Today I will be discussing the third of eight strategic principles I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. In the past two weeks, I talked about the relational and transformational principles, and this article discusses the need for accountability. This principle has multiple aspects: we are accountable for ourselves, to one another, and to God.
An excellent historical example of effective accountability would be the discipleship methods used by John Wesley. In fact, it was because of Wesley’s strict adherence to his methods, that they became known as Methodists. Wesley devised a “ticket” that was required for admission to a class meeting (a small discipleship group). Tickets were issued after John had a face-to-face meeting with each disciple. Here is how he described the process of getting a ticket:
At least once in three months, [I] talk with every member myself to inquire at their own mouths, as well as of their Leaders and neighbors, whether they grew in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. To each of those whose seriousness and good conversation I found no reason to doubt, I gave a testimony under my own hand, by writing their name on a ticket prepared for that purpose; every ticket implying as strong a recommendation of the person to whom it was given as if I had wrote at length, “I believe the bearer hereof to be one that fears God and works righteousness."
In Matthew 25 Jesus gave us three parables in which personal responsibility, our responsibility before God, and our responsibility to one another are clearly taught. Each parable concludes with an unequivocal statement that we stand accountable for how we steward each of these areas.
Social psychology research has shown that when people assign a specific time and place for completion of specific tasks and goals, their chances of success increase by up to 300 percent. Structure, stability, security, routine, and predictability—all are necessary for our brains to function at their highest levels. (page 145)
Leaders who don’t value discipline in their own lives will struggle to provide the spiritually healthy environment required for others to see and value it.
God called and equipped leaders in disciple-making churches to use their God-given abilities to equip and release others for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). These leaders are willing to humbly submit themselves to God and to others, as they fulfill their calling. They also are willing to hold others accountable as they fulfill their responsibilities to God and to the church. They do so knowing that they stand accountable before God for how they steward their calling. James 3:1 states, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” They also know disciple-making is done in a relational environment (see previous article) and not simply by proclaiming, “Thus sayeth the Lord” from the pulpit. This mutual accountability is very counter-cultural in American life and in particular in Baptist life where we have created an accountability adverse culture. American individualism has been taken to the extreme. Many of us have heard a pastor say, “I am accountable to God alone,” and what’s even worse is that too often we said, “Amen.”
In another Henry Cloud book, The Power of the Other, he addresses an issue I believe is at the core of why we are seeing the moral and ethical failure of what we thought were “effective leaders."
There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman. Every great leader has opened up to someone who could meet a need, whatever that need might have been. The range of human needs is broad, but the way to meet those needs is very narrow: it involves humbly and honestly embracing the need and reaching out to the “power of the other.” There is no other way. In the more than twenty-five years I’ve been working with high-powered CEOs and other top performers, one characteristic stands out: the leaders who accomplish the most, thrive the most, overcome the most are not afraid to say they need help.
Holding ourselves and others accountable before God is not an easy task. It will require us to invest significant time in developing our relational skills. It will mean we will have to step into messy relationships. We will encounter pushback and failure. But ultimately, we will begin to see that relationships really are a mess worth making. And they are made better when we are willing to be accountable for ourselves, to one another, and to God.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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