4 Posts from December 2013

Preventing the Accountability Breakdown

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.


A Christmas Intervention

Did you feel the tightening squeeze this time of year brings?

On top of an already demanding schedule of preaching, teaching, counseling, and calling, you had to add Christmas parties and programs, a creative Christmas series that you’ve never preached before—and still another eloquent sermon for the Christmas Eve service.

Such a schedule has a tendency to turn us into Scrooge-like characters, doesn’t it? (We secretly think: Humbug!) Work, work, work . . . nothing and no one will get in our way.

May I assume the role of one of old Scrooge’s ghosts for you? Let me escort you to your home. Peer into the window. Look closely. Is your chair empty at the dinner table?

Okay, that was a cheap shot.

We in ministry don’t like to talk about it, but too many of us sanctify workaholism. And the holidays can be the busiest time! We can allow ourselves to be so involved in “the Lord’s work” that our family is neglected. And I do mean “we.”

This may sound like heresy, but we have to learn to adopt the attitude: “I’m more committed to my home than I am to my ministry.” Try saying that out loud. I doubt any pastor’s final words will be—and I know mine won’t be—“I should have put more time into studying supralapsarianism for that sermon on election.” No way! But I will regret not spending more time loving and laughing with my wife, children, and grandchildren.

Are you feeling adequately guilty yet? Me too. So let me suggest some positive things for us to consider. Here are six rewards that represent huge dividends for yourself, your family, and even your ministry if you make your home your priority. You will enjoy:

·         the sustained cultivation of a great character

·         the continued relief a clear conscience brings

·         the increasing personal delight of knowing God intimately

·         the rare privilege of becoming a mentor

·         the priceless treasure of leaving an unforgettable legacy

·         the crowning reward of finishing strong

It took three ghosts and a sleepless night to convince old Ebenezer Scrooge that work without regard for others amounts to foolishness—and a wasted life.

I have a pastor-friend whose wife often tells him, “I don’t want your presents as much as your presence.” Let’s give ourselves to our families today, okay?


The Superman Syndrome

Are you an aspiring Superman?

I’m not talking about pulling on a pair of blue tights and a red cape and putting a fancy “S” on your chest. I’m talking about an attitude: “I am self-sufficient,” “I need no one else,” or “I will show no weakness or admit any inadequacy.” These betray the presence of the Superman Syndrome—that particular peril for pastors who go it alone.

Funny thing is, I’ve rarely seen anyone lose ground by admitting inadequacy or weakness. The best professors I ever had said, “I don’t know, Chuck, but when we come back together I’ll try to have that answer for you.” I deeply respect that attitude in a person. Kids acknowledge weakness all the time and never feel as if they’ve lost face.

As pastors, we set ourselves up for letting people down when we pose as Superman. I remember a young believer in our church who gushed, “I don’t know of anybody I admire as much as I do you.”

“Stop right there,” I interrupted. “I appreciate your admiration, but always remember: When it comes to one another on this earth, never put anyone on a pedestal.”

“I never thought about that before,” she replied.

“Only one person deserves to be on a pedestal, and He’ll never fall off. That’s Jesus. You can respect me,” I continued, “but please don’t put me in that place where I’m sure to let you down.”

By the way . . . have you heard what the mother ape said to her baby ape? “Watch out about climbing on those high poles. The higher you get, the more they’re gonna see your rump.” Remember, when you’re up high, you’re a big target. You’re on display. So it’s essential to say, “I can’t handle this myself.” Or, “I need you guys right now.” Didn’t Jesus do this at Gethsemane?

As 2 Corinthians 2:16 asks, “Who is adequate for these things?” Obviously, the appropriate attitude is to embrace this fact: We are not self-sufficient. We need other people. It’s wise for us to ask for help. We should never leave the impression that we don a cape and tights.

Let’s get practical. Ask for help! Hardly a day passes that I don’t ask someone to assist me in doing something. Also, make sure that when someone helps with a project, that person gets the credit. If a guy comes up with a great idea, and the whole church applauds it, let the people know it was his idea. Why leave any other impression?

Admit weaknesses and failures. Acknowledge your own fallibility. Don’t buy in to the Superman Syndrome. You can’t carry the weight of the whole world on your shoulders. Someone else already has that distinction.


The Integrity Assault

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! So many who have fallen morally began their fall by viewing pornography on the Internet.

I remember a layman leaning over my desk, and his knuckles got white as he looked me right in the eye. “Chuck, I want to ask you a straight question,” he began. “Up and down this hallway at this church, is there anybody in any of these rooms who could walk in here and ask you the hard questions?”

“Choose any office up and down this hallway and the person will tell you, ‘I can go in at any time and tell him or ask him anything.’” That was my answer. But let me tell you, it is hard work to cultivate an environment where that kind of honesty can occur.

Remember Asaph’s words? I think of them often. After 69 verses, he ended Psalm 78 this way:

He also chose David His servant

And took him from the sheepfolds;

From the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him

To shepherd Jacob His people,

And Israel His inheritance.

So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart,

And guided them with his skillful hands. (Psalm 78:70–72) 

That’s not just beautiful Hebrew poetry; those words describe character. God chose David not because he had the résumé of a king. Not because he had killed bears and lions. Not even because he killed a giant. He was chosen to shepherd God’s people for one major reason: he had integrity.

My brothers, that is our calling and our standard as well.