; 1Pet 3:8; Gal 5:13; Gal 6:2; Eph 4:2; Col 3:13; Eph 5:21; 1Thes 4:18; Heb 10:25; 1Pet 4:9, 10; Jam 5:16
Our Money – How I handle my money has a huge impact on every area of my walk with Jesus. It affects my faith, how much I trust Jesus, the condition of my heart towards others, and my ministry. There are 2 things I would like to highlight from Hayford’s book on this. The first is “If I refuse to honor God’s Word that ‘the tithe belongs to the Lord,’ and withhold offerings born of faith, the life-giving, multiplying spirit of grace cannot be released because my money isn’t being put in the circle of obedience.” Secondly, a leader’s “personal accountability in all his living will inevitably be very closely related to the way he handles his money, and his heart attitude, concerning finance.” Now, this may be an area where someone may call upon the help of a Christian friend from “post” number 2 to keep you honest before the Lord but no matter what it will require you/me being transparent to ask for help and to admit the need.
Our Interaction with Jesus – This is the key or cornerstone to the other accountability people having any influence. As Hayford says, “…all human help and accountability is only as effective as a person’s initial commitment to “walk with God in integrity.” This requires an honestly before the Lord in which I willing and openly expose my true self before the Lord. I completely pour out my hurts, pains, expectations, desires, disappointments, angry, failings and successes with the purpose of Him communicating His love, correction, conviction and healing. This is something I have fallen upon over the last 6-9 months. An honestly before that Lord where I am completely laid bare. I give Him complete freedom to communicate anything to me. I have to admit that I have confessed more sins in the last bit of time than I can remember doing in a very long time. My time with Jesus is a time of interaction. It is through this time of interaction that my heart is soft to hear and receive correction. It is also because of this time of interaction that I am not devastated when someone criticizes me because I am assured of the Father’s love and care of me.

I believe that accountability is an important principle for us to maintain in our lives. It helps us to continually grow and change to be more like Jesus. It helps us to keep from falling in to moral sin and can assist in safe guarding our character. For me, at this time, I will endeavor to employ a combination of the boxing ring and the web with Jesus as the beginning and ending point of it all.

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