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Discipleship was an essential part of Jesus’s ministry and a significant part of the early church. Be deliberate about spending time with people that are leaders and potential leaders that are living their lives to follow after God. The heart of congregational accountability is being involved in soul care for each other. Admonition is rebuke and correction that calls people back. Part of admonition is corrective preaching that is done with the right motives and in the right way. Membership requires sacrifice to join others in a battle with others who see themselves as investors not consumers. You, as a pastor, are accountable to protect, guide, encourage, comfort and admonish. In the process of confrontation, it’s important to have a commitment to mutual understanding, to do everything in love, aim for reconciliation, to be proactive, do all for God’s glory, to be a peacemaker and for reconciliation and closure.
Pastoral Care and Accountability
II. Accountability and Its Context
A. Accountability begins with discipleship
1. Discipleship was essential to Jesus' ministry
2. Discipleship was a significant part of the early church
3. Discipleship involves thinking through core outcomes
4. Five kinds of people in the church (Gordon MacDonald)
B. Accountability in small groups
1. Fellowship, teaching prayer and accountability
2. Band societies
3. Congregational discipleship
II. Accountability and its expressions
A. Personal admonition
B. Corrective preaching
C. Accountable membership
D. Pastoral accountability
E. Membership calls for accountability by the member
F. Timely discipline
A. How do you structure accountability so leaders don't use it in an abusive way?
B. What does group accountability look like?
C. How should membership agreements be written?
D. How should a pastor encourage people to support the church financially?
E. Should church discipline be at the small group level or in front of the whole church?
I am going to start this section with a story. I want to talk about accountability. I wonder if this is particularly one of these areas that we have lost in the church today. It wasn’t that long ago there was a couple, a great couple in our church that was leading worship, or at least part of the worship team, faithful. Something happened that was an unfortunate incident in the church that involved their son and one of the workers in our church, that led to a lawsuit that named me amongst others, that then put us under some really shady characters who were totally committed to destroying us, causing us to have great fear.
We were able to work through it all. But I always wondered about this couple. There seemed to be no accountability. But didn’t you sign a covenant with the church? One of the things we agreed was that we wouldn’t do these kinds of things to each other. That never seemed to come up. I find that accountability seems to be something we have lost, not only in our culture, but we have certainly lost it in the church. That is what I want to speak to.
II. Accountability and its Context
There is something about the nature of the church that calls for accountability. Where does it begin? I want to talk about some areas where we should see accountability happen.
A. Accountability begins with discipleship
Certainly one area that it begins with is discipleship that the church needs to recover. It is our mandate. We see this clearly in scripture. It is a process that takes its cues from Jesus. This is where we see Jesus focus some of his best energy. If he had not intentionally poured himself into a relationship where he called people to accountability, maybe Christianity would have never really started. It maybe would be just crowds and healings and possibly a footnote in history.
But there was accountability and the church is called to be accountable and discipleship is a core part of it. It was a core part of the early church. There was this intentionality when you read early church history of catechisms and people working through issues and moving to maturity. Discipleship was accepted. But let’s say this about accountability, it is not a natural process. It requires things that are difficult. It requires a certain insight, understanding of people and human nature, a grasp of motive, passions. It requires genuine love for people. It requires a willingness to pour ourselves into one another. It requires a certain humility. Accountability means I’m willing to put myself under others. It requires a certain empathy, for sure, sort of a capacity for listening. It requires a sense of willingness to invest in one another. It certainly requires candor and genuineness, challenging one another to the narrow road. It certainly requires discernment, able to read into one another and discern.
And it requires a willingness to transfer information and pray for one another. All of which I believe is really a center of pastoral vocation. Because after all, we are creating tomorrow’s leaders.
Discipleship has to be something that is intentional, that is focused, that really thinks about core outcomes. As I thought about discipleship, I went back through scriptures. Here are some of the outcomes I began to realize we need to hold each one accountable to. We need to hold each other accountable to a life that goes hard after God. We need to hold each other accountable to a willingness to let the Word of God go deep. We need to hold each other accountable to a life that is passionate, to pray, a life that invests in others for the sake of the Gospel.
What is accountability? It seems harder and harder for us in the church to truly hold each other accountable for sharing our faith. I think we need at times to ask one another when is the last time we shared our faith? When is the last time we prayed about sharing our faith? The last time we did, what did that look like? A life that is spirit filled, accountable for that. Realizing that the filling of the Spirit is not automatic, it is a choice, it is a decision.
A life that worships God, I mean truly worships God, that doesn’t just come as a consumer. Sometimes I see people who just worship horizontally, that is, they define worship as all activity. There are some who just worship vertically, it’s all about coming and lifting our arms to God and praying to God, but there is no responsibility to one another. Worship is a vertical and a horizontal relationship. There must be some accountability for one another to say, Are you truly worshiping? Are we truly worshiping God?
And accountability to be advocates for justice. It is great to be compassionate. It’s great to share the Gospel. But we also must be advocates for structures that are wrong that are in place, that need to be called out.
