First, let’s look at being accountable. There are many people who are sincere Christians and even pastors who have no true accountability in their lives. A person who is accountable must give an account for himself. He does not act independently, but allows others to hold him accountable for his actions and words. He’s willing to submit himself to other men whom he trusts. He doesn’t just have a form of accountability without any teeth, like being accountable to others who always agree with him. That means those men are free to ask him questions from time to time about his life and ministry. It means that their lives are open for examination from one another.
Questions are just one way that we hold each other accountable. Here are some examples of accountability questions in God’s Word:
Peter’s Question to Ananias
The apostle Peter held Ananias accountable for his actions. Ananias was a part of the church in Jerusalem, where Peter was serving in oversight. Ananias and his wife Sapphira saw Barnabas sell a piece of land he owned and give all the proceeds to the church. So they decided to do something similar, in order to look just as generous as Barnabas, except they secretly kept back some of the money for themselves. It was this secret withholding that got them into trouble. Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." (Act 5:3-4)
It would not have been a problem if this couple had publicly declared that they were giving only part of the money to the church from the sale of their property. But in light of what Barnabas had just done, they were pretending to do the same as he did. They did not act with full disclosure. They acted in deception.
In this passage, we find that Peter asked Ananias four accountability questions: 1. Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 2. While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? 3. And after it was sold, was it not under your control? 4. Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart?
Peter’s Question to Sapphira
Peter also held Sapphira, the wife of Ananias, accountable. She was an accomplice to this whole matter. And Peter responded to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?" And she said, "Yes, that was the price." Then Peter said to her, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well." (Act 5:8-9)
Note that Peter asked Sapphira two accountability questions: 1. Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price. 2. Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Sometimes people need to ask you questions, in order to hold you accountable. And we should not become defensive or evasive when they do so.
Rich Man’s Question to the Manager
Jesus also spoke about a certain manager who needed to give an account of his actions to the rich man for whom he worked. Now He was also saying to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions. "And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager.'” (Luk 16:1-2)
The rich man asked the manager one accountability question: What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management!
As I make disciples, I walk in a mutually accountable relationship with them. We ask each other questions on a regular basis like this: 1. How have you been a testimony for Christ this week through both your words and your actions? 2. How have you experienced God in your life this week? 3. How are you responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit? (i.e., promptings occur when the Lord leads you by His Holy Spirit). 4. Do you have any need to confess sin? 5. How did you do with the Bible reading we agreed to last week?
In leadership, this is just as important, if not more so. The Roman centurion recognized the authority of Jesus. He said to the Lord, "For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it." (Mat 8:9). He knew that if you want to function in a place of authority, you yourself must be submitted to authority. You cannot do so otherwise. That’s why I have surrounded myself with men to whom I am accountable.
Those who exercise the oversight in the Body of Christ must be under authority. They must be in mutual accountability with other men. There are no “Lone Rangers” in the Church. You cannot say, “I’m the pastor, or I am an apostle, so I am accountable to nobody but God.” Without accountability, we are all vulnerable to veer off course into error. It can happen to anyone. That’s one of the reasons why we need each other this way.
Some of the key areas where we need to be accountable as disciples and leaders are finances, our relationships with others like our spouses, and what we view on the Internet, as well as other photographic media. There is no area of our lives that God does not see. And we all need to be accountable to someone we can trust, whom we allow to speak into our lives, asking questions of us. So we can see from Scripture that accountability is a basic aspect of service.
Now that we’ve briefly looked at the need to be accountable, let’s see what it means to be correctable. To be correctable means you can be corrected easily. If you are saying or doing something incorrectly, then others can come up alongside you and bring correction.
Two examples from Scripture come to mind when I think of people who are correctable. The first example is from the life of King David. He was a great and godly King, whom the Lord had used mightily. But in a moment of weakness, he was tempted with sexual sin, and gave into it. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his best warriors, Uriah the Hittite.
