You can’t call your leaders to be accountable and side-step it yourself

Yesterday, I read a blog post suggesting that the missing ingredient in a lot of church leadership is accountability. You can read that article here. It is certainly true that some church leaders do seem unwilling to allow themselves to be held to account by their churches. Few are able to speak into their lives and there are no clear processes for addressing anything with them in their churches. These things certainly exist and do need addressing.

But for all the talk of leaders being unwilling to be held accountable – and certainly such leaders exist – this is hardly an issue unique to pastors and elders. An unwillingness to be held accountable seems to be a hallmark of many church members too. If the church does not affirm everything they want to do, or church members question whether they really ought to be behaving in particular ways, it is all too common for people to simply side-step any accountability altogether.

There are those who setup their entire lives to avoid accountability. They do, of course, show up to meetings. They are happy to be there. But there is little involvement in the lives of others and vanishingly few opportunities to speak into their lives. Many members are quite happy to live very independently from the broader life of the church.

Others do not avoid more general accountability, but they do not receive well any constructive accountability in practice. They are happy for sermons to be applied generally and are more than willing to spend time with other church members. But if they are challenged – no matter how gently – on their walk with Christ, the barriers go up and they begin to withdraw.

Others still seem unwilling to submit more broadly to accountability of the church at large. Most people seem happy (and rightly so) when an elder accused is brought before the church to give an account. Transparency about what they have said and done is seen as vital. And, for what it’s worth, an elder facing accusations rightly ought to brought before the church (if they are insisting they have done nothing wrong and their accuser continues to insist they have). The Bible is very clear that such matters ought to be judged by the church. There is neither a presumption that the elder must always be at fault, nor that they could not possibly have done anything, but the accusations heard and the defence given and the church ultimately called upon to rule on the matter.

But there are many members unwilling to face the same accountability. Those who do not get their own way may refuse to allow the church to rule on the matter. Those who make accusations that are deemed not to be legitimate by the church rarely stick around. The expectation is that the accused elder – if found guilty by the church – very much ought to be removed from post, with all submitting to the view of the church. But frequently, members who are found to have minimal grounds for complaint or basis to their accusations do not feel the need to submit to the wider view of the church. Accountability, for some, is only for leaders and not for members.

Of course, that isn’t to say every accusation or criticism that the church does not uphold is vexatious. Sometimes these things are a matter of perspective and one’s faulty view of matters needs correcting. Other times, the criticism might have some credit, but it is truly not a character issue nor any sort of resigning matter. Other times, these things may just be differences of opinion on how best to achieve things. You cannot do both and, in the end, someone has to decide what to do and the church are deemed final arbiters.

But just as people are quick to call on their leaders to (rightly) submit to the authority of the church – as well they should – many are quite unwilling to submit to those self same authorities. Accountability is important for church leaders, but it is also important for church members too. Just as leaders who will not be transparent and seem unwilling to stand in front of their churches – even allowing and encouraging their churches to fire them if they have disqualified themselves through their behaviour or they have departed from orthodoxy – so it matters when members refuse to submit to these same things. Whilst it doesn’t always resolve all matters, you can tell a lot about who is speaking the truth simply by those who are willing to stand up and give a clear and unvarnished account of matters – especially when others (who may even be making accusations) seem less willing to do the same.

The fact is, everyone in the church is called to a level of accountability with each other. We are all called to submit to one another. Issues within the church are determined by the church themselves. It is the members collectively who know the people, personalities and fundamental issues involved. It is not only leaders who must submit to church rule, but all of the members too. Those who are truly concerned about accountability and submission to the authority instituted by Christ are often seen most clearly when issues arise. Are they willing to stand in front of the church and given an account of themselves? Are they transparent about any meetings or discussions that took place? Most telling of all, when the church rule on the matter, are they prepared to submit to their collective view and continue to serve alongside them, even if matters did not go their way?