Here is accountability, accountability to give sacrificially. We are afraid to talk to people about money and sometimes that is true, especially for us as pastors. We have let people believe that they own their money. We know the right language. We say to people, “We know it all belongs to God and I’m just a steward.” Which works until you begin to dig into what people give. Then people immediately put up a barrier, “That is something private between me and God.” The accountability to say, Are you giving generously? Are you giving sacrificially?
An accountability that says, Are you devoted to this community? I find that people today actually feel like if they can make it to church once or twice a month, they are doing really well. The kind of accountability that says, there is something about what Hebrews 10 says, “Not forsaking the gathering together.”
Accountability in a discipling relationship that holds one another accountable for their gifts and the release of their gifts. Do you know your gift? How are you exercising your gifts? Then, a certain accountability to pass on the baton, to say, Who are you intentionally mentoring and leading and what are you leaving to the next generation?
This is the kind of church I believe that God intended us to be. But I think in a consumeristic age in which we are more about pleasing, satisfying, can I say entertaining people, we have lost some of this accountability, this discipleship.
I remember years ago, it was Gordon MacDonald who actually gave a talk once and he said: “There are five kinds of people in the church.” This really left an impact in my life because I began to think this really is true. He said there are what he calls VRPs. VRPs are the very resourceful people. These are the people that a pastor needs. All pastors need one or two at least in the church that they can say, “I can go to this person. I can pour out my life. I can seek counsel. I can seek advice. This person actually doesn’t really so much need me, but I need this person.” There are not many, but every church has VRPs.
Then of course there are what we call the VIPs. VIPs of course are the very important people. Who are these people in the church? They are the people who are part of the leadership. These are the ones who in a sense I join hands with and we lead the church into the future. These are the vital people. Every church needs VIPs. Every pastor needs VIPs.
Then there is this group called the VTPs. The VTPs are what MacDonald called the very trainable people. These are the people who aren’t quite here at this level, but they are going to be. These are your future leaders. These are the people I’m talking about that we pour ourselves into, that we create accountable relationships. We are training them.
Then, MacDonald said, there are the VNPs. The VNPs in a church are the very nice people. These are people that are actually fun to be with. These are the people that sometimes would say to me, “Hey, Pastor, I’ve got a couple of Blazer tickets.” They are fun, they are nice. But if I said to them, “Have you thought about where you are serving in the church?” Or, “We have a really important meeting coming up, we have to make some big decisions.” There really was not time for that. But they are nice.
The last category are the VDPs. The VDPs, you can use two words here, the very attendant people, the very drainable people. I have worked with a certain core of VDPs. These are the people that sadly are a little bit like John 5, the paralytic, that sometimes are the victims that can never get out of their victimhood, who are very dependent. Five years later they are still where they were. In other words, they are my drainable people.
What MacDonald did when he laid this all out, he said something I will never forget. He said, “I want you to go into your list of people.” I went back to my church, went back to my desk. I opened the directory and I categorized everybody in my 350-member congregation. At that point of course, I swore to myself, no-one must see this directory, ever, and I kept it close with me.
What MacDonald said is that after you do that, then I want you to count and I want you to in a sense look at where you put your time, with which people. Of course, you may be guessing already where we tend to spend most of our time. We tend to spend most of our time. We spend our time with VDPs because they are the people that say, “Pastor, I don’t know what I’d do without you.” They make us feel needed and wanted and pastors sometimes need to feel needed and wanted. So we spend our time here, or we spend our time with these people because they are fun. I remember this couple in my last church. They were sort of the Friday night couple. They weren’t really involved in the church, but every Friday night they invited us. They would make a wonderful meal. We would watch a great movie. They were just fun. I invested a certain amount of time. But I discovered that no matter how much time I spent with them, nothing really changed in terms of their commitment, or even into the depth of their walk with God. They w
ere just more social people.
What MacDonald was underscoring here is, when you look at all of these, he raised this question: Where should you spend the bulk of your time? I realized, that is not too hard to answer, it is investing in people who are going to be these people, VTPs who are going to be your future VIPs. It is not to say you ignore VIPs. No, you come alongside to encourage them every now and then because they are so vital to the ministry. But they don’t need you nearly as much as these people need you, to pour into, to disciple, to hold accountable. This is what I think is missing in a lot of churches today, a strong, vital group of VTPs who you have in this very accountable environment who said, “I am going to pour myself into you” so that tomorrow we will have a really strong core of these people.
So accountability starts with pouring ourselves intentionally into people. I tried this at Village. It actually worked for a few years, but it takes a lot of work. That is, I had 10 pastors and I said, “I want everyone to come up with a list of five VTPs, five people that you will commit to pouring your lives into. Every month we are going to give a VTP report, accountability again. So tell me how you are pouring yourself into these people.
Looking back, I think where I failed was not to move to, “What are we going to pour ourselves in these people? What are we going to say?” It goes back to the things I said just a moment ago. If I was to do it again today, I would say, “These 11 pieces. The life that goes hard after God, we are going to talk about that because that is where you need to get to. Your time in the Word, your passion for prayer, your willingness to share the Gospel, your relationship with the Holy Spirit, your experience in worship, your passion for justice, your willingness to give, your devotion to the community, your giftedness and how it is unleashed and who you are going to then pour into, who is going to be your VTP.