After he had did so, he then covered it up. He brought Uriah in from the battlefield and got him drunk. Then he tried to convince Uriah to go sleep with Bathsheba. He apparently hoped that if she became pregnant from his sexual liaison with her that Uriah would assume it was his child and not suspect any foul play.
But Uriah showed great leadership character. He could not require his soldiers to do anything he was not willing to do himself. So he could not go and lie with his wife at home, while his men were away from their wives, risking their lives out there on the battlefield. Since he refused to allow himself this pleasure, David’s attempted cover-up failed. So David successfully arranged for Uriah to be killed on the battlefield, and in doing so, he was guilty of murder.
Since David was not willing to confess and admit his own sin, God sent Nathan the prophet to correct him (2 Sam 12:1-12). Nathan did so quite effectively and it brought the Lord’s conviction upon David. He didn’t get defensive and say to Nathan, “I don’t have to listen to you. I’m the king.” Once David was confronted with his sin, he immediately repented. Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." (2Sa 12:13a). And it was then that David wrote Psalm 51, a broken hearted prayer of repentance to God. While there were still serious consequences for his sin, God had mercy on David and forgave him. In the end, David was correctable.
Another example of someone who was correctable is Peter, the apostle. Here’s the story as the apostle Paul told it: “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.” (Gal 2:11-12).
God had previously shown Peter, known as Cephas, that it was all right to eat and associate with Gentile believers, and he did so freely. But then some men began to influence Peter in a wrong way. These men taught that Gentile believers must be circumcised like Jews in order to be accepted by God. This caused Peter to withdraw himself from associating with the Gentiles, out of fear for what the circumcisers would say. And when Peter visited Antioch, Paul confronted him face to face over the matter. Paul said that Peter was clearly in the wrong and even though he was one of the original twelve apostles, Paul corrected him. We have no reason to believe that Peter rejected Paul’s confrontation. Peter was correctable, and God continued to use him mightily. He was instrumental in many key decisions in the church that gave freedom to the Gentiles, and he went on to die a martyr’s death for Christ.
Sometimes we need correction in an area of our life where we are committing sin. We may have justified it in our own eyes or become deceived in some area. Paul taught Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2Ti 4:2). There’s a time when it’s necessary to reprove or rebuke. If we repent when we are corrected, then there is forgiveness and mercy. But if we continue in sin, that’s different. Paul taught Timothy this way: “Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.” (1Ti 5:20)
Other times we may need someone to correct us in an area we were simply mistaken. It’s not always a sin that needs to be corrected, but sometimes it can be something that we were going about doing in the wrong way. We may need to be instructed, redirected or lovingly guided back on track.
If you want to serve publicly, then you must be open to receiving correction. If you prophesy in the church, there is the potential for you to do a lot of good, building up the Body of Christ. But there is also the potential for you to do a lot of harm to people. If you are off base on something you say or in your delivery, then you may need to be corrected. If we’re not willing to be corrected, then one of two things generally happens. Either we stop serving and pull back, or we plunge forward in our own ways and do damage to others.
Lastly, let me say a word to those who may need to correct others. How we correct someone must always be in line with the heart of Jesus. We should not do it in such a way that intentionally humiliates the person or damages him. Instead we should be gentle and speak the truth in love. Sometimes all that’s needed is to exhort the person or appeal to them. Paul taught Timothy, “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers.” (1Ti 5:1). The one who seeks to correct another person needs great patience. We need to remember that we are all imperfect human beings. There’s no need to be harsh with each other. We are a family in Christ and should treat each other that way.
The final characteristic of the Lord’s servant that I’d like to examine is the need to be teachable. No matter what your ministry is in the Body of Christ, you need to be teachable. It doesn’t matter whether you are operating in hospitality, helps, serving meals, visiting the sick, or proclaiming the gospel. It doesn’t matter whether you are teaching the Bible, prophesying, or caring for the sheep. No matter what your gift is, you are not exempt.
