By Monte LeLaCheur
Major changes in life have a way of bringing new perspectives into our thinking. That has certainly been the case for me personally, having stepped down as the senior pastor at Turning Point Open Bible Church in Spokane, Washington, after serving for 29 years.
In total, I have spent over 46 years in vocational ministry, and it is more clear to me than ever before that there is a correlation between a Christian leader’s ability to maintain spiritual health and integrity and their willingness to embrace biblical accountability.
Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”1 Peter 5:5, NKJV
Let me make it perfectly clear that by “accountability” I do not mean the graceless micro-management that many of us fear. I am talking about the biblical principle of mutual submission within the body of Christ that provides us with the wisdom and encouragement that we cannot experience without accountability in community. Any Christian leader who truly understands their own limited wisdom and tendency to be driven by their pride or insecurities (and that’s every one of us) should actively seek out and welcome godly accountability.
The way Christian leaders and organizations have defined and implemented accountability has swung like a pendulum over time, and we have clearly seen that either too much or too little accountability is problematic. Yet I firmly believe that the Holy Spirit will help those with a willing heart to find the “sweet spot,” a level of accountability that protects our integrity and empowers us to fulfill the mission that He’s given us.
What will it take for this generation of leaders to find that “sweet spot” of biblical accountability that will allow us to fulfill the mission God has given us and, at the same time, maintain our health and integrity?
It’s all about relationships.
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT
Christian leaders need one another! In fact, the New Testament contains 59 “one another” statements that fly in the face of the excuses we tend to use for not getting together with other pastors and leaders. Busyness, pride, and insecurity are the enemies of “one another relationships.” We need friendships with our peers. We need to laugh with each other, pray with each other, and sometimes even cry with each other. We need to share our stories and learn from one another’s successes and failures because it is relationships with our Christian peers that provide the basis for healthy accountability.
We must maintain daily spiritual disciplines.
It’s during seasons of frustration and discouragement that Christian leaders become the most vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. We will all experience those seasons, and we know that it is our daily spiritual disciplines that will keep us steady and healthy. But our daily time sitting at Jesus’ feet – getting into the Word, worshiping, and praying – can easily be crowded out by the pressure to prepare our next sermon or answer emails. Over time we begin to realize that we have traded our identity as a “disciple of Christ” for that of a “Christian professional.”
Nonetheless, ministry is not just “a job”; it’s a “calling.” And the first responsibility of a true disciple is spending time at Jesus’ feet. It’s our daily spiritual disciplines that, like a lighthouse, shine a light on the rocks that endanger our soul.
Paul’s words to Timothy apply to every Christian leader:
Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked .”1 Timothy 1:19, NLT
Recently I finally got around to listening to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, a podcast produced by Christianity Today several years ago. I had previously read a bit about the demise of the Seattle-based Mars Hill church and knew that its founding pastor, Mark Driscoll, had been accused of abusive leadership practices that eventually led to his resignation and the closure of the high-profile, multi-site, mega-church. Even so, listening to the firsthand accounts of the staff and church members who had been wounded and disillusioned by a pastor and a church that they had once loved was incredibly painful. It was also an important reminder that every church is made up of imperfect people with imperfect pastors. That’s why accountability is so necessary for spiritual leaders.
We all need guardrails.
Whenever a Christian leader or church is “shipwrecked,” it leaves a multi-generational impact on the lives of people both inside and outside the church. This is true whether the original issue was a moral failure, financial misconduct, abusive leadership style, or some type of theological heresy. Yet many Christian leaders continue to resist any meaningful accountability.
Christian researcher George Barna writes this about the state of accountability in American churches:
One of the cornerstones of the biblical concept of community is that of mutual accountability. But Americans these days cherish privacy and freedom to the extent that the very idea of being held accountable by others – even those with their best interests in mind, or who have a legal or spiritual authority to do so – is considered inappropriate, antiquated, and rigid.*
Throughout my years of ministry, I have seen enough “shipwrecked” pastors and churches to realize that accountability is something we should not neglect. In fact, accountability is something we must embrace!
Embrace the “short leash.”
Early in my years of ministry I prayed, “Lord, please keep me on a short leash” in response to having witnessed the painful aftermath of several Christian leaders falling into moral or ethical failure. These people were gifted, seemingly sincere leaders whose actions had eventually destroyed their ministries, devastated their families, and severely damaged the body of Christ. It was heartbreaking to watch, but it also helped me realize how easy it is for any leader to go off the rails without the protection of serious guardrails and accountability in place. We should not depend on our denomination, or our church, or some other authority to be the sole source for those guardrails. The most effective guardrails in our lives are those born out of our personal convictions. But without meaningful accountability, there is no protection against the damage that can be done by careless or blatantly sinful leaders within our churches.
We need accountability with “teeth.”
In a podcast with Carey Nieuwhof, Tim Keller, author and former pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, talked about current attitudes among Christians toward church denominations. He especially caught my attention when he said that although denominationalism is on the decline, there will always be a need for the oversight of churches because there will always be situations that require someone (other than the local pastor or church board) who has the spiritual and legal authority to intervene when things fall apart. In other words, situations can arise in a church or Christian organization that require a level of accountability with “teeth.”
There are times when a pastor and his board are unable to come into agreement. There are situations in which conflicts in a church have escalated beyond the church’s ability to even discuss in a constructive manner. For the sake of everyone involved, someone needs to have the authority to step in and make the tough decisions.
Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow.”Hebrews 13:17, NLT
Every church and Christian organization needs to have leaders who will lovingly and firmly hold their members accountable to their doctrinal statement and their policies and principles. It’s a tough job that requires making some very tough decisions, decisions not everyone will fully understand or agree with. But without leaders who will hold God’s people accountable, the name of Jesus gets dragged through the mud.
That’s why I want to encourage my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to continually pray for our leaders and, as Hebrews 13 directs, “Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow”.
Consider the following steps:
- Take a minute right now to evaluate your own commitment to building positive relationships with other pastors and leaders. What needs to happen to make this a priority in your life?
- Evaluate the state of your daily spiritual disciplines. If you are too busy to spend time sitting at Jesus’ feet, what adjustments can you make as soon as possible?
- Consider what it would mean for you to make peace with the concept of letting God keep you on a “short leash” – not because it’s being forced on you, but because you never want to wander far from Him.
- Last, take time right now to pray for our leaders who are tasked with holding others accountable. Ask the Lord to strengthen and encourage them. Maybe take a minute to write or email them.
About the Author
Monte LeLaCheur and his wife, Amy Jo LeLaCheur, have recently stepped down after serving 29 years as the senior pastors at Turning Point Open Bible Church in Spokane, Washington. Monte graduated from Open Bible College in 1978 and received his master’s degree in counseling from Whitworth University in 1980. He has served on both the national board for Open Bible Churches and the Pacific Region board and is looking forward to the next season of his life and ministry.