I think I would take these 11 and I would say to my pastors, “Once you have identified these people, these VTPs, I want you to take them through these 11.” I think there has to be something intentional. It’s back to the subject I’m talking about and that is accountability, of keeping people accountable. I think we have shied away, we are afraid that if I demand too much, ask too much, I’ll push people away. I think we have created these wonderful, comfortable environments in the church today, so there isn’t truly a lot of discipleship.
It is interesting, again, Jesus didn’t say to go and make converts. He said, “Go and make disciples.” As I said to my pastors, if we don’t have time to do the work of discipleship, then it seems like we are betraying our very commission.
B. Accountability in small groups
There is a second area of accountability and that is small groups. This is another area where I think we have kind of drifted away from intense accountability. We have made these too often social groups where there is some teaching maybe, a little bit of prayer, a lot of food; but there needs to be a really strong accountability.
Thomas Oden is one of my favorite pastoral theologians. Thomas Oden is a Wesleyan scholar. One of the things Thomas Oden did, in one of his pastoral theologies he went back to what John Wesley can teach us. One of the things I found really amazing is his discussion of what Wesley called “his band society.” Band society seems like a strange name, but his band societies were equivalent to our small groups today, equivalent in that they were these groups that met regularly, not equivalent to most small group ministries today. In the band society small groups there was an intense form of accountability. It wasn’t just chit-chat, it wasn’t just eating a meal together. It wasn’t even just sharing the Word or praying. There were these questions, and this is how Wesley described it: When they gathered together, they were accountable together, right precisely on time, not a minute late. When they gathered together they asked these questions, these probing questions. They would gather together and go around and they
’d ask each other this question. Imagine this. They would ask each one, “Tell us tonight the state of your soul.” That is the question, what is the state of your soul? How would you answer that? What would you say? The state of my soul. Well, it is rather shaken right now or, my soul feels actually really pretty thin, it feels empty. There could be a lot of answers. They knew that when they gathered they would have to answer this question.
The second question they asked themselves is, what sins have you committed since the last time we met? Imagine a small group doing that? What sins have you committed since the last time we met? Wow, you know, I’ve been having this emotional affair with someone who is not my wife. I really lost it the other day in traffic and flipped someone off. I started to think some real ugly thoughts about my son. It could be a lot of things. Imagine the kind of accountability where not in a legalistic way, certainly not in an unloving environment, but imagine if we knew we were going to be asked this question. I think it would have a determination on how you are living out that week if you know you are accountable for this.
Here is a third question they asked themselves: What temptations are you presently dealing with? Pornography? Overeating? Gossip? Here was the fourth question: How did you avert the wrong path?
These were the four questions that every time this group met, these band societies met, they asked these questions. When I was reading through these and I was leading a small group, I suggested to our group that we ask questions like this. There was sort of an interest, and I think maybe it was a failure a bit on my part, we never really followed through. Maybe, again, we were too afraid that maybe we would lose people who wouldn’t come back.
Here is what is fascinating, Thomas Oden brings this out. As he studied John Wesley and these band societies, he discovered – I think this is true, but I haven’t really studied it out – he said these are what led to the great revivals. That you can trace and you connect the dots and the great revivals came out of the band societies. It makes some sense really. I wonder if as some of us pray for revival today, “Oh, Lord, we just pray your Spirit would move afresh as you have in times past.” I wonder if we realize this, if God said, “You are going to need to form band societies,” it might show us how much we want revival.
Accountability, discipling, small groups. I think if the church is going to take serious steps forward to being influencers - and let’s face it, we’re not very good influencers in communities – it’s going to come out of small groups, small groups that are led by under-shepherds, that are intentional. Intentional to gather people together and as I said earlier, to not just have the meal, but maybe a time of communion. By the way, wouldn’t it be amazing if after we shared together a meal, we always went to communion. But before we went into communion, we took some time to examine ourselves and then we asked these questions around the table. Then, out of that, we would move to maybe the Word and prayer.
There is something else about accountability that is also a piece and let’s call this congregational discipleship. Discipling leaders, small group ministry, congregational discipleship. Where do we see this in scripture? I think Ephesians 4 when Paul defines the church as these gifted leaders who gather the church together, these gifted leaders being this five-fold description – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers – APEST – which is something Michael Frost, Alan ?Hirsch_____ as an example have written a lot about, saying the church needs to recover these leaders. These should form the leadership of the church, churches that are largely led by pastors. That is a whole other subject. Maybe we will come to this when we talk about leadership.
The point is, in Ephesians 4 these all come together to do this work of equipping or this word we mentioned, ?_____(23:53.0) which is a word that speaks of mending or putting back together, setting broken bones, Ephesians 4:11-13. What I am getting at is, accountability also requires a congregation that is accountable to make something right in one another. It is more than mending nets or setting bones, it is something deeper. It is a term that speaks of a deep relationship, of getting into soul care. It is a congregation, imagine, that comes together knowing that they have been called to equip and this is the primary work of the congregation.
