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How to be accountable

The tragedy of the unaccountable leader gets replayed so often on the evening news that it has become a cliche.     Act 1 – Powerful leader is viewed with respect and envy by the public.     Act 2 – Feeling “above the law,” the leader abuses his power in some way…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

The tragedy of the unaccountable leader gets replayed so often on the evening news that it has become a cliche.

    Act 1 – Powerful leader is viewed with respect and envy by the public.
    Act 2 – Feeling “above the law,” the leader abuses his power in some way.
    Act 3 – The news of the leader’s misdeeds leaks to the public.
    Act 4 – The leader is disgraced and is forced to step down.

This four-act play perpetually repeats itself in the political and religious arenas. Whether it’s the near impeachment of Presidents Nixon and Clinton, Senator Stevens caught abusing his power, or Ted Haggard’s dirty laundry being hung out to dry, the tawdry truth eventually catches up with leaders whose character can’t support their aspirations.

The only good fix for this syndrome is to design systems of accountability that protect leaders from themselves. And even that isn’t enough – the leaders themselves have to have a healthy respect for evil. Only people who have been burned by evil know not to trust themselves. Money, sex, and power can be wonderful gifts or insidious, corrupting forces. None of us are impervious – we will all struggle.

I just heard about a ministry friend who got caught with his hand in the till. He broke the heart of his coworkers and those who followed his leadership. Too many of you are in danger of making that same mistake at some point in your ministry. If I could give you a gift it would be to live a more transparent life, one open to regular accountability.

Those in ministry have an even higher standard of accountability. Billy Graham had a healthy respect for evil. He would never ride in a car alone with a member of the opposite sex. He put in place checks and balances in his management to insulate himself from the temptations of power or finances.

In AIM’s ministry, my salary is set by our board and we periodically discuss the way I (along with our leaders) can stay above reproach. I’ve distributed the book Hedges to our leaders – it is filled with specific ideas to help ministers stay accountable.

Ultimately, the best way to stay accountable is to have some very close friends in your life who have permission to ask you any question and who can’t sniff out when something is off in your private world.

For me, that begins with Karen. We have a “no secrets” policy between us. Beyond that, I try to be an open book with about six guys who I am in covenant with.

So many leaders I’ve observed not only don’t have these types of relationships, they have the bad habit of living guarded, highly compartmentalized lives. The more secrets a person keeps, the greater the danger that they’ll fall. Look out for leaders who struggle to trust others.

At the end of the day, accountability is inviting scrutiny in your life. It’s another pair of eyeballs, another perspective. Those who don’t see this have a pride problem.

Women in America often struggle to find the kind of safe, intimate relationships that foster accountability. It’s true; they don’t seem to struggle with the standard temptations that plague males (if you doubt me, I invite you to list the number of scandals involving women and compare it to a list of men). But they may wrestle more with garden-variety temptations like envy or gossip.

Sadly, I can think of very few examples of women who have enjoyed great covenantal accountability relationships. Many women I’ve observed seem to struggle with trusting other women with their issues. This is an issue that I wish more people wrote about. Covenant and transparency seems difficult enough in America without introducing the variable of gender.

A final note on accountability – often in Christian circles people substitute a checklist of accountability questions like “Have you looked at pornography lately?” for the kind of true covenantal relationships that we were all made for. The personal scrutiny we need should have love at its core and should come in the context of a safe community.

Comments (8)

  • It’s a weird one, isn’t it? Women are not good at this stuff on the whole and I find it bizarre. I have been in deeper, open relationships with other women and yet none of them lasted. Whereas it is supposed to be women who are good at talking deep personal stuff and men are supposed to struggle with that, preferring football and beer to anything remotely intimate, I find the converse is often true. The challenge involved is often unwelcome.

    There aren’t that many women I know who are secure enough to both be loving but to also dare to say and hear the tougher stuff. Many women are too scared of losing their friends to handle the depth of mutual accountability. They may try it for a while but then give up when it gets hot enough to burn. There can be immense power in this for women, but it is rarely seen. The power and strength of the compassion and empathy that women can offer can be quite scary to touch and many simply run from it.

