I bet you can immediately think of at least one Christian leader who is either raising lots of eyebrows or has made a wreck of their ministry. I fact, I bet you can think of several.
They may have started out strong in their faith, building the kingdom, aiming for heaven. But as they gained fame and followers and the pressure began to mount, they veered off course. Sadly, they then either fall into sin or heresy, or both. They end up in the headlines and the church takes another bad rap.
Since my sweetie, Pete, works in full-time ministry, we’ve watched this trail of destruction with holy fear. We take seriously warnings such as in Galatians 6:1—“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (italics mine).
Seeing the pain the fallen person brings to others—family, congregation, even believers they’ve never met—and knowing that while God will forgive and heal, He grieves when we sin, we really don’t want to go there!
Without naming names, I’ve spent some time contemplating each fallen leader. No one sets out to have an affair. No one who is entrusted with teaching the Word wants to be preaching error. And I doubt any of these decided to create a thriving ministry just so they could embezzle some funds. So, how did these men (and it is mostly men) end up where they ended up? What mistakes did they make along the way? And most importantly, how can we learn from those mistakes?
Of course, I don’t know most of these people personally, and I have no idea what their private lives are like. But in circumstances where I do know something, I see two major failings.
One, they begin to think they’re invincible, like the villain in a James Bond movie. Others may succumb to temptation, but they are above all that. After all, didn’t God put them in charge? In other words, they embrace pride. And we all know what pride goeth before.
This sense of hubris would probably be much less serious except for failing number two: they become isolated. Sure, they may lead a megachurch, or an international ministry. Everybody knows about them. But does anybody really know them? They get so busy, they neglect their close friends. There’s no one who really knows what their struggles are, who can lovingly hold them accountable.
When Pete quit his “daytime job” and started coming alongside the worldwide mission endeavor, accountability was a major concern of ours. We may have gone overboard, but it has certainly paid off.
First, we have our own board covering ICTA, the ministry Pete runs. The men and women on this board are there to challenge him, to make sure he stays true to God’s calling, and to ask the hard questions.
Besides our ICTA board, we are also part of a mission consulting group called Paraclete. True, we don’t really need to belong to Paraclete—Pete would be doing the same work either way. But Paraclete provides a community of encouragement, guidance, and yes, another layer of accountability. The CEO meets with Pete on a regular schedule to go over his progress toward his stated goals, ask questions, and keep him on course.
All this is great, but it’s at a professional level. What about our personal lives? We’ve set some structure in place there, too. Each of us has a few “best friends” who have permission to ask us anything at all. Anything. They’ll know if we’re hedging about answering. We each meet with these friends at least once a week.
We picked friends who have integrity and who know how to keep a personal secret. The last thing we need is gossip! Because we trust these special friends completely, we have the freedom to share with them all the dirty laundry we’d never discuss with anyone else. Of course, I had to approve Pete’s guys, and he got to approve which of my women friends I chose to confide in.
No measures can completely guarantee that we will finish well. It is God who ultimately gives us the strength to keep his commandments. The idea is to make it as hard as possible to screw up. I don’t want to wake up one morning and discover that we’ve missed God!
What do you do to keep yourself accountable to God?