Establishing Personal and Professional Boundaries and Accountability
My first task to be faithful to God in all I do. I must be faithful to His word. The Bible, from beginning to end outlines the way one should live, especially one in a leadership position. Fred Luther, the first African-American SBC Convention President says, “If you are going to lead the flock, you must be faithful to God. He is the one who called you to be a shepherd and entrusted to you the care of His people. God promised to give His people shepherds according to His heart, shepherds who would feed them with knowledge and understanding, (Luther. 2017. Pastoral Ministry. Pp. 155).
I must recognize the needs of the ministry, with the community we serve, and of my own family. The scale cannot be tipped to either side. I will remember that my first calling in ministry is ministering to my own family first. I need to ensure that while I am balancing the needs of the ministry and community, it is my family that is my foundation in Christ. I also need to recognize that I too am in need of pastoral care. Lisa Whittle, founder of Ministry Strong, says, “Boundaries are the greatest gift we give ourselves in ministry,” (Whittle, 2018).
I must become somewhat of an expert in discerning what is reasonable and what is not. I need to differentiate the needs and expectations from myself and staff by the community.
I am not standing alone on a desert Island. My wife is just as much a part of my ministry as I am. My wife is my support. She is my guide to remain faithful to Christ and to her and to my ministry. I need to allow her to be my counsel.
I must be proactive in being consciously aware of how relationships are progressing and where they might be headed. First rule is to maintain a personal and professional policy in regards to meeting with the opposite sex. These meetings must take place always with an open- door and a third-party, either visible or within close proximity.
I ensure that I have only limited connection to financial accounting. While I should certainly be aware of the ministry’s financial wellbeing, I should have no direct control or access to ministry finances. I believe maintaining a policy of “not accepting personal” gifts from anyone, is my safest bet.
This quote from Lead Like Jesus, the author remaining anonymous, sums up “accountability” and the need for it:
Accountability is not easy. We don’t like to be told we’ve made a mistake. We don’t like to be corrected. We don’t like to have our weaknesses exposed. Yet, we cannot lead like Jesus unless we are willing to be held accountable and to hold others accountable. We cannot build a strong, devoted and trustworthy community without accountability. If we are followers of Jesus, we should value and embrace accountability and not shy away from it.
In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes, “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness,” (NASB. Rom. 6:18). In other words, we are not free to do whatever pleases us. I cannot hold myself accountable. I am accountable to God in Christ Jesus. I also recognize that for me to remain steadfast in God’s word, I need to be held accountable by others within my ministry and community.
From a book on Spiritual Disciplines by Adele Calhoun, I arrived at an interesting thought. In Spiritual Disciplines handbook, she describes the concept of “accountability Partners.” Calhoun writes, “Having an accountability partner means that I appropriately and reciprocally disclose struggles, failures, and temptations to a godly friend who is committed to asking hard questions, willing to challenge, and given to encouragement and prayer,” (Calhoun, 2015, pp. 142). How can this not be a requirement for personal and professional ministry accountability? It also requires me to have a minimum of two accountability partners, one being my wife and the other perhaps outside of my own ministry, who can be more objective.
Keeping in mind, I don’t want to be in a position of telling someone something I’m not willing to share with my own wife. She will be more critical of me than anyone else. Peter tells us, “As free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king,” (ASV, 1 Peter 2:16-17). Accountability keeps us honest. My father used to say, “a lock just keeps an honest person honest.” This is accountability. This also manages perception. And we all know that perception is one of the most difficult things to manage.
While “accountability partners,” are great for the personal one-on-one, it is also necessary for me to be accountable to a wider audience in general. According to Whittle, “Conversely, the leader who doesn’t set boundaries is the leader who needs not expect longevity—or at the very least, longevity without regret,” (Lisa Whittle, 2018).
Novelist and editor at Salem, Hope Bolinger writing on leadership accountability, “We need to sharpen one another like iron. If we find that our brother or sister has engaged in a sinful lifestyle, we need to step in and remind them of the truth of Scripture. Passivity doesn’t fly,” (Bolinger, 2021). I cannot hold myself above being challenged. Neither would I expect another to do so.
Holding myself up to scrutiny by others, foremost to God, and also to my wife, is of the utmost importance. This is especially important if I, in my ministry position, will in many instances be expected to scrutinize and hold others accountable, as we “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” (ESV, Eph. 5:21). In this instance, ministers are not unlike a president of the United States. We live and must work in a “fishbowl,” where privacy is all but absence.
According to Bob Whitesel, “An effective accountability committee or ethical audit can help thwart unethical behavior by warning the leader of the temptation’s ramifications before the unethical behavior occurs,” (Smith, Wright, Whitesel, 2011. Church Leader’s MBA. Pp. 43). This seems to make sense to me and would be a very prudent accountability system to institute into any ministry setting.
In conclusion of this chapter, there is no single system of accountability that adequately is applicable to any setting, whether in or outside of ministry. However, even sifting through myriad of sources, and seeking advice from those who have gone before us, developing adequate accountability, there indeed, is no better resource given us than God’s own word—the Holy Bible. It is here that any leader, in ministry or otherwise, will find the greatest sum of standard and ethics. There are simply too many biblical verses to reference and comment upon without writing another book solely for that purpose. We must accept God through Christ, always as our first source of accountability as well as confidence in our confessions.
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©2022 Clayton Moore for Pastoral Leadership essay.
(As was previously submitted towards requirement for MA. Min.)