MINISTERIAL ACCOUNTABILTY – WHAT IS IT REALLY?
Pastor James Groce
Calvary Apostolic Tabernacle - Molino, FL
CONTROL OR COMPLIANCE?
What about ministerial accountability, just what does this phrase entail and what are the biblical precepts to which we may make applications?
First, one of the major lines that must be drawn in the sand, regarding ministerial accountability, is the difference between the “positional office” of the pastor in regards to authority and the “positional influence” of other ministers in regards to that pastor. (Note: For this initial discussion we are focusing on a seasoned pastor that has a proven ministry among his peers – we will look later at other ministries).
The word "ministry," in one sense, has the connotation of the collective body of men called of God - and from this standpoint an individual pastor certainly cannot be influenced by each and every one of this group, no, he (the pastor) finds himself in a smaller "slice" of the larger and complete pie of the ministry. And it is within this “slice” that his true influence, for the most part, must come from (just as a saint's true influence comes from within a local congregation rather than the entire body of Christ - but each member connected to the whole body via the Spirit). However, to carry the likeness of a saint under a pastor to a pastor under a "pastor(s)" is an incorrect, in my opinion, likeness because of certain “transformational” events that occur with the call of God. The pastor, it seems, is placed by God in a position of authority over a flock and also with certain authoritative "influences" within his particular "slice" of the ministerial body as well. Therefore, much like electrons, each minister within their particular spheres exerts certain influences on one another. One electron is not greater than another nor of more weight than another yet each electron undoubtedly exerts a certain amount of influence on his neighbor that is felt and accepted and acted upon by that neighbor voluntarily. The system of attraction and repulsion is an ongoing process within the body of the ministry which, again, much like electrons, maintains correct distance and movement within the system - as each is connected through the Spirit of God.
In the oddities of physics there is the possible event of an electron being able to escape from its surroundings. This “escape” of the electron results in the loss of the influence of the electrons of its prior relationship. When this event transpires it is because the escaping electron has been influenced from beyond its neighboring electrons and exits its neighbors – thus removing their influence from its existence.
This “escaping electron” scenario is much akin to the loss of influence that a collective body of ministry has on a preacher that has become “influenced” by an external force(s) outside of his once equalizing environment. We have witnessed such “escapes” in the TV issue when preachers who were once conservative in nature somehow became influenced beyond their neighboring brethren and “escaped” into a liberal influenced mindset. In other words, influence within a group can only be beneficial as long as that influence is regarded as vital and accepted by each influenced member. Once that the collective influence is no longer accepted by any one member there is NO power within the system to force compliance.
“WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE?”
I think the Bible bears out the fact that the pastor is the highest authority within the local assembly that he pastors. The chain of command is; God (the Shepherd), pastor (the overseer designated by the Shepherd) and then the church congregation (the flock of God). Any insertion between any one of these steps will corrupt the flow of divine authority. More than one local assembly has been either destroyed or critically maimed by the insertion of a deacon board between the pastor and the local assembly and the insertion of organizational elected officials or any other persons between God and the pastor has, in many cases, usurped the authority that was not theirs to wield.
The pastor is the highest authority within the local assembly that he pastors – but what is his position among other pastors? Consider, if you will, Sheriff Jones; Sheriff Jones is the recognized law in his hometown, however, when Sheriff Jones journeys to a National Sheriff’s Conference in some distant place then he, now among his peers, is only a sheriff among sheriffs. Also consider Sheriff Jones’ friend (he could even be his father)—Sheriff Smith; if Sheriff Smith visited Sheriff Jones’ town he, even though a sheriff also, would have no real authority in Sheriff Jones’ town. Sheriff Jones may acknowledge Sheriff Smith as his mentor and as a consequence act upon the advice and counsel of Sheriff Smith—not because he must—but because he deems the advice and counsel of his mentor, Sheriff Smith, as vital and essential in his life and occupation. Does Sheriff Smith have the power to force Sheriff Jones to compliance of his advice or counsel? No, he does not—neither does he have the authority to “step-into” Sheriff Jones’ town and become the law—at least not in any true legal sense. This “sheriff-scenario” is akin to the pastor and his position among other pastors. Pastor Smith has no authority within Pastor Jones’ assembly—except the authority of the ministry as a visiting preacher. Pastor Jones may consider Pastor Smith his mentor and voluntarily solicit advice and counsel from his mentor and act and obey them because he deems Pastor Smith’s words as vital and necessary to his life and his calling. Pastor Jones may even have a group of pastors that he confides in and considers their decisions and advice as essential requirements to his life—however, he does this not out of force but voluntarily out of need and respect.
