Who answers to whom? Some ecclesial structures obtain accountability via top down systems like a magisterium. No matter the peculiar title, someone always answers to the person above in the organizational chart.
Other church structures, especially in the Free Church Tradition, utilize a more democratic or congregational system. Leaders are accountable to the Church, as in membership. It is not that in other systems the pastor, or minister, is unaccountable to the congregation. Instead, it is a matter of how the minister is accountable and to what extent.
It would be easy to spiritualize accountability and contend that ministers are ultimately accountable to God. However, in most of our traditions the means of this accountability is exercised on the material plane, in real time and in real life. We should not assume this discounts the sense in which a minister is accountable to God but, again, it is a matter of how.
Rather than make a case for one system over the other, it seems the greater issue is one of personal accountability. What sort of person do I intend to be? No, it is not that we don’t fail ourselves, our vision for the kind of person we long to be. It is that we do not ask that question first.
Young ministers find it hard to think of much more than, “What sort of ministry do I want for myself?” Practically it tends toward what size of ministry do I hope to lead. Many have been led to believe that influence is a matter of the size of audience commanded, read, as seats filled, a point that is hard to argue.
Whether in my tribe, Southern Baptist, or outside, speaking gigs come to those with huge platforms. It is the young minister with a strong resolve for the sort of person he or she intends to be that helps resist the more pragmatic goal of looking for the fastest way to the top. I will never forget my mentor telling the story of a now very popular minister in our denomination who stated his goal, “I am looking for the fastest way to the top.” Today this minister pastors a very large congregation and has held a number of high profile positions in our denominational apparatus. Maybe Rick said that to me so that I would think twice about my own motivations.
Large platforms mean influence. In a market driven economy, young pastors face the pressure to think beyond their local congregation. Elements taken from a variety of sources become the building components for a hybrid body intended to both satisfy the answer to the question, “What size of ministry do I want to have?” and, to sate the consequent ego. Think it like elements that went into creating Frankenstein’s Monster.
We never know when and where the unintended consequences may break through in an irruption of the Real. Shrouded in religious speak we learn how to hide and navigate with little hint of the underlying motivation. Then it happens. The Monster gets loose and no one is quite sure what to do. Do we defend it? Do we condemn it? Do we ignore it? Many times it seems all three are attempted. Then it gets ugly.
It is hard to write about this particular reflection without at least a passing reference to Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill. While I do not know Pastor Mark, I am acquainted with a couple of people who do. One wrote wondering if the eventual problem, about which we read something new almost weekly, was a consequence of the sort of person he chose to be or to the person’s preferred ideology. The other reflected on the person and noted that it appears not much changed from his perception derived from personal encounters in the late 1990’s and the exposure of particular behaviors and decisions currently coming to light.
One wonders, sympathetically to be sure, at what point did someone suggest not that a person needs an accountability group, or partner, but needs to develop a strong sense of personal accountability? What sort of person do you want to be rather than what sort of influence does one want to wield? They are very different questions with equally different answers. Time reveals which question was considered and what answer given.
There is place in the Sacred Text that appears to point to the need for personal accountability; the kind of account one gives to himself or herself independent of a small group or partner. The Apostle Paul listed the fruit of the Spirit – the qualities that emerge from a life committed to the Way of Jesus that comports with His Spirit, His person. The very last is self-control. Paul adds, “ . . . against such there is no law.”
Self-control, or any of the other fruit listed, is not outlawed but indicative of the answer a person gives to the question, “What sort of person do I want to be?” When we replace self-accountability, self-control at its root, with the need for someone to hold us accountable, even dependent on that role player in our lives to be what we said we wanted to be, we outsource personal transformation and opt for someone to help manage our latent tendencies. Growth comes in the crucible of facing ourselves.
It is not that we do not need people around us to hold us to account. But, it is that we cannot substitute such a relationship for developing the sort of character that could be said, “ . . . against such things there is no law.”
When we refuse to listen to the peer(s) of our choosing we face little resistance to giving into our baser impulses and drives when we have not first determined to be accountable to ourselves.
One last thought. The process is ongoing. It is not that a once for all decision avoids the future dilemmas and temptations that will come. But, when we begin with the right first question, we are ready to answer with an important self-awareness.