A great example of this is Apollos. He was a great teacher of the Word. Here’s his story:
“Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (Act 18:24-26)
Apollos was an eloquent man, who had been instructed in the way of the Lord. He was mighty in the Scriptures, fervent in spirit, and spoke boldly for Christ in public. It’s important to note that he spoke and taught accurately concerning Jesus. But he was only familiar with the baptism of John, which was a baptism of repentance.
When these two disciples of Christ, Priscilla and Aquila heard him, look how they handled it. They took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. They didn’t embarrass him with a public correction. Priscilla and Aquila co-labored with the apostle Paul (Rom 16:3), and even hosted a church in their home (1Co 16:19). But they walked in humility toward this man of God, treating him with love and respect.
Notice how teachable he was. Even though he was so well known and effective in his ministry, he was open to being taught more accurately concerning Jesus. This is the attitude we should have. It doesn’t matter if you are a highly effective teacher or preacher of God’s Word. It matters not how famous you are or how many years experience you have behind the pulpit. You still need to be teachable.
There are times when your doctrine may be out of line with Scripture and someone needs to show it to you. Don’t argue with them, bristle, or get defensive. Listen to what others have to say, especially those to whom you have submitted your self or with whom you co-labor. But anyone should be able to come to you and teach you something, including a child. As long as what they are showing you is based on God’s Word, you should pray about it and ask the Lord where you may have been incorrect. Diligently search the Word to see if these things are true, and then make the adjustment where it is needed.
Now what do you do if the person who is over you in Christ is teaching something inaccurately? You should take them aside and discuss it. Sometimes doing this right after they speak is not always the best way. Likewise, email is the worst form of communication to try and resolve any sort of conflict, including a doctrinal one. A lot of damage can be done when we use email to try to show someone an area of Scripture more accurately. This also applies to correcting a person as well. The reason is that the person can read tone into the email that you may not have intended, and it may end up hurting them. You could do more harm than good approaching it that way.
You may need to go up to them and invite them for lunch. Let them know you love and appreciate them and that you’d like to get together to talk. Spend the time to show you care and sit with the person in a relaxed setting.
When you meet with the person, a good way to begin is to ask him, “What was in your heart when you shared that?” Take the time to first understand the person, before you seek to be understood and make your point. Once you have come to understand the person’s motive and intentions, as well as what he actually meant by what he said, you are better able to address it.
If the matter cannot be resolved with your leader individually, it’s appropriate to request time to sit with him and the other elders to discuss it in front of them. This might happen if your leader does not agree with what you have attempted to show him. In that case, humbly present your concerns to him before the other elders. If he is truly accountable and teachable, this will be received well.
That doesn’t mean that everything will work out the way you want it to. There is the possibility you may be incorrect about the matter you have sought to teach. But this is the best way to handle it. It should result in everyone searching the Scriptures together in great humility to find the Truth. And ultimately the truth of God’s Word should be upheld. Everyone should grow in respect for one another, and their relationship with each other should be stronger as a result of this experience.
Putting it All Together
In order to serve in God’s house, you need to have the right character. I’ve learned that a person can destroy with his character what he has built with his gift. You may spend years building something great for God with your gift. But if you do not allow God to deal with a character flaw, it will eventually destroy what you have built. If there is an area of your life that is not in obedience to the Lord’s Word, then it will all come crashing down eventually and damage many people (Matt 7:27).
Make sure you first deal with your character flaws before you start to serve publicly. The only way to do so is to allow other godly people to speak into your life. You need to be accountable, correctable, and teachable, and then you can ACT. You may still have areas in your life that the Lord is working on, and you may not be perfect yet. But if you are accountable, correctable, and teachable, you will be free to serve publicly in the Body of Christ.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the Home page, such as A Tale of Two Kings, The Servant of the Lord, The Shepherding Role of Elders, Success in God's Eyes, A Personality Profile of the Apostle Paul, Persecuted or Popular?, and Having a Servant's Heart. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.