Clergy & Laity: Thoughts on the Last Post, Part 2 (Accountability)

https://i1.wp.com/1.bp.blogspot.com/_bLBPZAiyuwA/SQkMldOkY5I/AAAAAAAAAJY/FlxoD65cNcE/s400/clerical_collar_9.jpgShould the minister be accountable to the elders for how he uses his time? Accountable for results only? Not accountable at all?

Well, let’s start with some principles.

Principle 1: People fill gaps in their knowledge in the most pathological way possible.

Learn this one. It’s important. Humans fill gaps in their knowledge with their fears. When a husband forgets to call his wife when his plane lands, she imagines that he died in a plane crash. When the elders refuse to answer what their position is on issue X, the members imagine that their position is whatever they most fear. If the elders don’t review the youth minister at least annually, he’ll worry whether they are preparing to fire him. If the elders fire the preacher and don’t give a reason, the church will assume it’s for evil, nefarious reasons, even though they can’t imagine why the elders would do such a thing.

A failure to communicate inevitably results in the other person assuming the worst. That’s how people are. Well, some among us aren’t like that. Some really do assume the best — but these are very rare people indeed.

Principle 2: People assume other people are like themselves.

I learned this one from my late law partner. I goes like this. Trustworthy people tend to assume that others are trustworthy — until they’ve been burned many times. Untrustworthy people assume other people are untrustworthy. We just naturally assume that the way we are is how everyone else is.

Therefore, if your preacher doesn’t trust you and you’ve given him no cause to distrust you, he’s either been severely burned in the past (sadly, a very common experience) or else he’s untrustworthy. Therefore, if a preacher distrusts his elders so much that he won’t provide an accounting of his time, the elders will naturally be suspicious of his trustworthiness.

Now, the natural response is to try to turn the tables: if the elders demand that the preacher be accountable for his time, then they must not trust him, making them presumably untrustworthy? Right? No.

It’s not right because the elders are charged by scripture with being overseers of the church. An “overseer” (episkopos in the Greek) is defined by Thayer’s as —

an overseer, a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian, or superintendent; the Septuagint Judg. 9:28; Neh. 11:9,14,22; 2 Kings 11:15, etc.; 1 Macc. 1:51.  The word has the same comprehensive sense in Greek writings from Homer Odys. 8, 163; Iliad 22, 255 down

Elders are required by scripture to oversee the church and are accountable. The church is spending a large portion of its budget — the Lord’s money — for the labor of the staff. They are entitled obligated to know that the time is being used wisely and well for the sake of the mission.

That doesn’t mean that they should micromanage the minister’s time or that they should impose oppressive work hours on him. The elders should be overseers but loving, wise, gentle overseers — not taskmasters. Good oversight is not getting the most for the least.

Principle 3: Ministers work hard out of passion for the Lord and his Kingdom.

I would not want to have ministers working in a church who lack a passion for the Kingdom. Obviously, all of us face times of crisis or illness when we can’t do what we want to do — but all ministers — paid and unpaid — should be passionate for the Kingdom. If the minister only works hard because he’s accountable for his time, he’s a lousy minister and lousy Christian. Rather, being paid should be seen as a privilege, not a burden — an opportunity to spend more time on Kingdom business, the very thing the minister most wants to do.

Therefore, asking a minister to be accountable for his time isn’t a motivational tool. If the love of Christ isn’t motivation enough, he’s not a good hire. Rather, the goal of accountability is —

* To assure that he’s spending his time doing what needs to be done. A passionate, talented minister may not be the most organized man.

* To allow the elders to defend the minister when — inevitably — members accuse him of not working hard. They always do, and often the reason elders ask for an accounting is so they aren’t embarrassed in their efforts to defend him.

* To encourage the minister to self-monitor. If he doesn’t track his own time, he may not realize that he’s over-committed to the church and under-committed to his family. Or he may be surprised to learn that he’s not being fair to the church. How can he know?

* So the ministers will have credibility with the congregation to ask them to volunteer their precious time for church work. Time at home and with the family is dear. You can’t fairly ask the members to take time away from home if you’re not setting an example of doing exactly the same thing.

* To avoid the all-too-common notion that ministers are “professional” and so not accountable to anyone but Jesus. Jesus created a group of overseers who are charged to oversee ministers — paid and unpaid.

Remember, “elder” is borrowed from the elders in the synagogues, which borrowed the term from the ancient Jewish cities where the elders literally sat at the city gate, deciding who could enter the city and deciding disputes among the citizens. The term had thousands of years of history when it was first applied to certain leaders in the church, and its history is one of serious responsibility for the care and oversight of the church.

We often mess up by making very poor appointments to the eldership, but we can’t let those mistakes so color our thinking that we deny elders the ability to do their spiritual work.

Principle 4: Hard work is a commendable virtue

It’s true that some ministers work themselves into burn out and leaving the ministry. It is. But we can’t let the genuine fear of burn out keep us from hard work. Hard work is a virtue.

Yes, we’ve all heard the sermons against men who neglect wives and families by working too hard — and it’s a legitimate, real, necessary concern. But not working hard in God’s kingdom is a big problem, too.

How does a minister avoid both extremes? Well, sometimes he might just want to keep track of how he spends his time.

Principle 5: Wise overseers communicate expectations and consider both time spent, results, and how well the time is spent.

Wise elders don’t overwork their ministers, but neither do they allow them to coast. Ministers have to have a passion for Kingdom work, and passion will be reflected in work ethic.

It’s my view that success comes from many things, including prayer, good theology, smart organization, great preaching, and hard work. And preachers who work hard (which is the vast majority, in my opinion) have nothing to fear from being accountable for their time. In fact, they will likely find that they earn greater respect from their elders — who likely understand and appreciate the value of hard work.