So you have this one-on-one discipleship. You have small groups that are like band societies. Then imagine a whole congregation that takes serious Ephesians 4. As Paul puts it in verse 13, “…until we come to the measure of the stature and the fullness of Christ.” Let’s get back to what the church is supposed to be about. It’s about people starting to look like Jesus. Paul seems to have the audacious idea that we can actually look like Christ. But we can’t come to looking like Christ if there is not an accountability to these three things.
II. Accountability and its expressions
A. Person admonition
Pastoral care and accountability. What is involved in all of this? If you think about pastoral care, pastoral care is not just healing and listening and visiting, all important things, and marrying and burying, all parts of care. But it includes something that I wonder if is left largely out of the pastoral task today. That is a willingness to admonish. It seems strangely absent from a lot of pastoral work. But if you go back into the early church, it was a significant part of ministry. Thomas Oden, again I quote, says, “Admonition is the duty owed by the pastoral guide to the parishioner.” What does that mean exactly? What does that look like?
Let’s think back to Jesus or Paul, for that matter. Jesus did not hesitate to admonish. I notice that Jesus wasn’t hesitant to confront sin where he saw it, whether it was referring to Peter as the devil, or calling Martha out for having her priorities wrong. It is the rebuke and correction that calls people out, calls them back, like Paul in 1 Corinthians 5, or Galations 2, or Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4. There are enough examples in scripture that say we have this responsibility. Paul confronted those, not only who were out there who at times were almost his enemies, he confronted those he mentored. He confronted the church at Corinth, 1 Corinthians 3. He confronted Timothy in his fear in 2 Timothy 1. In Titus he confronted the division there.
B. Corrective preaching
What is involved in admonition? Where does it flesh itself out in the pastoral task? The obvious place it starts is with corrective preaching. Don’t get me wrong. It is not to be confused with haranguing or using a pulpit as a hammer. Pastors can fall prey to this. There can be someone over here that has become a nemesis, has become a huge pain, a grief to a pastor. It is easy sometimes to take a text and preach just to that person, which is a major homiletical failure.
It is knowing the time to speak to the whole congregation and correct some things. That is hard for us to do because we today want to be loved. We like to entertain. But this is not corrective preaching. It has to be done in love, it has to be motivated by love. The effectiveness of the church in the world is going to hinge on this. The presentation of Christ unstained is going to require this. It demands that a pastor is not afraid to preach difficult texts that are hard, that call for corrective action. I think this is one of the arguments for preaching our way through books instead of systematically just taking topics we want to preach about. It is coming to a text and saying, this is going to be really difficult, this is going to be really painful, but we need to do it.
I remember a lady once who really wanted me to be her therapist. I remember once she came up to me and she said, “You know, what you preached, Pastor, was so hurtful.” It was hurtful. I had to tell her, “Sometimes the Bible is hurtful.” In fact, I will go so far as to say this and I have often told the church this, that if you want to insult me after I preach, tell me that was a nice sermon. I hate that. I just hate that. Because it is not my intention to be nice. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not my intention to be rude. But I don’t find that God works hard at being nice to me as he writes scripture and gives me a word from Him.
A pastor, therefore, must be willing to stand up to say things that are corrective, preach texts that are hard, call for corrective action, call for repentance, call worry out for what it is. This is not, we all understand, we all worry. No, like Jesus said in Matthew 6, this is sin. Or Ephesians 4, speaking of speech. How about John 6. I think what it must have been like for Jesus. There are 5,000-plus families that must have seemed like a great revival, a megachurch in the making. But by the time Jesus finished, of course, there were the 12 and he had the courage to actually say, “Do you guys want to go?” He wasn’t afraid to call people out. In this case, to call people out for what we need to call people out today, for having a consumption orientation to church. It is here to feed me, it’s to meet my desires, it is to satisfy my likes. Nowhere in scripture is that what the church is called to do.
We are not afraid to preach 1 John 1:9 and call for at times, confession, repentance. Like I talked about earlier, not afraid to say, “I don’t think we’re doing communion this morning.” Not afraid to say, “You’re not ready to be baptized.” We are afraid of the repercussions. It is so easy today for people to go, “I’ll just go to the church down the street” and they do. Then we wonder why we read these articles like ?_____(31:43.7) not too long ago, that asked this question,”Is transformation really possible this side of eternity? Is true transformation just something we should expect on the other side?” Because we know this, we all pretty much look the same. We still have the same anger. We still have the same abusive speech. We still do the same things. I think we do a lot of that because we don’t hold each other accountable. So, accountability.
C. Accountable membership
Accountability also looks like membership. Here is another issue. Should we have membership? You have noticed, as I have, that a lot of churches don’t make much of membership today. I think a lot of it goes back to accountability. We are shy. We are not certain. We say, “If you love it here, we’re glad you’re here;” but we don’t say what we sometimes need to say, “If you are looking for a church home, we’re not a love boat here, we are a battleship. We are all hands on deck. We are in a war. If you are interested in our mission; and by the way, here is our mission. It will require everything of you. Here is our vision and it will require sacrifice to get there. If this is not what you are looking for, or you don’t want to step up to, we are the wrong church for you.”