What, one might ask, happens if Pastor Jones goes astray in morals or doctrine—who can correct him? That, my friend, can only be answered by Pastor Jones. If he submits to those that he has counted on in the past then they can direct him, however, if he abandons their correction—they have no power to force compliance. Legal papers and matters may ensue from the world of legal handlings and courts and lawyers if some choose to pursue such a course—but ultimately Pastor Jones either deems his counselors vital and acts on their words or he “escapes,” like the electron, to be free from their influence. He may not be free from legal proceedings of the world but he by his actions has severed himself from the spiritual influence of those that once were his counselors.
So, “Who’s in charge here?” A pastor must make himself accountable to other pastors if he truly desires the aid of God in his life and in his ministry. In other words, a pastor must take charge to give charge in his life. A pastor must instigate the accountability of himself to others—he cannot be forced into accountability. A pastor that does not seek accountability among other accountable men will soon breach the barrier of ministerial ethics.
The second chapter of Galatians is an interesting study in the dynamics of ministerial accountability. Notice: Paul consulting the “pillars.” Gal 2:9-10, “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision. Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.”
Then notice: Paul confronting a “pillar.” Gal 2:11-14, “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?”
In the first instance, Paul and Barnabas have made a voluntary trek to meet with James, Cephas (Peter), and John who were recognized as “pillars” as those having been eye-witnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. This conclave appears to have been one initiated by Paul as a voluntary act to seek the counsel and blessing of these “pillars.”
In the second instance, which follows in the very next verse, Paul confronts Peter, the pillar, concerning Peter’s hypocrisy, his “dissimulation.” And it can be hypostasized that Paul also confronted Barnabas about his actions also in the affair. It can also be understood that Peter and Barnabas both accepted and acted upon Paul’s words.
So what we witness in these brief verses of Galatians chapter 2 is a “ping ponging” of ministerial accountability on a lateral basis. It is understood that these men were apostles and therein resides a uniqueness of position, however, it is also apparent that ministerial accountability was meant to function “across-the-board” within the ministry. Brethren should voluntarily seek accountability from their peers and they should also be willing to confront and admonish one another in the fear of God. Accountability, you see, must be a two way street.
“PASTOR POSITION OPEN – CALLING REQUIRED”
One could muse over the “Help Wanted” ads that seek individuals having certain skills and state that experience is a requirement for employment—how, if this has always been the requirement, did anyone ever gain employment in the first place? It stands to reason that somewhere and at sometime there must have been individuals that obtained OJT (on the job training) somehow—lest there be forever positions available to which none could obtain. (We begin here to deal with ministries other than just the seasoned pastor).
While it is easy to mix metaphors and to transpose worldly values and appraisals into spiritual characteristics we must be careful that we do not allow natural logic to outweigh spiritual logistics. While in the natural sense of things, men become skilled in their occupations through experience; their trade is the result of making a choice among many options. Men, for example, become mechanics by mechanic-ing. However we must realize that men become pastors not due to experience but rather by a calling and that calling is and must be of God. Does this mean that experience is of no consequence in the life of a pastor? Of course not, but it is not the experience that makes a pastor it is the call of God that makes a man a pastor (or evangelist, etc.). A person becomes a member of the body of Christ by the grace of God when obeying Acts 2:38—that new convert has little or no experience to qualify themselves as a saint-of-God—but they are one nevertheless. In like manner a man “becomes” a part of the five-fold ministry by the grace of God’s calling. “And who He calls He also equips”—as the saying goes.
