Accountability is one of those words that has lost its meaning through overuse. It is a helpful concept, but it may have been over spiritualized with “accountability partners,” “accountability groups,” “accountability software” and so on. Nothing is wrong with all of that as long as it is not “Christianese” for the latest fad or trend.
I was a business major in college, so I understand the need for accountability…get it? Almost every system needs the checks and balances that come with other people (or agencies) having the freedom to ask hard questions, to access hidden places, and to point out weaknesses that might have been overlooked by someone who is “comfortable” in their everyday environment.
The purpose of an audit (from an accounting point of view) is for an outside team to provide “fresh eyes” in going through records to make sure that all of the procedures were followed and all of the revenues and expenditures were tracked properly. Read this next sentence several times. If someone is determined to hide wrongdoing, they will likely get away with it, at least temporarily. Read that last sentence again. Accountability among ministers is only effective if I want to be held accountable because I desire to be more godly.
At the seminary where I teach, I hear stories of youth ministers (and pastors and worship leaders, and every other staff position). Too many of those stories have to do with some sort of lapse resulting in a broken ministry, a broken family, and a broken minister. I would like to think that genuine accountability would have made a difference.
I hear regularly of five main areas where youth ministers struggle, and therefore could benefit from a “ministry audit.”
Much has been written on the temptation regarding sexual misbehavior, and I won’t rehash it here. The point is that if you desire accountability in this area, you can have it. There are computer programs like Covenant Eyes that allow you to place your online life under someone else’s supervision. I suggest your spouse as your accountability person in this area. I am aware that many people do not, but if my wife has permission to see everything I see online, she is motivated and I am motivated to stay away from unwise surfing. You can place boundaries around your television viewing, your reading, your e-mail, your social networking, your in-person relationships. Success in these areas is for you to desire purity more than you desire the flattery, the vanity, or the rush that comes with inappropriate activities. Accountability means you allow another person to help you keep in view the things that are lost–trust, relationship, and ministry–for a momentary pleasure.
Financial management and mismanagement
I had a ministry assistant once who advised young ministers to remember that “what is mine is mine and what is Thine is Thine.” A simple financial and spiritual principle is that God gives us stewardship over resources in ministry and He gives us resources for our own use. We must keep the two piggy banks separate. Using either existing church practices, or software that we implement, insist on completely transparent practices. Report expenditures accurately and promptly. Use the church credit card only for genuine ministry purposes. Use a consistent procedure to track money that you take in for retreat registration. Accountability In matters of ministry and money means we set up systems and let the systems provide the accountability because we do not deviate from the system.
An excellent article was posted online this summer with the enticing title, “9 Secrets Your Pastor’s Wife Wishes You Knew. ” Published on the site, “Shattered,” author Christina Stolaas interviewed wives of ministers, including youth ministers. (http://shatteredmagazine.net/nine-secrets-your-pastors-wife-wishes-you-knew/) According to Stolaas, the number one answer in the survey was, “I wish people knew that we struggle to have family time.”
There was one common response that I received from every single pastor’s wife. Every. Single. One. Over and over again, many pastors’ wives shared numerous occasions where planned vacations had been cut short (wouldn’t that be hard?). They told me tales of family evenings being rearranged for crises of church members, middle of the night emergencies and regular interruptions. A true day off is rare; even on scheduled days off their husbands are essentially on call 24/7.
As ministers, we live on schedules with little or no margin. We don’t have time for a child to get sick or for a parent to have a critical operation or for the washing machine to break down much less for little league games and school plays. While everyone struggles in this area, our own family might have the perception that we have time for everyone else, but not for them. Accountability in this area means that we honestly assess our family time and give someone permission to call us out on this particular issue.
My inclusion of this area as one in which we need accountability comes from listening to pastors and search committees who call the seminary looking for a youth minister for their church. Either in response to a question as to the effectiveness of the last person in the position or as a profile item, they say, “they can’t be lazy.” The perception that youth ministers are lazy is not always justified, but it is enough of a belief that we need someone to watch out for our work ethic. A Google search using the question, “are youth ministers lazy?” produced 487,000 hits. The top five articles all dealt with the idea that others think we are lazy. I believe that a minority of youth ministers have given the rest of you a bad reputation, but it is important to account for the time the church believes you are working. Most youth ministers do not work “on the clock” but ‘on the call” since we are available constantly (see #3). Accountability in this area means that we allow someone to go over our time use and ask critical questions, insist on honesty in conversation, and keep us rooted to thankfulness that our job has much more flexibility than those of our volunteers.
As I was cooking breakfast today (Saturday am tradition), my wife remarked that we use a lot less sugar than we used to. The bigger observation is that we have agreed to help each other reduce our eating (especially bad things) and increase our exercise. Unlike many of you who will read this, I am have passed the age where a pick up game of basketball burns a few hundred calories, thereby “earning” the super-size meal with the shake. A quick search reveals how fast food has become “fat” food. I am not picking on Burger King–all of the other chains have similar statistics–but consider:
- Burger King Whopper with cheese – 790 calories, 48 fat grams
- Medium-sized Burger King French fries – 387 calories, 20 fat grams
- Medium-sized Burger King vanilla shake – 667 calories, 35 fat grams
- Total for one meal – 1,844 calories, 103 fat grams
Source: “Fat & Calorie Content of Fast Food versus a Home-Cooked Meal,” http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0934642.html#ixzz37GczHKPc
The amount of calories that an active adult should consume is about 2000 per day, so a visit to the king pretty much means you eat pretzels, fruit, or salad for the other meals that day. Accountability in this area means we take seriously the Bible teaching on gluttony (even though we seldom hear sermons about it), get an exercise partner, and keep a mental (if not paper and pen) log on the amount and types of food you eat. Your 65-year old self will thank me for calling for accountability here, even though you might not “need” it right now.