D. Pastoral accountability
Let’s face it. Let’s be honest. A lot of us are afraid to do that. We are afraid to lose people. We are afraid to call people into signing on the line, so to speak. Missing the fact that one day, as Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders as those who must give an account.” We are going to be held accountable. So, if we don’t call people to accountability, then our accountability before the Lord is going to be a pretty scary experience.
So we have this ?_____(33:54.1), this oversight, this relationship. We are called to watch over souls, this means we hold them accountable. It is critical if we are going to take our mission seriously. It is essential, right? that we stand in the pulpit and say, “I am looking for committed people. So if you cannot commit, this is the wrong place.” The Biblical language refers to the church in terms of battle, not lounge chairs, outposts in foreign territory, not socially acceptable clubs. It is one joining a cause, one joining an army. The church is not a marketplace of choice but we have made it this way.
I remember going to one church in Southern California. It was the ultimate in consumerism. You came there, you gave a brief sort of description of what you like, don’t like and they had five choices you could go to on that campus. So what we have created is consumers, not investors. We have allowed for a group of individuals and not a community.
E. Membership calls for acountability by the member
Membership is a two-way street. In this accountability that goes both ways, It is not that we call people to be accountable to the church and to us. It is what we as a church, we as pastors, are held accountable to. What are we accountable to? I’m accountable to help provide in you security and protection. I have a responsibility to call you when I see your life and watch you, to call you back on the rails when you get off the rails. This is my accountability to you. My accountability to you is to love you and nurture you and instruct you. You need to hold me accountable to that. I have a responsibility not to waste your time. I have a responsibility that when I get up to say, “Thus saith the Lord,” I’m actually saying something from the Lord. You need to hold me accountable to that. I am your shepherd. I need to be held accountable to that. I am called to deploy you into service. That means I am called to give you attention. I am called to be there when you suffer, when you go through tragedy and loss. I
am accountable to be there to help you go through the rites and passages of marriage and baptism and dedications and memorial services.
Membership has to be, I believe, part of the church if I understand what the church is. It is these people who come together in accountability that goes both ways. That means we gather people together. What should we say to people when they gather and we introduce what we are doing here? Here are some things we do. We let people know, here is our story, here is our history. I want people to know they are stepping into something that God has been doing. That is part of membership. Let me put it this way, I think somewhere in the membership process, we start by saying, or maybe asking, Would you like to be part of a movement?
If the church is just an institution, who wants to join that? I think a lot of people want to join a movement. That means the church is a movement. I think as people are thinking about this, we need to help them ask the question, Do I fit here? Does this line up with my convictions? Is this a mission that I want to be part of? Is this a vision that says, this is where I want to go? Is this a strategy that says, I like this game plan? Do I feel like I can be part of the tactics, I am part of the who and the when?
Here is another question I think people as they are sorting out this membership accountability, does anyone want to know me? Help me to know if you really care that I am there. Will you notice if I’m not there? Does it really matter? Frankly, I go into a lot of churches today that would never know if I came back because they never really knew I was there. So am I needed? We have to clearly answer the question, what is the advantage of joining? Why does it matter? What is required? So in this there is, yes, accountability. I am holding you accountable to adhere to the mission and the vision. Wouldn’t this be fresh today? I am calling you to be faithfully here, which means something like this that I have often done in leading small groups. You want to be in this group? That means unless you are really sick or you are out of town, you are here. It is not a matter of, does it fit the schedule.
I think we should look at our corporate gathering this way. I say this again because I have discovered this in the last few years of my pastoral ministry. I think people again rather patted themselves on the back if they could make it twice a month. I think again it is accountability to hold people accountable for supporting the ministry.
I don’t know if I made a pastoral mistake here. I’m not really sure how to answer this. I decided I would not know what anyone in my church gave. I did this in every church. Part of it was because I wanted to protect my potential orientation to show more favor to people who give in large ways. I’m not so sure, looking back, if I should have actually taken the time to know so that I could call for greater accountability. It seems to me that people who give nothing to a church says something about how they really feel about its importance. It says something about how they view money.
Accountability is saying, if you are going to join the church, I may just ask you, point-blank, what are you doing on your giving? Not in a legalistic way. One of the ways I actually tried to demonstrate this is, one Sunday when I was preaching about money, I told people what we gave. It is not like, “Look at us. We give 12% of our income.” I actually said, “I’m not really proud of this, that means I keep 88% and I probably keep way too much.” The reason I did it was to simply make a statement that I don’t own this, it is not my money, so it is okay to share. It was part of accountability. What we want is people to know that membership is not something cheap or irrelevant or convenient.
