If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. — 1 Corinthians 10:12
There is a common malady among leaders who fall into a variety of ministry-limiting or ending sins. They have all isolated themselves from accountability with other mature fellow believers.
The temptation to sin is common to all of us. It is foolish to attempt to thwart it on our own. That is why Christ has placed us in a Body. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is all about the inter-dependency of the members of the Body of Christ, each spurring the other on to victorious living.
Reasons We Avoid Accountability
(They are all unjustifiable and dangerous).
Pride – Innate to the fallen human condition is the urge to prove we are able to ‘go it’ alone. “I will” is the oldest sin of the universe, and it still plagues us. We do not want to admit our weakness or vulnerability to others. The wise King wrote, “Pride comes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Fear – Leaders ask, “If I am transparent in my struggles, will it disqualify me from my call?” The fear of censure leads to the erecting of a wall of self-protection. If people do not know about my issues, then they cannot come back to destroy me. This is faulty thinking. It is not the confession of sin that will ultimately create destruction. It is the unconfessed sin itself. Unconfessed sin is a spiritual cancer that thrives in the dark. That is why James instructs us to “confess our sins to one another so we might be healed.”
An Errant View of Christian Leadership – In my early years as a Pastor, I assumed that people respected me if I were strong and resolute in every circumstance. I believed that securing that respect required me to present a ‘together’ image of my public self. This led to a life of pretense, artificial posturing, and increasing isolation. My own emotional breakdown forced me to redefine Christian leadership. I now understand and accept that I am simply one human struggler helping to bear the load of other human strugglers as we together place our faith and trust in Jesus, the perfect example.
Part of my redefinition of leadership embraced the necessity for accountability. I can neither survive nor thrive in leadership without it. Accountability involves a relationship with another trusted confidante (or small group of confidantes), willing to be candid in their personal struggles, bear each other’s burdens, and grow together as “iron sharpens iron.”
The Fundamentals Of Accountability
Honesty – The greatest obstacle for those who are caught in any type of addiction to receive the help they need is the honest and embarrassing admission of the need. Effective accountability is predicated on honesty with oneself. I had a brother who died unnecessarily from a cancer that could easily have been treated. Had he been honest with himself and admitted his medical need, he could have found the help required to save his life. The first step in initiating productive and successful accountability is the admission that I am both human and broken and need the help of others.
Transparency – If one visits a physician with a particular medical need but declines to disclose the symptoms of the medical issue he/she is experiencing, the doctor is powerless to prescribe the process that will lead to a cure. It is the same with accountability. One can be in an accountability partnership and still continue to cover up the real issues that limit personal and leadership growth. This profits no one.
Consistency – Accountability needs to be a regular ‘check-up’ process. It needs to be an available resource to respond to both acute and chronic issues, both of which are part of the leadership journey. I am at liberty to call my accountability partner when immediate pressing needs or temptations arise, and I am scheduled to debrief on a regular maintenance basis. Accountability must be more than a ‘one-off’ counselling or coaching encounter. It needs to be moulded into a life pattern.
The Process Of Accountability
Confession – The very first step towards victory over a potentially threatening issue in life and leadership is confession to another. Temptation is thwarted, and sin is rendered impotent when it is brought out of the darkness into the light.
Not Judgmental Support - But An Honest Challenge – Support for the one who confesses must be unequivocal in an accountability arrangement. However, support and sympathy are two different things. If accountability is to produce remediation, it needs to be firm, challenging, and unrelenting. “Precious are the wounds of a friend.”
Follow Through – I have discovered that accountability often breaks down at this stage. Both parties are so relieved to get past the crisis point that they are content to back away from the follow-up. One of the most vital parts of an accountability arrangement is persistent follow-up. By striking this relationship, I have given my accountability partner the right and responsibility of ensuring I am persevering in my commitments.
Choosing An Accountability Partner
Choosing who will be your primary accountability partner is of paramount importance. Here are some guidelines:
Relational Trust – At some point, there must be a step of faith where you believe there is a person who will guard and protect your trust. When that person has agreed to serve as an accountability partner, relational trust begins to develop through honest conversation. As time moves forward, the trust becomes greater, and the relationship becomes more natural. Relationships cannot be forced. They must be formed. The most precious of those relationships are the ones that have endured both heat and pressure and survived intact.
Same Gender – It is unwise for anyone to form accountability partnerships with those from the opposite gender. Instead of thwarting temptation, this can produce it. There will always be an element of emotional investment in an accountability relationship, and between genders, this can prove to be dangerous, even disastrous. Accountability that involves the opposite sex should only be entertained in the context of the marriage relationship.
Not a ‘Yes’ Person – While you are looking for empathy in an accountability arrangement, you are not looking for ‘agreement.’ The person or persons you choose need to be ready and willing to push you beyond your comfort zone and hold you to high standards. You do not need someone to pity you but rather someone to propel you forward, to believe that there is ‘better’ for you when you are unable to believe it for yourself.
Each accountability session should in some way deal with the following questions:
What have you been looking at?
What have you been listening to?
What have you been choosing for your entertainment?
Where have your thought patterns been leading you?
Have your hands and feet been guided by the Holy Spirit into safe places?
How are you ensuring personal and leadership growth in your life?
For over thirty years, I have walked in accountability with a couple of brothers who have been a source of great strength and encouragement. We have become dear friends. I have no timidity or apprehension in sharing my personal and ministry struggles with these individuals, knowing that, in so doing, I will be guarding myself against sin and posturing myself for the greatest possibility of overcoming victory in my life and leadership.