By Dr. Malcolm Webber
The word accountability in English comes from the fourteenth century word accounts, meaning a record of money received and paid. King James II of England was the first to publicly use the term accountability. In 1688 he said to his people, “I am accountable for all things that I openly and voluntarily do or say.”
In short, the word means being answerable for your actions. It does not necessarily mean you will succeed. James lost his throne within a year of making his pledge – due to religious quarrels! Nevertheless, accountability offers something better than success. It provides a measure of whether you are doing the best you can in the circumstances, which is important information however well you do (see Accountable Leadership, Paul Chaffee, pp. 8–9).
To be accountable means to be responsible to others, to allow others to call one to account. An unaccountable person, on the other hand, will answer to no one outside of himself.
Jesus, of course, was accountable. He lived and ministered under the authority of His Heavenly Father:
…I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. (John 8:28)
By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:30)
Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8)
Moreover, as a child, He was also accountable to His earthly parents:
Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them… (Luke 2:51)
By His example, Jesus taught that in order to have true authority, one must first be under authority.
The centurion in Matthew 8 was accountable: “I myself am a man under authority” (v. 9). In that state of being “under authority” he exercised authority: “with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (v. 9). The centurion exercised sound authority because he was first under authority. Consequently, he was able to recognize the true authority of Jesus: “just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (v. 8).
Even Paul, the great apostle, was accountable in his ministry.
… we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 4:2; cf. 6:3)
Too often, people think of Paul as an independent minister, accountable to no one but God. But Paul was sent out by the church at Antioch (Acts 13:3) and he remained accountable to that spiritual community throughout his ministry (Acts 14:26–28; 15:2–3, 35–40; 18:22–23). Moreover, Paul willingly made himself accountable to the leaders of the church at Jerusalem, from whom the gospel had come initially (Acts 21:17–26; cf. Galatians 2:2). Paul deliberately chose accountability in the issue of finances:
We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men. (2 Corinthians 8:20–21; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:12)
Accountability is central to character and to effective leadership. Leaders are given trust by their communities. To accept a leadership role is to receive trust from one’s community. The task of Christian leadership comes with high standards – the highest, we would hope! Thus, some form of accountability must be in place to measure whether or not such standards are being adhered to by the leader and whether the trust his community has given him is being honored or abused.
Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:2)
The following are some areas of accountability that should be maintained in a leader’s life and ministry:
- Integrity of life – truthfulness in word, purity in thought, and honesty in action. High moral and ethical standards of behavior.
- Integrity of motive – seeking the highest good of the community before his own benefit.
- Integrity of finance – abstaining from personal gain in community matters and providing appropriate reports.
- Integrity of organization – ensuring that right systems and relationships are in place and maintained in his or her organization both within (e.g., accounting, legal systems all in place) and without (e.g., relationships with the government).
- Integrity of doctrine – all teaching and doctrinal positions must be sound.
- Integrity of decisions regarding the community – putting the will of God first before all temporal expediency and gain.
- Integrity of relationships – working through conflict with people and not using one’s position of power to settle personal issues.
- Integrity of accountability – relationships of genuine accountability must be in place, not merely the form of them.
Every leader at every level must be genuinely accountable in all these areas. Healthy leaders will be accountable ones!
However, in certain cultures it is very difficult for the top leader in an organization to be accountable to someone else within his own organization. A top leader who does not presently have a relationship of accountability built into the system of his community should seek an outside relationship of accountability.
The actual process of doing this could look something like the following:
Prayerfully, find a person to whom you can be accountable.
This person must be:
- Trusted by you and by your spiritual community.
- Knowledgeable about your life and ministry environment.
- Of stature in your eyes (not someone you can intimidate) and in the eyes of your community (their trust of this person will bring stability and strength to the community).
- Accessible both to you and to other leaders in your community.
Ask the person to pray about entering into this relationship with you.
You will probably need to ask him or her several times. A worthy person will likely not quickly enter into such a relationship without being assured of your genuine desire for it and your willingness to submit to the guidelines.
When the person positively responds, meet with him or her to establish guidelines for the relationship:
- How often you will meet and where.
- The content of your meetings.
- Who else from your community should have access to him or her and how that should happen.
- On what conditions the relationship should be ended if that should ever be required.
- How often the guidelines should be revisited for relevancy and suitability.
Mutual expectations should be made very clear up front.
Engage your community.
Once the guidelines for the relationship are agreed upon and formally established between you, then the relationship should be presented to your community. The knowledge that their top leader is in a genuinely accountable relationship will bring peace and stability to the community.
Maintain the guidelines.
The guidelines for the relationship should then be maintained. If well-designed, they will form the basis for a healthy and fruitful friendship.
Maintain community connections.
Periodically, the person you’re accountable to should meet with your community or with its main leaders to give them an opportunity to talk to him and maintain their relationships with him.
In conclusion, where there is unaccountability and independence in a leader’s life, there will be trouble – sooner or later! An unaccountable leader is a dangerous leader; moreover, the more gifted he is, the more dangerous he is!
A leader with godly character will not fear accountability. They will choose it.