For example, in my first church we had a bloated membership. I thought this church was about 500, but it was actually a church of about 310. Where are the other 240? I started digging and realizing, they had just left people who had died, they had left all of these people on, people who had moved. I made a fundamental mistake. I sent a letter out to at least the living. I said, “Is it your intention to remain a member of our church?” Of course, no big surprise, those who responded almost without exception, said “Absolutely.” Then I realized, nothing changed. A year later I wrote a different letter and I asked this question: “Is it your intention to fulfill the covenant of membership in this church?” Which included some of these things I just discussed. “If it is not your intention, that is okay. We are just going to remove you from membership.” We did. We removed at least 100 names. There was a certain amount of fury, for sure. But I was able to say to people, “We take following the Lord, we take accountab
ility seriously. You are always welcome back.” But I’m also doing this for those who have made that decision. I want them to know it is not cheap. So, accountability. Do I believe in it? Yes. Do I think that is where the church is needed and desperate for and what it is desperate for today? Absolutely.
F. Timely discipline
Let me close by talking about one more thing that goes with accountability. That is a subject we don’t really want to talk about, that is church discipline.
When there are failures to live up to the covenant, there should be consequences. It can start as simple as a pastoral call, just to check in, find out where people are. If certain sins persist, then there have to be procedures in place. Scripture makes that clear, especially Matthew 18. What are some of the steps? It starts with prayer. Probably the first step is praying that a person’s heart will change. It is asking God to correct misassumptions. It is looking to the Lord to guide us in what may be a very difficult process ahead.
Which leads to secondly, confrontation. The scripture tells us this is one-on-one, has to start there, Matthew 18:16; that moves to a broader group only when one-on-one is not working, when things cannot be resolved by private conversation. It can’t start there broad, it always has to start one-on-one. There cannot be, for example, a triangular relationship. When people have had something against me and someone else has been their spokesman, I have always said, ”I don’t do triangular relationships, don’t do that to me. If they have something, tell them to come to me.” That is where it starts. Confrontation has to be, we owe it to one another to be, one-on-one.
In this confrontation there has to be a commitment to several things. I am going to give you eight. There has to be a commitment to mutual understanding that does not make premature judgments. That maybe starts by saying, “I could be wrong, but this is what I am observing. Please correct me if I’m seeing things in the wrong way.” It can’t start with prejudicial assumptions. It has to start with saying, ”I really want to get to the facts here.” It has to move to, “I want to clarify things.” It has to be secondly, a commitment to do everything in love. There has to be no sense of wanting to get back or injure, but to say, “I’m doing this because I love you and I love the Body of Christ.” There has to be third, a commitment for reconciliation, not vindication. There has to be somewhere a statement that says, “At the end of this all, I want us to come together. I want there to be restoration. I want us to get to a place where we are back to engaging together, arm in arm.” There has to be, fourth, a commitment
to be proactive. It can’t be, at the end of a long observation, of letting sin go, keep its way. It has to catch things quickly, that moves to apology and forgiveness early on.
Fifth, there has to be a commitment to do whatever we do, for God. This is about His name, it is about His reputation, it is for His glory. It is about the unity of the Spirit we are called to preserve. It is about proving to the world, they will know we are disciples by our love. It is all about His reputation. It is a commitment to be a peacemaker, because that is the heard of pastoral care. We are devoted ultimately to, “I want to bring you into peace with God because if there is sin, you are not at peace; and I want to bring you into peace with one another.” I want people to come to peace with themselves. That is my motivation. It is a commitment to restore them, as opposed to separation. It is a commitment to closure.
I think these are the steps people like ?Tim Sandy_____(47:30.2) in “Peacemaker” outlined them more in detail.
What I have been speaking to in this session gets back to something that is at the heart of pastoral care, admonition, holding people accountable. These things that maybe either we have lost today because of our tendency to please the consumer or maybe in the size of our churches. Not that I am making a statement against largeness, I have pastored a large church; but if it is a large church, there has to be commitment at the same time to smallness because there has to be accountability. There has to be a place where people are called on the carpet, so to speak, in love. I have discovered this, too many people I have looked back on, drifted. They got off the rails. It was not caught soon enough because we did not hold them accountable. We did not encourage them into accountability relationships. If we can get back there, we may just influence the culture, which as I have already said, we have largely lost that war.
A. How do you structure accountability so leaders don’t use it in an abusive way?
Questions: One of my questions has to do more with people’s emotional baggage around the idea of accountability. It needs to be people that understand accountability could be a good thing, but their experience is that in their past, the people who have talked about accountability were just really high control freaks, pastors or elders who wanted power over people and so they were demanding that they were the judge of you and they are going to hold you accountable, to decide whether you are going to heaven or hell in some cases. How can you help people get around the baggage, that accountability done properly and lovingly can be a good thing?
Dr. Johnson: It is interesting. In a course I teach at seminary on Integrating Theology in Practice, we ask the student in terms of subjects they want to discuss. Near the top of the questions they listed was about abuse of power, which tells me it is an issue that is probably more prevalent than we would like to admit.
It is a fair question and here is what comes to my mind. I think a pastor needs to be very careful right up front, that he is creating what we talked about a moment ago of mutual, that accountability goes both ways, like membership. Sometimes we can present membership in such a way that it is all what you are accountable to the church for, instead of reminding the church that there is a lot of accountability on the church’s part to you. There is accountability as I mentioned a moment ago, of what a pastor needs to be held accountable for in the lives of these people.
