Sunday, December 7, 2008


Accountability is not one of the most popular words in our language; it often gets a bad rap and carries negative connotations for most people. Usually, when we think of holding people accountable, it means coming down on them for failures or shortcomings, lowering the boom, dropping the axe, rolling some heads, or whatever your favorite turn of phrase may be.

But accountability is actually a positive thing. God holds us accountable, and he uses that accountability to produce good results in our lives. As Christians, we live our lives conscious of the fact that we will one day stand before him and have to give an account of our lives--how we spent our time, how we used our talents, what we did with our money and assets, the way we treated people, and the manner in which we nurtured our relationship with him. That knowledge should motivate us to keep learning how to do better, how to be wiser, and how to bring more glory to God through our lives.

Looking forward to 2009, I've been thinking a lot about how we're doing as a church--how we spend our time, how we use our talents, what we're doing with our money and assets, the way we treat people, and the manner in which we nurture in them a growing relationship with Christ.

And one of the things I've been reflecting on is that our systems lack accountability. There are very few clear standards or expectations that we have for our minsitry teams, our staff, or our leaders. A lack of accountability has contributed to some unfortunate outcomes:

  • A ho-hum attitude that the actual results of our efforts don't really matter;
  • The assumption that "a good try" is all that is necessary for a ministry to be deemed a success;
  • Difficulty in involving others in ministry--after all, if the results of our efforts don't really matter, why should I put forth the effort?
  • Difficulty in generating excitement, passion, commitment, and buy-in among the congregation;
  • The "warm body" approach to ministry and leadership (i.e., if you're breathing, you're qualified!)

Accountability goes a long way toward eliminating these problems because it provides a clear measuring stick of what is expected. It provides a scoreboard that will tell us if we're winning or losing. It raises the stakes for our ministries and our leaders, and if we pick the right standards, it will be self-evident that these endeavors are well worth our best efforts. Accountability will sort out those who are competent and those who merely wish they were competent.

Perhaps, one of the most important aspects of accountability is that it must be applied consistently. Not only is it unfair, it doesn't make sense to hold one ministry or leader accountable to standards, while ignoring others. So I've told the elders that I want them to hold me accountable, first and foremost. I'm working on developing a list of goals for 2009--goals for myself as well as goals for the church as a whole--and I expect the elders to hold me accountable to reaching (or at least approaching) every single one of those goals.

In January, I'll be meeting with each of our Core Team leaders to establish goals for their areas of ministry. I won't be dictating to them what their goals ought to be; on the contrary, I'll be guiding them through the goal-setting process, offering coaching for them as they set their own goals. But once the goals are set, they become the benchmarks, the standards, the scoreboard by which their leadership and their teams will be evaluated. And they'll be held accountable for achieving their goals.

For truly effective leadership, three components are absolutely required--authority, responsibility, and accountability.

  • If you tell people that they're responsible for an area of ministry, but you don't give them the authority to make decisions, they are constantly undermined and can't lead effectively.
  • If you tell people that they're responsible for an area of ministry, but you don't hold them accountable, there's no motivation for them to lead effectively, and no mechanism for removing ineffective leaders.
  • If you hold people accountable for areas that they are not responsible for (or have no authority in), you're only going to frustrate them and create resentment.
  • If you give people authority without responsibility or accountability, they'll be prone to let the power go to their heads.

In the end, accountability isn't about punishing anyone or impugning them--it's about creating a system in which we are all highly motivated for excellence. It's about clarifying the rules so that we know what constitutes a "win." It's about raising the stakes so that we can become constantly conscious that everything we do matters for eternity.

No comments: