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A couple of years ago I had the chance to sit down with a former staff member that had served on my team more than a decade ago.  We really hadn’t kept in touch very much. At one point during our lunch the conversation turned more serious. And in a moment of candor he said to me “You know, you weren’t very easy to work for.”  And then he spent a little time sharing specific ways that I had been difficult to work for.  He was kind, but it was definitely a rebuke of how I led at times.  

At first, I could feel myself wanting to be defensive, to explain, to rationalize, or to share ways he had been difficult as well.  Those feelings quickly took me to a dark place I was very familiar with: a place of insecurity and inadequacy.  Not feeling “good enough” has been an unwelcome companion for much of my ministry.  

The truth is, he was right.  As an overly ambitious, driven leader, I could sometimes run over people.  Because of how I led, I’m sure it was never safe to have this conversation when I was his boss.  Even though it was years later, my friend was holding me accountable for my actions.  

“Accountability”—it’s an uncomfortable word isn’t it.  It doesn’t evoke a warm fuzzy feeling when you hear it. But even though it is uncomfortable, it is absolutely necessary to our growth, both personally and professionally.

Because those of us in ministry usually avoid uncomfortable conversations like the plague, holding people accountable doesn’t come easy for us.  But when accountability is lacking, there are at least 2 negative implications for your ministry.

1. It perpetuates dysfunction.

Accountability is not just about performance and results.  It is also an emotional health and team health issue.  Lack of accountability can lead to a toxic culture. Because of our unwillingness to have hard conversations, we tolerate dysfunctional and destructive behavior.  

In Galatians 2, you find Paul holding Peter accountable.  Peter had fallen into a behavior that was dysfunctional and just wrong.  But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.  Galatians 2:11-13 (NLT)

This is such a powerful example.  Can you imagine how it must have felt for Paul to challenge Peter.  Peter was one of the original twelve disciples and in the inner circle of Jesus.  But Paul had the courage to oppose him to his face.  He didn’t talk ABOUT Peter, he talked TO Peter.  

Notice that verse 11 says that what Peter did was “very wrong.”  Sometimes accountability is about lack of follow through or missing a deadline.  But sometimes it is about unhealthy and wrong behavior.  Certainly if Peter is susceptible to dysfunctional behavior, so are you and me.  

Dysfunction always has a ripple effect.  In verse 13 we learn that Peter’s hypocrisy rubbed off on Barnabas and other Jewish believers.  If it had gone unaddressed, this dysfunction had the potential of being very divisive to the early church and taking them “off task.”

2. It limits people’s personal growth.

If we authentically care about those who serve on our teams, we will do what is best for them even when it is uncomfortable for us.  

“Many leaders who struggle with this will try to convince themselves that their reluctance is a product of their kindness; they just don’t want to make their employees (or team members) feel bad.  But an honest reassessment of their motivation will allow them to admit that they are the ones who don’t want to feel bad and that failing to hold someone accountable is ultimately an act of selfishness.”  The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni  p.59

OUCH!!  Lencioni is spot on.  If I am honest, my unwillingness to hold people accountable is actually about me.  I don’t want to be the “bad guy.”  I don’t want the person to think poorly of me.  I don’t want the discomfort of a hard conversation.  A lack of accountability often results in stunted growth.

Internal Posture

Team health begins personal health.  So the starting place is for me to embrace accountability as a good thing, not just for others but for me. You see, accountability will help close the gap between who I say I want to be and who I actually am today.  

God uses people and their words in our lives to shine a light on our blind spots and to smooth out some of the rough edges. And if I am going to become like Jesus, I need a handful of people in my life that can tell me what I need to hear, not just what I want to hear.  

I’m not talking about a person who is a verbal wrecking ball.  There is definitely an unhealthy way to hold people accountable.  I’m talking about having a posture of openness to receive healthy accountability.  It takes courage and a healthy identity in Christ to really “lean in” and actually welcome accountability.

When you study the book of Proverbs you discover that words like rebuke, discipline, and correction are almost always seen as a gift.

An open rebuke
    is better than hidden love!
Wounds from a sincere friend
    are better than many kisses from an enemy. 

Proverbs 27:5-6 (NLT)

Here is an important question for every person in ministry to honestly answer… “Who in your life can rebuke you?”  

Leaning in when it comes to accountability will not only serve you well personally, but it will also serve you well in your ministry environment.

Lance is the founder of Replenish ministries and is often referred to as a Pastor’s Pastor.  He is also the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live and lead from a healthy soul.  Before launching Replenish, Lance served 20 years as a senior pastor and 6 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. 

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Suresh Manoharan

commented on Aug 22, 2017

A relevant article for all aspiring to work in a healthy team environment...

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