Maybe if we can at least start by saying something like this: “I want you to know we want to be intentional. We want to recover the church to be the church for what it is called to be. For that to happen, there needs to be a mutual accountability. What that means is, I’m going to challenge you and call you to things. If sometimes the Spirit of God speaks severely to you through my preaching, please know the intent was not for me just to shame you or to make you feel guilty.” I think pastors can fall into the trap of saying, “It was a really great sermon because a lot of people really, really went out feeling guilty.” There is something sick about that. We have a tendency to want to shame people, but that is not what we are called to do.
That being said, nonetheless, “I want to make a commitment to you that what I do I’m going to do in love. I hope to be faithful. I’m going to be the very voice I hope that you encounter in your time alone with God, who is not abusive, but can be severe.”
I think it was J.I. Packer that wrote a chapter in his book on God entitled “The Kindness and Severity of God”. Maybe that should be something descriptive of pastors. Our elders are some of the kindest men you would ever meet, but they can be severe when they see sin. They don’t sweep it under the rug. They don’t let people make excuses. They call people out. We will call you out here. We’ll do it in love. But we expect you at the same time to hold us accountable to be the shepherds God has called a shepherd to be. Maybe somewhere, if we can establish an agreement and that it goes both ways, that it is always done in love. And also that we watch over our souls. We can become abusive if we are not careful. That is where I would start.
I did this in two churches. The very first thing I did is, I took them through the Book of Acts. I said, let’s imagine for a moment we are starting clean. The slate is kind of erased here. Let’s imagine we are doing something like this and we are going to just step by step see what God called the church to be, to do, as this formative church emerged. Let’s be open to whatever we see in there, that maybe as a corrective to what we are doing here, that we are willing to do it. I think maybe somewhere in that , we get to talking about the nature of authority and accountability.
B. What does accountability look like?
Question: A question and a clarification. You were using the word band? I wondered regarding the meaning of the word.
Dr. Johnson: Yes, band like a marching band. I’m not sure except maybe it came out of a definition of people willing to band together. That is my guess. Again, I think it is eighteenth century language that probably seems a little odd to us today, like maybe the word “deportment.”
Question: You mentioned briefly the whole issue of group accountability, that it is not just you and me, but in some ways the church is corporately accountable. Were you talking about like a church culture that sees the value of this? Or were you thinking of specific things that churches could do so as a whole, to encourage accountability among the members? I was not sure where you were going with that.
Dr. Johnson: Let’s start again back in Ephesians 4:11-13 where it says, “God has given the church gifted leaders to equip the saints to do the work of ministry.” In that work of ministry, it seems therefore we are mutually sharing our gifts, holding one another accountable. We are not just passive audiences we talked about, but we are gathered together. I think that ?_____(55:16.6) word, speaking of what gifted leaders do, is getting deep, it is correcting things, it is making things straight again so that people can do this work. It is a picture of a church that looks very different from the church today. I imagine it as you gather on campus and there is this mutual ministry going on with one another. It is interesting. It is a true charismatic church, right? It is people sharing their gifts. At the root of charismatic, of course, is charis, grace. It is probably in a very accountable relationship where the most grace is going on. I don’t know if that gets to specifically where you are going with that que
stion, but I think that is what corporate accountability looks like.
Question: I would use the word “culture” for that. I was laughing when you made a comment about someone saying, “Good sermon, Pastor.” I wonder what would happen if you would say, “Oh, I’m sorry. That was not supposed to be a good sermon.”
Dr. Johnson: Or a nice sermon. I often have. I have come back and actually said, “I didn’t see this text as necessarily nice.” I think that goes right along with another one that I really have struggled with and that is, “Thanks for the reminder.” I think people sometimes don’t know what to say, but that would seem to almost say, “Oh, I already knew this, but hey, thanks for reminding me,” like a dentist appointment, when you would like to believe you have shared something fresh.
I don’t find myself going through the Word of God, going, thanks, God for the reminder today. I think if I’m really listening, God is probing and saying something new. I hope we are saying something new.
C. How should membership agreements be written?
Question: I was thinking through your comments on a membership contract and thinking, usually you talk to people. Why do you want a membership agreement, a community agreement? You have a building, you have to deal with millions of dollars in assets and who controls the assets? You think about church discipline these days. The only way to protect yourself is to have this membership covenant.
I like the idea it is mutual accountability. I’m thinking back to our old membership covenant. It said nothing about what the church was committing. It was only what the people were committing, which makes it all one-sided. That was unfortunate.
Dr. Johnson: All one-sided. We are also dealing with something that is a little trickier today and that is, with so much of the legalities and litigious culture. I think part of the reason we shy away from accountability is that if I call you out for sin publicly, I might get sued.
I think of this couple I talked about. I really wanted to in a very pastoral way, admonish them. I wanted to say, “You signed a covenant. Why did you go to an attorney?” Then, why couldn’t I do that? Because I was instructed by their attorney that I can’t have any contact. We are also dealing with some of these real legalities today that make accountability hard. We shy away, thinking, what are they going to do if I call them out?
