Jesus told a parable about a ruler who gave his servants an investment, told them to invest it further in his absence, and on his return asked them to give account of what they had done.
It is important that we give account for ourselves, and that, in the absence of someone holding us to account on a daily basis, that we hold ourselves to account. But ‘accountability’ has become a buzz word in certain circles, and I think we haven’t quite grasped what is required.
What I see among certain church leaders is a recognition that the institution of the church is not helping them to be accountable, and so they look to set up peer accountability. The New Wine Core Groups are one of the latest examples that draw on Wesley’s ‘method’ of holding his ministers to account, but in a peer-to-peer format.
Now, it is good to have peers with whom you can chew the fat. But Jesus didn’t tell a parable about servants giving account to one another. He told a parable about servants who received an investment, and were called to account on what they had done with it.
Once a month, Jo and I travel across country to Harrogate, to our TOM ‘huddle’. This is a group of people who are part of The Order of Mission, in the north of England. The huddle is led by Mark Carey. Now, we are accountable to Mark – accountability, along with purity and simplicity, is a core value of the Order – but, we do not go to Harrogate to be held accountable. We go to Harrogate to be invested in, and we are accountable in that context because being accountable is one of our values.
That is, the huddle is primarily about discipleship, which includes being accountable; not about doing accountability.
The plus side of peer groups is friendship for church leaders who often feel very isolated in ministry. The down side of peer groups is that no-one is willing or able to lead (and by ‘lead’ I don’t mean ‘lord it over the others’). No-one is willing or able to make the initial investment.
To hold someone to account when you have not invested in them is at best ineffectual, at worst abusive. It is built on holding a position of power rather than taking the position of servant (top-down accountability without discipleship) or a refusal to serve or to be served (peer-accountability).
So my advice is this: stop doing accountability, and start being accountable instead.