Isolation . . . Loneliness . . . Solitude.
Though surrounded by scores of people, pastors know these feelings all too well. Our position as shepherds, separated from the flock in many ways, can cause us to become closed off to much of the world. Living a private life in secrecy or inaccessibility leaves room for self-betrayal and, ultimately, to what I call an accountability breakdown.
To prevent that breakdown, we need the vulnerability that connecting with others provides. Recognizing our need for others means that we stay aware of any tendency to compromise. We also understand that we are not immune to a fall. We must be willing to open up and connect.
So how do we maintain genuine accountability as pastors?
First, seek out a few men of integrity with whom you can be vulnerable. I advise you to choose people outside the sphere of your own work. As a pastor, don’t choose other pastors! Connect with those who can evaluate your life with objective eyes. (And be sure to choose people who are not in awe of you.) These need to be people without anything to gain or lose.
Second, be committed to absolute, gut-level honesty. Refuse to hide or excuse or deny. Self-betrayal is a danger for all people, especially pastors. For some reason we feel that being an “example” means we never goof up . . . and so we cover up! Be vigilant against any half-truths, because the only ones we fool are ourselves.
Finally, determine to answer questions on a variety of practical topics to facilitate your candor. I’ll be painfully specific:
- Have you been with a woman anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?
- Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
- Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
- Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer this week?
- Have you invested sufficient priority time to your family?
- Have you fulfilled the mandates of your pastoral role?
- Have you just lied to me?
That last one is the clincher! Unless you are a practiced hypocrite, answering these questions in a small group of individuals will provide you the spiritual and moral moorings you need to accomplish your God-given role as a pastor. When we deliberately engage ourselves with those who keep us honest, we safeguard our lives, our families, and our flocks from the backwash of the accountability breakdown.
The pain of real accountability is nothing compared to the pain from a lack of integrity. My advice? Begin today.