D. How should a pastor encourage people to support the church financially?
Question: You mentioned the topic of financial accountability. I know there is kind of a famous old TV pastor that really made a point: “Your tithe belongs to this church and if you want to give to someone else, then that has to be beyond the 10%.” He raised a lot of money, but I don’t think theologically you can do that. Did you ever in terms of financial accountability say, “If you are going to be a member of Village, then you need to give a portion of your tithe.” Did you hit that very hard?
Dr. Johnson: You would probably have to ask the parishioners. Some people, of course people that particularly watch the budget, would often say, “Pastor, you need to speak more to this.” Other people might say, “Wow, he sure talks about money a lot.”
This was generally my answer: I will speak to money whenever God speaks to money. So if it is there in the text, I’m not going to make an end run around it. I’m not going to stay there for three weeks, either. But if it is there, I will speak to it and whatever God is saying I will speak to, as I would on any subject.
I think I can safely look back and say I did that. I remember one time, I think it was our finance committee - of course it would be a finance committee - that said, “It would be great if you spoke more.” I went back and I looked at all the sermons in which I spoke about money that came out of the texts I preached. I put them all on a card and I handed it out one Sunday to the people. I said, “Just to make sure you know, this is what I have said. This is what God, I believe, has instructed us.” Because sometimes I would hear people say inane things like, “If we just knew more about how to give, we’d be better givers.” I had to sometimes say, “Come on, let’s cut to the chase here. You know more than you need to know about what to give. I’ve gone over this many times. If you want to tithe, okay, then go back to 23% because that is what I understand The Old Testament taught. If you are big on 23%, great. But I think there is a better principle and that is generous and sacrifice. If your giving is generous an
d sacrificial, I think you are pretty close to what you should be giving.” That took us away from some of the legalism.
The reason I mention about maybe in accountability knowing more of what people did is because towards the end of my ministry I did begin to become aware of the fact that even some of whom I assumed to be the greatest leaders in my church and wonderful, wonderful people in the Lord, gave next to nothing. I think I missed a pastoral responsibility to say, “That tells me something is not right in your life because even Jesus said that what we do with our money is a real indicator of the state of our heart, so you just have to help me here. It is not because God needs your money, because we know that is not the case here. But it is like a thermostat. It indicates the temperature of our being.” I wonder if in accountability, we are shortchanging our people by not probing and asking some of the more difficult questions.
E. What is the best way to handle church discipline?
Question: On the whole topic of church discipline. I remember going to a church, about 1,000 people and they were doing church discipline. They went through the whole process. The problem of course was that I as a visitor had no idea who this person was and I am guessing that 90% of the people in the church did not know who this person was. I always assumed that the whole point of church discipline is to put someone outside of fellowship and have that exert the pressure for them to stop their sin and to repent and then to come back into fellowship.
Do you think it is more effective to do church discipline at the small group level than the large church or do you think it is important to do it in front of the whole church.
Dr. Johnson: My guess is, if someone is part of a small group, there is an awareness of certain sin that may involve some of those people that may need to come together with that person. So I think it maybe should start there after the one-on-one. But it is difficult to say it shouldn’t be all corporate because let’s say that person is unwilling to repent. Maybe they are no longer in the fellowship of that group, but are still in the church. That would be a contradiction. I think you have to be willing to go there.
We had a woman on staff a few years ago who became pregnant out of wedlock. She got into a relationship she really had no business getting into. We could have kind of swept it under the rug and said, “We’re sorry, we are going to release you from staff.” But we actually brought her before the body and explained to the body that we had to take some disciplinary steps. One of them was to release her for a season from ministry. We assured the body that we were doing this with every intention of reconciliation and recovery and her life getting back on track. About nine months later we had a celebration in a service where we brought her back again to say, “She is restored.” She followed all of the steps of repentance. One day we were able to have in a very celebrative way, a part of the service on a Sunday morning to say, “By the way, we have something to announce this morning. This is what happened and this is now what took place.” I think again it shows severity in that we take sin with great seriousness and
grace, and it is all about reconciliation.
That is an easy story. A more difficult one is when you confront someone and then they disappear. Like the story I heard of a person who embezzled $40,000. from the church. When they confronted him, he just went to the church down the street. Then when they went to that church to say, “There is business that needs to be done back here,” they said, “Leave him alone.” That happens.
I think I may have mentioned my business manager in my last church, embezzled one-half million dollars, one-half million dollars over six, seven years. Now he is paying the price. Here is what I’m seeing happen to him and what I saw happen with someone caught in an affair. I am finding more and more what Christians do, like others, is they run to attorneys and they get certain protection and attorneys then start establishing, “You can’t talk to this person” and these walls go up. I think the sad thing is that there will never be true restoration. These people will not come back. There is a hardness that happens. It is a hardening nation. Either the Lord breaks your heart or you harden your heart and you become even worse. You are going to see both when it comes to accountability.
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