Why We Need Authentic Accountability
Recent events at Willow Creek Church have saddened the global Christian community. I considered Bill Hybels one of my mentors from afar. He was a leader to many. I had never met him, but I’d gained much from his books, especially the one called “Courageous Leadership.” You may not be familiar with Bill’s writing, the Global Leadership Summits, or recent events at Willow Creek Church. I’ve been processing what recently happened there. I am struck again by the dangers of the public ministry pedestal. There is a tremendous need for authentic accountability in our lives as ministers.
Heroes Fail and Leaders Are People Too
Some years ago, someone I deeply respect made big mistakes. I wrote a journal entry at that time. It was titled-When Heroes Fail. There is also a journal entry in my archives called- Leaders Are People Too. As devastating as fruitlessness is in our lives, ministry success can be a very real danger too.
No Place For Condemnation
I have no place from which to condemn Hybels or the others whose mistakes that have become public. Honest humility, when we hear of others’ failures says, “It could have been me. Father, please keep me from sin.” Human nature wants to criticize and condemn. This is especially true when faced with disappointment in the people we admire greatly. This is, however, not the proper response. Bill is not the first, nor will he be the last respected Christian leader to go through a public demise.
What must we learn from this and other similar tragedies? We can have zero tolerance for inconsistencies between our public and private lives. There must be a deep, steadfast commitment to authentic peer and upward accountability. The more success you have in ministry, the more you need it!
The Attraction Of The Pedestal
It was pretty intoxicating, being a public figure in the limelight. I walked to the stage and stood in the pulpit. 10 people jumped to the front to take my picture. Wow. That had never happened before. After I spoke, crowds waited to be prayed for by me. People wanted my autograph. It was a strange feeling. In all honesty, it felt kind of good.
Then there was the airport pick up. Someone carrying my luggage, being taken out for nice meals and put up in a fancy hotel where I spoke. Again, wow. Had I arrived or what? There was a temptation to think I was finally getting the recognition I deserved. It was a very real threat to my vulnerable heart.
Another time, we were home on furlough. We attended counseling training at our church. My husband and I had issues we needed to work on. We needed healing and help. As in most of those types of training, before you can help others, you have to look at your own issues. I knew it would be good. I looked forward to the chance to face some of these problems in our lives.
Honored Missionaries Who Needed to Be Real
Until we went into our small group at least. The first words out of one of the member’s mouth were “We are so honored to have real missionaries in our group!” I knew I was in trouble. Was I going to be honest with people here? I’d been put on a pedestal of perfection. I was a missionary! A leader whom others respected! Not because I had necessarily earned it, but just because of the type of work we did in Asia.
Would I hide and pretend I didn’t have any issues? Go into “ministry mode” and help the others there? They definitely would have let me. It was in fact, what they seemed to expect. It wasn’t easy, but most of the time in that group, I chose to be honest about who I really was. I climbed down off the pedestal.
I wish I could say I’ve always done that. The temptations are great and it isn’t easy to be a public figure. It can be in a small way, like when you are a missionary home on furlough. Or it can be in a bigger way as a best-selling author and speaker. Choices must be made to maintain authentic accountability.
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”- Matt 23:12 NIV.
Pursuing Authentic Accountability In Our Lives As Ministers
What does authentic accountability look like? How do we find it?
1. Authentic accountability does not happen automatically.
It has to be a life value. It must be something you go after with great intentionality. Missionary life, with all its transitions and changes, lends itself toward isolation. So does leadership. So does travel. It is as if missionary leaders are set up to fail in this area. It is a bit of “swimming upstream”, but it can and must be done.
2. Prioritize finding and maintaining upward mentors.
Bobby Clinton wrote an excellent, though a bit technical book called The Mentor Handbook. He describes four types of mentoring relationships. They are; upward, downward, internal peer and external peer relationships.
My main take away on this was the importance of having all four of these relationships in our lives. We need a broad spectrum of people we walk in mentoring-type relationships with. We are in danger when all the mentoring happening is downward. Prayerfully pursue and invest in upward and peer mentoring relationships.
3. Don’t look for perfect mentors who help you in every area of your life.
People are often too busy to do that. Instead, find specific people to help and advise you in specific ways. Find a different mentor for fund-raising and for your marriage. Look for someone else for evangelism skills, spiritual transformation, or leadership areas.
What are the top 3 areas you want to grow in this year? Look for upward mentors in those. When you are specific about what you want from someone, they are much more likely to make time to meet with you.
4. Invest, and keep investing in peer relationships.
Do this both with missionaries, but also with mature Christian leaders in the national church. It is easy to get a bit calloused after many years in missions. People come and go. We often experience a bit of “relationship building fatigue”. Don’t let that stop you from continuing to build friendships. Isolation is a dangerous option.
5. Make full use of technology like Skype, WhatsApp, and Zoom.
You can use these to have intentional relationships that give you authentic accountability. I have a particular friend I Skype with almost every week. Others I meet face to face.
Can You Name 3 People You Would Go To?
If you can’t name three people you feel comfortable to call and share a personal struggle with, you may be facing the danger of the pedestal. Take action now. Schedule an appointment with a potential upward mentor. In spite of busy ministry demands, make time to phone a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time. Ask questions that give the opportunity for honesty and transparency.
In public ministry, you may not want to share your deepest, darkest secrets with everyone. That is not wise. But, you must be committed to having an inner circle of people you can be real with. Authentic accountability is not an option!
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