CORE STRATEGIES: Accountability

I was fascinated by the leadership advice offered in comment about his own organization, The Pittsburg Steelers of the National Football League. Head Coach Mike Tomlin commented, “We seek to have a no excuse culture.” The comment came back in 2009 when, under Tomlin’s leadership, the Steelers won the Super Bowl (making him the youngest coach ever to win the Super Bowl and earing him the NFL’s 2008 Coach of the Year award). Today the Steelers are 0-4. However with such a commitment to excellence in accountability, they will get better. (For the record, I am not a Steeler fan!)

I am a fan of excellence in ministry. I believe this is a way we honor Christ and fulfill our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Bishop Robert Schnase writes about the importance of excellence in his book The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. Greg Jones (former Dean of Duke Divinity School) and Kevin Armstong wrote a provocative book entitled Resurrecting Excellence: Shaping Faithful Christian Ministry. The very concept of excellence when attached to faithfulness in ministry harkens back to honoring Christ with our best. The more excellent way of which Scripture speaks is anchored in love (I Corinthians 12:31). A straight line runs from excellence to fruitfulness to faithfulness.

The notion of disciplined accountability was built into the original equation of early Methodists’ understanding of faithfulness and fruitfulness. Richard Heitzenrater in his marvelous history Wesley and the People Called Methodists reflects on the growing Methodist movement and its penchant for accountability (see especially chapter 4 “Consolidation of the Movement”). It is no mistake that the title for our book of Church law is The Discipline.

Most of us can readily agree with the concept of accountability as a reflection of the excellent way of faithfulness and fruitfulness in ministry. It when we come to the particulars that we choke. We know that metrics (measurement) is needed and yet we also know that any standard of measurement by itself is incomplete. Thus it is important to ask “how many people attend worship” yet this alone is not a faithful determiner of the biblical fruitfulness of a congregations’ (or pastors’) ministry.

Furthermore a part of our struggle in adopting accountability as a core strategy lies not just with the question of metrics but also with our tendency to use measurement to apply blame rather than seeking to learn and develop. Put different, we tend to (falsely!) use the concept of accountability as a punishment first and only later ask, “What is the ‘learning’ we might gain from this outcome (fruitfulness) or lack thereof?” Our defensiveness in learning is a crippling form of sin. So, too, is our tendency to blame and look for a scapegoat (a biblical concept – read the story of Abraham and Isaac – Christ came to put an end too!).

I am convinced that accountability is a key strategy we must employ if we are to be faithful. But we must engage in accountability as a strategy aimed at learning and not blaming! Accountability is about faithfulness and fruitfulness. The two biblically go together. We need to be a no excuse culture that is committed to faithfulness and fruitfulness in learning and application.

[For in-depth learning about the issues related to applying “metrics,” I commend to the reader a series of monographs that Dr. Gil Rendle is publishing online through the Texas Methodist Foundation. You may find them at http://www.tmf-fdn.org/learning-transformation/resources-conversations/written-materials/]

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