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12 Responses

  1. I find Principle #2 to be very true. I was continually amazed at one Christian who saw ulterior motives behind everything that everyone else did. I finally realized that he was assuming they would behave the same way he would in the same situation.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. “The best defense is a good offense.”

    On #4 –if you are going to have a post on minister burn out–I’m not sure it is hard work many times that creates burn out. I guess it might be called the “Moses Syndrome” –the Israelites just finally wear you down!

  3. It occurs to me that it might be helpful to ask the minister and his wife to hold each other accountable. For example, have them track their time for a few weeks, and share the results with each other, and talk about it in the privacy of their home. And perhaps at the end share their thoughts about the process with the elders.

    Maybe we’re not typical, but when we hire a minister we really hire a couple. The preacher’s wife has a role in leading the women of the church, teaching women’s classes etc (similarly with a teen ministry couple). We interview them that way, and we communicate expectations to both. And those expectations take into account the family responsibilities of both husband and wife.

  4. @Alan, so do you pay both? I may be a rebel minister’s wife, but I was not hired, my husband was. He has the talents to lead, minister, teach, etc. I do not. That is not to say that I am not involved, but I do what any other member is expected to do.

  5. Just a thought, but one of the leadership principles I’ve often heard is that if you want someone to follow your lead, you’ve got to go where you want them to go.

    So if the elders want the minister to be accountable for his time, then why not take the plunge and ask EVERYONE on the leadership team, elders, deacons, ministry team leaders, secretary, etc., to promote accountability by holding one another accountable for how they spend their time.

    EVERY person on the leadership team tracks their time initially and shares it with the rest of the whole team (this should be done for a week together annually). Then during the year, break into sub-groups of three and share a time-track for a different 3-day period every month (e.g. Sun-Mon-Tue, or Wed-Thu-Fri, or Sat-Sun-Mon, or Mon-Wed-Fri, etc.) who will meet monthly and hold one another accountable. Then change groups every year, remembering to structure it so that there is always at least two of the thre groups represented in each sub-group.

    By everyone being accountable to one another, the onus is taken off the preacher of being the only person in leadership being held accountable. It becomes a bonding and sharing and accountability GROUP exercise for the good of the congregation and not just an annual open season on sniping at the preacher.

    As part of this program of accountability, develop and maintain some scripturally supportable standards to guide the accountability sessions, including prayer time together weekly, ways you will encourage one another when you see patterns of negative or positive behaviors that need to be repeated or avoided, and actions plans to address those areas of particular strength or weakness and how to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives.

    Personally, this would help remove any doubt that the intentions being expressed by all are noble and good.

    Just a thought.

  6. “They are entitled obligated to know that the time is being used wisely and well for the sake of the mission.”

    That is a baby boomer generation concept. The millennial concept is “They are obligated to know that the work is being accomplished.”

  7. Jay,

    You said:

    “Now, the natural response is to try to turn the tables: if the elders demand that the preacher be accountable for his time, then they must not trust him, making them presumably untrustworthy? Right? No.

    It’s not right because the elders are charged by scripture with being overseers of the church.”

    Me:

    Simply because the elders are charged with this task doesn’t rule out the possibility that elders engage in this task from ill-motives (distrustfully, cynically, antagonistically, etc.).

    What strictures does a minister have to protect himself from ill-motivated elders masquerading behind “this is what the Bible tells me to do”?

    –Guy

  8. Anne,

    Indeed. Nothing like murmuring to destroy a good man.

  9. Anne,

    I have to say I agree with you. If we want to hire a husband-wife team (which we’ve done), they should both be on the payroll. But the main thing is that the expectations be laid out at the beginning so there are no surprises to either party.

  10. Grizz,

    I have no problem with the elders being equally accountable. Two of our elders are on the payroll — part-time — and all 5 of us could be fairly asked to be accountable. The other 3 have fulltime jobs, teach, and do what elders do.

  11. Dwayne,

    You’re right. That’s exactly how the millenials think — the trouble is, you can define “the work” creatively so that it gets done in very little time at all. As the preacher is usually the senior man in the office, only he knows what needs to be done and whether he’s doing in.

    But in a growing, effective church, there’s always more to be done than time to do it. We can so define a man’s job down that he’s done by Tuesday, but the working that needs to be done won’t be done by Tuesday. And if the minister truly takes ownership of his work and his congregation, he’ll never go home thinking he’s finished. I don’t.

    Consider a campus minister in a church where the college is closed over summer. Does he kick back and enjoy a 3-month vacation? Or does he do what work needs to be done, even if not in his ministry area?

    Therefore, the millennial concept doesn’t work — because the work to be done can’t be well-enough defined to let him declare “done” and go home. It’s not like many secular jobs. And this is one reason burn out is a legitimate concern.

    For a truly motivated man, the problem is often how to work less rather than getting him to work more. But the other problem is helping the church and the elders know how hard he works so he is treated with the respect he deserves — without him taking offense at being asked to be accountable.

    Crazy situation, isn’t it?

  12. Jay, I’m getting to reading this well late in the game, but I just want to say, as a minister, spot on–both in the post, and in your response to Dwayne.

    As a minister and church planter, I’m passionate about the ministry to which God has brought me. Accountability is nothing to fear, because if you’ve got good elders their motivation will be to help you grow in your ministry and its effectiveness. If there are other issues and agendas, then that’s a problem of a different sort that needs addressing, and accountability isn’t really the problem.

    If anything, I generally find myself at the other end…praying for a greater understanding, interest, and involvement in the ministry that happening.

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