Preventing the Accountability Breakdown

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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?

Powerful Preaching

Preacher
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As one responsible for communicating biblical truth, I want to share four principles. Pay close attention; read slowly, thoughtfully and carefully as I apply this to your ministry of proclaiming God’s Word.

First, always stay on the subject—Christ. For Paul it was always about Christ. Paul spoke of the “God who made the world and all things in it” to the followers of the “unknown god” of Athens, and everything for Paul pointed to Christ (Acts 17:10–34).

Preaching that which doesn’t exalt Christ is empty preaching. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

For Paul, to live was Christ and to die was gain. Clearly, his subject in preaching was Christ.

Second, always speak the truth. Do not hold back. Do not fear. Do not be overly impressed with those who have come to the class or who sit in the church where you serve. It makes no difference how much they’re worth or how little they contribute. Speak the truth.

Third, always start where your audience is. Paul hooked those men in Athens with his first sentence. You can, too, if you spend some time thinking about it. Know your audience well enough to build a bridge quickly.

I’m Third

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Occasionally, when Cynthia and I attend a party, she’ll say to me, “Let’s not be the center of everything. Why don’t we just sit on the side and listen for a change?”

That’s a great reminder in our narcissistic culture, and especially for pastors who are expected to exhibit a servant’s heart.

This reminds me of a story that always makes me smile. Imagine the scene: James and John approached Jesus one day and asked Him to write them a blank check, to do whatever they asked of Him.

When Jesus inquired about what they wanted, they said, in effect, “We don’t want to be the center of Your kingdom, that’s Your place, but we want to sit right beside You, one on Your left and the other on Your right.” Can you imagine?

The Integrity Assault

Pastor
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Our jobs as pastors are not without work-site hazards. We don’t wear hard hats, of course, but maybe we should! The hazards I’m speaking of are those within our hearts.

One of the greatest of these is what I call “the integrity assault.” I believe our integrity is assaulted when we yield to the temptation to allow our position—and the privileges that come with it—to lower our standard and to weaken our witness.

With every privileged position comes trust. You may carry a church credit card. You are trusted to use that card with integrity. You may drive a car provided by the church.

That is a privilege. Your time and how you use it are at your discretion. Your board and congregation look to you to give a full day’s work for a full day’s wage.

You have a computer and, probably, a private study. A dangerous combination if you lack integrity. The statistics are maddening to me how many in ministry confess to viewing pornography on the Internet!

Sovereign Serendipities

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In my more than 80 years on earth—more than 50 of them in ministry—I have made a trade. It’s been a wonderful trade. I’ve traded youth for truth. And I wouldn’t be years younger if I could make it happen.

I think more than anything else, it is the hardship, it is the difficulty, it is the dead-end street that shapes us.

It is the trial that occurs that makes us into the individuals God wants us to be (if the attitude is right and the learning is still on a willing curve).

It’s how we react, how we respond to the pains and the struggles.

For some, it’s . . .

Erosion

Grandfather
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When I was a little boy, we used to have our family reunions and vacations down at my grandfather’s cottage beside Carancahua Bay, near Palacios, Texas.

It was a sleepy, little spot that smelled like shrimp 24/7. We would seine for shrimp early in the morning, fish for speckled trout and redfish during the day, and go floundering at night. Wonderful memories, all!

My maternal granddad was the most influential adult in my life as I grew up. One day he said to me, “I want to explain something to you.” And he used a big word I had never heard before: erosion.

Serving Good Sermons

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Dr. Bruce Waltke tells the story of his wife’s days in home economics in college. They did a test on two white mice, feeding them two completely different diets.

They fed the first mouse . . .

  • Whole milk
  • Wheat bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Carrots
  • Fruit juices

They fed the second mouse . . .

  • Coffee
  • Doughnuts
  • White bread
  • Jelly
  • Candy
  • Potato chips
  • Coke for supper

Can you guess the results?

Why We Must Stay Sensible

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When is the last time you thought about the character quality of sensibility? As pastors, we’re charged with the task, remember? “The overseer must be . . . sensible” (Titus 1:7-8).

Sophron is the term. It has in mind “thinking appropriately.” It means you’re not given to extremes. You’re able to see between the lines and apply some common sense.

We have some funny ducks in the Christian ranks . . . some real nutty people. Howard Hendricks says,

Where there’s light, there’s bugs.

It’s really true! They’re usually people who have big, thick Bibles and notebooks full of notes on everybody from Allen to Zuck. I mean, they’ve got all of this information, yet haven’t won a person to Christ in 50 years.

Accepting Others

Accepting Others
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One of the reasons I like to buy groceries where I do is because they hire those who are a little slower as baggers. Isn’t it neat to be around people like that?

One of them calls me, “Sonny.” I especially like that. There aren’t many people left today who say that to me! He’s about a 35 year old man, I’d guess. “How you doing, Sonny?”

I like choosing his checkout line because he and I always talk together. The other day I told him what a great job he was doing and tears came to his eyes. Isn’t that amazing? You’d think half the people who go through there tell the baggers they do a good job.

He said, “Man, I haven’t heard that in a year.” The manager of the store, who was standing about three feet away, said, “I told you that three months ago.”

Be Who You Are

Do what you love
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I had the privilege of being mentored by a man who is now gone. I became one of the first interns on the staff with Ray Stedman at Peninsula Bible Church.

And I saw in Ray something I had not seen modeled in many pastors . . . an authentic life.

Ray was just who he was. I saw it work. I saw a man who was not defensive, who could laugh at himself, who had fun in life and yet was as good a thinker on his feet in question/answer sessions as I’d ever seen.

I saw a man who could love the homosexual and at the same time do an excellent biblical presentation on the sin of homosexuality. I saw a man who had a room in his life for a wayward child. I saw a man who hardly traveled alone, no matter where he went, and always had someone younger with him.

One of the secrets of building character in the lives of others is taking time for those younger than you. Those who are longing for the qualities and the character that have made you who you are. Ray did this for me.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: