Accountability Can Prevent Falls
Once again my world has been wracked by the moral fall of a good friend and fellow minister. I’ve heard you shouldn’t write or speak about something you haven’t thoroughly processed and brought closure to in your own mind. In writing this article, I confess failure on both counts. I haven’t worked this one all the way through — I don’t fully understand it. And I’m still dealing with the pain of it on a daily basis.
But I’m also finding that the nearness of the crisis is causing me to give this much more attention, introspection, and action than I’d be otherwise motivated to do. While I’m always frightened and disturbed by the statistic that one in three pastors will have an extramarital affair during his or her ministry career, today I feel devastated by it because its impact hits so close to home.
What is it about this calling to ministry that makes us so vulnerable to destruction? How can we see it coming? What can we do to safeguard ourselves from such wreckage? Who can we honestly talk to about our struggles?
Such questions are far more complex than I can hope to adequately address in this short article, but here are some ramblings of my own soul as well as some of the things I’m trying to incorporate into my life as a result of them.
Unmet needs eventually get met. As Christians we tend to downplay our own needs as being unimportant in the larger scheme of the crises we see all around us. But I notice that when I’ve neglected my own needs for too long, those are the times I’m particularly prone to falling. Few Christian leaders enter into compromising relationships intentionally. It’s a process that usually begins rather innocently. But when unmet needs begin to be touched, a trap is subtly being set.
It’s worth noting that one of Jesus’ first public statements to the masses was at the Feast of Tabernacles. Rather than a lengthy dissertation on the condition of mankind, he simply stood up and said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). Realizing that God is both the creator of our needs and ultimately the fulfiller of them ought to motivate us to listen more closely to the deeper cries of our soul.
What is an authentic accountability group?
* A group of three or four Christian men or women (no mixed groups),
* with a goal of growing more like Christ (discipleship),
* who are radically committed to each other’s spiritual growth and maturity,
* and practice three disciplines on a weekly basis:
1. Exhaling-confession of our sins to one another.
2. Inhaling-reading and reflecting on large passages of Scripture together.
3. Interceding-praying fervently and strategically for friends, family, and co-workers.
* All of the above is done in an environment of honesty, radical accountability, and complete safety.
Likewise, personal issues not dealt with early on don’t go away by themselves. As painful as it might be to go back and get resolution to things that have happened to us — or that we may have caused — it’s essential if we’re to move beyond the bondage of forever being enslaved to them. It’s an investment well worth the cost.
Things not talked out are eventually acted out. One of the greatest ploys of the enemy is to make us feel as if our struggle is unique to us — no one else could ever relate. Or worse, if anyone knew they’d reject us immediately. One thing that seems to be true is that every man’s issue is every man’s issue. They tend to fall into categories such as significance, power, respect, and sexual urges. Likewise, every woman’s issue tends to be familiar to every woman. These usually revolve around the need to feel secure and adored, and the longing for intimacy and connection.
Hence, the “talking out” often needs to happen between close friends of the same sex before one can bring it to a spouse. But once the issue is brought into the light, the sting of shame and isolation almost immediately disappears.
I remember a juncture in my life where the shame and condemnation from a past sin had me convinced I could never openly confess it and still be accepted. Though I’d confessed it before the Lord numerous times, I never felt fully forgiven and was convinced that if others knew of it they’d surely reject me. The night before my regular meeting with my accountability partner, I happened upon James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
I knew I needed to confess it to him the next morning. I was more than a little apprehensive about it. As I began, I carefully observed his response to discern any signs of hesitancy or concern on his part. When I was finished, his words would change me forever. “Scott, in the name of Jesus, I tell you, ‘You’re forgiven.”
Wow. I felt like a ton of bricks was immediately lifted from my shoulders. Shortly thereafter I was able to tell my wife as well. Her response was also quite different than I’d envisioned. “Well, that’s no big deal. And you thought you could never tell me that?” To this day, I haven’t been plagued again by the shame of that past sin.
Hear the words of King David in Psalm 32:3-5, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” — and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Transparency and vulnerability are not the same. My friend whose sexual sin was recently exposed was part of two intense accountability groups. And people who know him would describe him as a very transparent person. But transparency — which can easily be used as a manipulative ploy — isn’t vulnerability. If I tell you something deep and personal about myself, you may conclude that I’m an open book and respect me all the more for it. But I’m still in charge and directing the process.
That’s different from vulnerability, which puts someone else in the driver’s seat, giving them access and permission to delve into every area of our lives. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” This is where true accountability begins. Of course, if someone wants to keep secrets, no amount of supposed accountability can change that.
Veteran ministry leader Bill Muir once said to me, “Your mental health is as sick as your darkest secrets. Likewise, you grow steadily more healthy in direct proportion to the unveiling of those secrets.” God promises that what’s done in darkness will come into the light (1 Corinthians 4:5, Job 12:22). Fortunately we have the option of choosing to expose it ourselves rather than having it exposed in some other way.
Do you feel that there are secrets in your own life that you’d never tell anyone? If so, you’re at great risk. And the consequences of such a fall are always detrimental to you, your family, and the kingdom of God. Coming clean now, in the context of a safe and caring community of people, can help you avoid a crash that could otherwise devastate and negate your entire ministry.
While such a move might feel uncomfortable and frightening, it’s well worth it to escape the risk of being counted among the casualties that now claim one of three of our fellow companions in ministry.
Scott Larson is a veteran youth worker of over 20 years. Scott has authored 10 books on working effectively with troubled youth and has been a speaker to youth, parents, teachers, social workers and youth workers.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”
This article “Accountability Can Prevent Falls” by Scott Larson was excerpted from: www.crosswalk.com web site. October 2009. It may be used for study & research purposes only.