Scott Thomas: Accountability is not the silver bullet––but it is a bullet.
Pastors Leaping into Sexual Immorality
I am concerned about the number of pastors falling (or more likely, leaping) into sexual immorality. It is not a new problem. The Internet seems to have exposed some of these formerly quiet indiscretions hidden in the walls of the church out into the public. I spoke with two wives recently whose pastor husbands left them for a younger woman who was employed in the church. These wives were both devastated over the tragedy, and they were full of anxiety about how they were going to provide direction and provision for the young children at home. In both cases, the pastors had carried on their immorality for an extended period of time. This raised the question about their personal accountability.
Accountability Will Fix Everything…or Not.
A way to protect the pastor is through accountability, but it is not a foolproof way to protect them and the church. One of the men who committed adultery was in a regular accountability with other pastors in the church. These younger associate pastors asked their senior pastor the right questions, and he lied to them for seven months.
I am not convinced that accountability is properly administered within the church. I think men join an accountability group as a façade to hide their spiritually anemic lives. I even think some men are in an accountability group to get their wives off their backs. Somebody had to say it. I think some “Men’s Accountability Groups” miss the point altogether. The focus, it seems, is on the accountability and not on responding to the Gospel. There has to be a greater motivation for an accountability group other than checking off our list of questions asked by men who hope you don’t ask them the same questions.
Accountability Is the Bridge, Not the Destination.
I view accountability like a bridge over a body of water. The goal is to get across the water. The means of crossing the water is the bridge. And the pillars that uphold the bridge are important for its structural integrity. But when you set out to cross a bridge, you don’t say, “We drove to the bridge to focus on the pillars and to talk about them and to take pictures of these massive pillars of concrete and steel.” Rather, you say, “We drove to the bridge so that we can cross this body of water and get to the other side.” You focus primarily on the destination, a little on the method to get there (the bridge), and hardly ever on the pillars. The purpose for accountability is to provide the spiritual integrity to uphold the means to allow the Gospel to transform every aspect of your life. The other side of the water is Christ–likeness. When you focus exclusively on the accountability, it is like the Bridge to Nowhere with awesome pillars.
I have a formalized and detailed accountability structure for my personal life, my spiritual life, and my missional life. Four men serve me well and ask me hard questions. They have access to my wife to ask questions, and they have access to my two sons.
Five Basics for Accountability:
- Focus on the Gospel and your responding to the grace of God.
- Find men who have regular contact with you and can observe your life closely.
- Find men who are not employed by you or under your direct authority. Sometimes, silence on their part means not getting fired. It is okay to supplement your accountability with men under your supervision, but they cannot be the only ones who are holding you accountable.
- Tell them you may lie to them on purpose occasionally to test whether they will press you for an accurate answer to their questions. Someone asked me how I would know if an accountability team was actually working for their benefit. I told him to lie to them and see if they press anyway. If you can lie to your accountability team, it is of no value or protection to you. Now, I know where all liars go. It is the same place that all whoremongers go (Rev 21:8). You have to at least train them to ask hard questions and to be relentless about their receiving an accurate answer, even if they question your honesty.
- Utilize questions that are not the same every week and find questions that examine sins in your head and your heart and not just in your hands. I believe sin starts in our heads where we entertain ungodly thoughts, and if unchecked, sin moves into our hearts where we long to fulfill that lustful thought. Jesus spoke about this as he condemned not only the act of adultery but the thoughts of adultery (Matt. 5:28). James said, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:15-16)
Accountability is not the silver bullet––but it is a bullet; it is a tool to be implemented with precision. It can be helpful when the focus is on Gospel transformation and not merely on behavioral modification. Pastors, men, “ponder the path of your feet [and allow others to carefully observe your thoughts and your heart’s passions]; then all your ways will be sure.” (Proverbs 4:26)