Experience is a valuable commodity, in the life of a man of God, when its teachings are God ordained and are received by an humble heart and an obedient spirit. Experience stimulates the ministerial calling of a man of God—it becomes the sunlight that energizes the already planted seed—it is the rainfall that helps facilitate the growth of the roots of the fledging plant. Experience aids in the adorning of a preacher’s life and ministry that otherwise might exhibit a degree of plainness. Experience is both the coarse file and also the polishing cloth which with sure strokes either abrasively cuts away imperfections or shines the dull spots into a glimmer of glory in the ministry of a man called of God to preach the gospel. First comes the call—then comes the experience.
The spiritual ministerial flow, in this dispensation anyway, is that all pastors spring forth from pastors. In other words, God calls men while under the authority of a pastor (much like how God makes chicks from eggs under a hen—no egg leaves the nest under its own power—a transformation is required). This transforming time under a pastor for a man called of God is “deaconship.” A man called of God to the ministry is not first called as a part of the five-fold ministry but rather he serves as a deacon under the authority and guidance of a pastor. It is this deaconship interval where certain qualifications and requirements are to be met, according to 1Tim 3:10-13; “And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.” It would seem only natural that since men are birthed under the authority and guidance of a pastor that that pastor would remain a vital influence in the life of “his son(s)” in the gospel.
We cannot help but notice that the qualifications of a deacon closely parallel that of a bishop with the exception of “how shall he rule the house of God.” This noted exception says so very much concerning the position of the deacon—mainly that he is not yet in a position of authority over a church because he himself is still under the authority of his pastor. Notice also that these men are to “first be proved.” “Proved” here according to Barnes; “the meaning is, that they should have had an opportunity of making their character known, and should have gained such respect for their piety, and their other qualifications, that there would be reason to believe that they would perform the functions of the office well.” “Proved” contains the ideal of the testing of metal (See 1 Th. 2:4).
These men, as is also pointed out in 1Tim 3, which are under the authority of their pastors must have “used the office of a deacon well.” The word “used” signifies a time element—a temporary position—a time where the deacon is receiving training under the guidance of his pastor. When God calls men into His ministry it will be from this deacon pool, it will be from these men which have “a good report” from those within (the church) and from those without (the secular world)—it will be from these men who have made themselves accountable.
“HE’S NOT A BOTHER, HE’S MY BROTHER”
Neh 4:14, “. . .remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren. . .”
If we, as God’s preachers, view accountability in only legal and control terms we will have missed the true essence of Biblical accountability—which is rooted and grounded in a love for the brotherhood. True ministerial accountability can only function correctly within a sphere of respect and love among the brotherhood one to another. Your brother’s spiritual welfare is vital to the collective body of ministry. One man’s blight among standing corn is an automatic concern to the owners of adjoining fields of corn—likewise the injury of one man’s ministry is an automatic concern to his brotherhood. 1Pe 2:17, “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”
Brethren it is important that we sense that our labor in God’s vineyard has effects far beyond the border of our small acreage—reaching even unto our neighboring brethren.
Php 2:1-4, “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”
Accountability deals not only with “corrective-lenses” but also with “compassionate-senses.” Accountability, as God intends, means not just a “pointing-finger” but also a “reaching hand.” Accountability, in the most basic of Christian terms, is to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” While failure among the ministerial ranks may cause “tears”—victory in our brother’s life should bring “cheers.”
May God grant His ministry, in these last days, the humbleness of spirit to both account and be accountable one to another. May we each “love the brotherhood” and “fight for our brethren!”
In Jesus’ Name!