Merriam-Webster defines accountability as “the quality or state of being accountable; an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” As we watch the news today, it appears as if no one wants to be held accountable. Sadly, leaders in the church are not excluded. I have heard friends discuss their need for accountability, yet many people frown at the concept and shout, “I only need to be accountable to Jesus.”
I recently had a conversation with a pastor who was living in habitual sin. I pleaded, “How can you stand and teach your congregation and continue in sin?”
He responded, “I have learned to not let it bother me and continue to preach.” He told me that he has successfully learned how to sin and continue in ministry without even feeling any remorse.
How did this happen? I’m sure it didn’t happen overnight. After I listened to his many stories, it appears he’s been living in habitual sin during his entire ministry. How could this happen? No one ever held him accountable; in fact, his leaders were also living in habitual sin. At what point will we turn things around in the church and hold leaders accountable?
The Word of God clearly defines for us the qualifications of a leader. We don’t have to guess or use human wisdom. Both 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 provide lists of qualifications for leaders in the church. Leaders should be above reproach, should be hospitable, must love what is good, must be self-controlled, and should hold faithful to the word of God. Leaders should be faithful to their spouses and be people of dignity, among other things.
I taught this one day at Sunday school, and the senior pastor came behind me and discredited everything I said. His response: “Can anyone in here meet these standards?” The class shouted, “No!” He responded, “Neither can I, thank God for the blood.” I almost ran to my car and cried. I called my friend later and read her my sermon. I read it word for word and read every note. I asked her if I did something wrong or committed error in any way. She told me no, but that didn’t stop the tears from flowing. I learned later about the systemic sin in that church. Why would they want someone to teach about the moral demands on leadership? They really should have skipped that lesson in the Sunday school lesson book.
Unfortunately, I have seen many accounts where pastors and deacons are involved in open affairs and the congregation tolerates their sin. I’ve heard stories where children have been molested by leaders and the church did nothing to respond. As an attorney, I know stories of pastors stealing money from their churches and the church failing to hold them accountable.
I’ve been told by so many people, “Oh he’s saved; he’s just not walking in it.” Huh? Galatians 5:16-17 states, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.” I’m not saying a person must be perfect; surely I have had my share of shortcomings. But in those times do you know where I sat? I sat in the pews. I sat down until I got myself together.
Why do I care? I care because the flock is dying and the “lost” don’t trust the leaders in the church. God has allowed me to minister to men and women who refuse to come to the church because a pastor, minister, or deacon has molested them. I have sat with men and women who confided in me that when they were children, their father or grandfather (who was the pastor) was raping them at home. Why would they want to return to church?
Why do I care? I care because I have a friend who has been in the same abusive relationship her whole life. Why? It is because she doesn’t know what true love feels like. When your grandfather is a pastor and is sleeping with (and beating) you, where do you go from there?
I know that the church in the United States is so focused on fighting the “culture wars,” but we need to fight the battles in our own churches. It is not the government’s or Hollywood’s fault that there is so much darkness in the world. I believe we must accept some responsibility because we have lost our impact in the world. We have failed to hold leaders accountable, so we have lost our saltiness. Jesus warns us in Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.” The church is losing its flavor, and lack of accountability is one of the reasons. Let us refocus and regroup and hold leaders accountable, so once again we can be the salt of the earth.