    There is a vulnerability needed and humility, but you also have to trust the person you are sharing with. It is immensely painful to think you have someone you can go the long haul with, who says they will still accept you no matter what and stick with you through it all, only to find they don’t and they take your vulnerable places and leave with them, or gossip to other people about them. Women are desperate for trust, for safe places, for acceptance, and fear the lack of them. Betrayal is a strong one for girls. Most of us have seen a lot of it and felt its sting repeatedly and are wary of doing it again.

    I think the God-given heart of nurture, protection and encouragement that was invested in women at Creation has been corrupted by the fall into self-nurture, self-protection and a wayward tongue that criticizes and gossips out of fear that someone will actually find out our hearts and it won’t look pretty.

    I’m not a very girly girl. I’ve always hated whole days of shopping for no reason, spiteful and cruel talk about other people, small talk that only lives on the surface of life and never looks deeper. You can’t open up your deepest fears and struggles to that for fear of being the one they talk about next time you are absent. It’s such a corruption of the power, beauty, tenderness, nurture and strength that is the character of God in woman.

    To grow covenantal relationships the way you talk about among women, the very essence of what is woman has to be redeemed. Romans says that Creation stands on tiptoe, eagerly waiting for the sons of God to be revealed. I think it also strains and aches in desperate hope, waiting for the daughters of God to be revealed for who they really are, who they were created to be. And maybe it’s time.

  • Wow… As a newbie in ministry, with many friends in the same boat here at IWU, I’ve fallen victim to the err of “I’m just a college student” to make up for my lack of serious standards/boundaries.

    Thankfully God called me out on this over the summer and He helped me come up with a long list of boundaries, which even includes things I am not sure I struggle with at all.

    After hashing out these boundaries in community, which I found to be ESSENTIAL, I signed the document and actually wrote a dedication to God, my future family and myself then signed it with a witness.

    I can’t express how much this has alleviated many of my fears about falling into sin and has actually caused me to embrace my pastoral calling… actually increasing my influence.

    Wierd how a secular society sees power as an excuse for no accountability which = loss. Yet we as Christians are shooting for accountability with no excuses = power. But I like it 🙂

  • You hit the nail on the head with us women. Not only do we lack accountability and covenantal relationships we also lack strong female spiritual leaders. Women have fallen trap to seeking both accountability and leadership from males opening them both up to many temptations. I am longing for both covenantal lady friends and a strong female spiritual mentor, so what is the answer? How do we females fix this?

  • I love it when I can actually grin at your blogs rather than slither to the floor out of my seat! I am a HUGE advocate for accountability! DO know where I would be without it! I love the fact that I have seven women that I am accountable to… to this day!

    I have five women who I speak with twice a week, another that we speak and pray together on Mondays, and my mentor and I speak almost daily! Oh how grateful I am for this as I did once view them as competition, but God has so transformed my heart! Thank you Lord!

  • You did hit it on the nail, but I have a couple questions on covenantal relationships. As you know, I am 26. Should these relationships always be with older/more mature woman of God? How long should you know this person, I am not asking for an exact time, but should you really know this person for years before you dive into a life-long relationship? Or just go off of what you feel in your heart? I do lack this in my life and one thing that I find is the women that I look up to in such a way seem to be so busy so I dont try to enter that relationship….Anyway, thanks for the blog and its a great challenge to seek this covenantal bond. Thanks Seth.

  • I needed to read this tonight. I’ve been struggling with the issue of trust lately and wondered why in the world it was so hard, even with close friends. I’ve been asking God to take me to the root of all of this and am still processing quite a bit. I really like everything Carol had to say and agree that it seems to be the case with women. I see where we are “desperate for trust, for safe places, for acceptance, and fear the lack of them.” We’re always trying to have a piece of both it seems. It’s easier when the other woman is broken like you, and so much more difficult when they don’t seem to be. I appreciate those women who take the first courageous steps to be vulnerable and broken before another woman. It makes it easier for those of us who don’t like to come across broken to really face the truth.

    Anyway, this was good to read today. Thanks Seth and Carol.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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