First let me say that I dislike the term “spiritual accountability.” A dictionary check defines accountable as “required to render account.” When I read this my latent rebellious tendencies start to kick in. To have to “render account” for my spirituality is so full of law, and we all know that only the Gospel can transform lives, right? After all, it’s just God and me when it comes to my spiritual life right?
Well, yes, sort of. But there’s no denying that within the body of believers God gave people to each other for a reason, a reason that has everything to do with love, encouragement, mutual support, and…well…accountability.
Jump out of this article for a minute and read Mark 2:1-12, then come back. It took reading about this miracle to open my mind about the whole spiritual accountability thing. Mark 2:1-12 is the account of the healing of the paralytic. What’s so powerful to me about this miracle is that the paralytic was carried by four of his friends into the presence of Jesus. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.'” Now that is a great example of team ministry connected to spirituality! How wonderful it is for us when those whom we labor beside recognize the moments when we cannot get where we need to be for healing or growth. How powerful for us spiritually when they carry us into the presence of Jesus. What a privilege when we can act on their behalf as well!
Spiritual accountability happens when a group of people who work with and care for one another are committed to mutual spiritual growth and committed to bringing one another into the presence of Christ. (In other words, spiritual accountability happens when your friends aren’t willing to let you lay paralyzed in some corner on a dirty mat when Jesus is so close by!)
However, holding others spiritually accountable and allowing them to do the same for you is not an easy task. Spiritually accountable relationships are not always easily formed, even for church workers. There are a few myths you may need to bust before you can begin seeking spiritually accountable relationships with your peers:
1. The other professionals or paid staff with whom I work will automatically be in a spiritually accountable team ministry with me.
First, age, experience, gender, and life stage can affect this dramatically. A 25-year-old DCE may not automatically connect with a 55-year-old pastor who has a child the same age as the DCE. Or the way your positions are set up might cause each of you to function independently of one another. Or you may all connect socially or hold a great deal of respect for one another, but you might not all connect around spiritual accountability issues.
Alternative: Intentionally develop a team of 4-6 people and create a written covenant to study, pray and actively provide care for one another as you work together on the tasks of ministry. This group may be made up of the volunteers with whom you work; it does not necessarily need to have another staff person in it. The important thing is that you do not have to function alone in your work or your faith. You work with a team who agrees to “go to the mat” for each member of the group and to carry the struggling into Christ’s presence. Perhaps you can set up every team with which you work to function like this on at least at some level.
2. Church professionals and active Christian volunteers have an automatic bent toward spirituality.
This is a delicate issue, but the truth is that God can get lost in the details of “getting the job done.” Sometimes, even the opening prayer or devotion for a meeting is a hurried, ill-prepared affair so you can get to the “real work.”
Alternative: Always build time into meetings or events for connecting around the Word unhurriedly and for sharing prayer requests and praise reports. You may think you don’t have time to do this but in the long run you don’t have time not to do it. Connect with one another between meetings with a phone call or a church lobby chat. Intentionally build this growing process into every group with which you serve.
I am a “type A, get it done, check it off the list” kind of person, but groups I led loved each other more and accomplished the most important details when we committed to honoring God together. We became more passionate about service and less likely to burn out because we became a group that brought the tired and the struggling into Jesus’ presence.
3. The Pastor is the only one who can set the tone for spiritual accountability on a team.
In some parishes, a lot falls onto the pastor’s plate. Not only is he expected to pastor the flock, but he’s expected to run the Sunday school, head the voters meetings, man the fundraisers and fill the vacancy next door. Even in a large parish with multiple staff members, pastors get spread pretty thin. The same is true of DCEs and other church workers, both professional and volunteer.
Alternative: Not one person can be expected to inspire spiritual accountability in a group. It needs to be a team effort. I work in a large church with two wonderful pastors, another DCE, a parish administrator, a music director and a principal. Each of us directs large portions of the overall ministry, but each of us has contributed in different ways at different times to encourage one another spiritually; someone suggests a book that we can study together while someone else offers a new idea on how we can pray together for members. The group’s maintenance is not just one person’s job. We’re a team and we all contribute.
Additionally, when one person acts as someone who wants to bring others into the presence of Christ it affects the whole dynamic of the team. You can’t change others, but simply changing how you function within a team changes the dynamics of the team. (When times get tough, remind yourself that it’s about gently lowering others into the presence of Christ. It’s not about throwing them off the roof, tempting as that might be.)
On whatever team you’re serving, holding one another spiritually accountable can help the team succeed and grow. As you work with the other members of your team, ask yourself the following questions: do you care for one another? Have you, as a team, specifically committed to spiritual growth together? Do you intentionally bring one another into the presence of Christ? Can you see who of you needs to be carried into the presence of Jesus? Can you carry them? Who can you enlist to help you carry them? Sometimes it only takes one person to ask the right questions to get everyone thinking about the spiritual health of the team. Maybe that person is you.
Published February 2004