Re-thinking Pastoral Accountability

As a planting Pastor, the question of accountability is huge for me.  As a visionary, I understand that church planting is about Kingdom-building and not Kwesi-building.  This understanding leads me to want to protect the church that is planted as a separate and independent entity from me.  That is simply to say, I want the church we plant to outlast its planters.  Being serious about this causes me to want to put processes, procedures, and people in place to ensure that we, (1) stay focused on the vision and, (2) that the ministry stays above reproach. 

Pastoral Rule — As with almost all things ecclesiastical, there is more than one point of view.  First, there are those who believe in what is called Pastoral Rule.  In short, Pastoral Rule says that the Pastor is the final authority and is to be obeyed and never questioned.

Those who insist that this is biblical use Hebrews 13:7 and 13:17, instructions to church members, that they should obey those who rule over them.  They often ignore Matthew 20:25-27, Mark 10:42-44, Luke 22:25-26, and 1 Peter 5:3, where pastors are specifically forbidden to exercise lordship over their members.

Ironically, those pastors who choose this paradigm are most often those aggressively opposed to being subject to any oversight.  There is often no independent board as expected by the powers granting non-profit status to the church in the first place.  (“Independent” here means that the board is not influenced by the church leaders, nor has any other conflict of interest with that specific church organization.)  Habitually, any who ask the “wrong” questions, (questions of accountability), are hastily rebuked, removed, or renounced as trouble-making, rebellious and disloyal.  On January 18th 2008, just this sort of thing was reported on by the Wall Street Journal.  In this case, a 71 year-old member of the church, who simply asked for the by-laws to be followed, was rebuked, removed from membership, and upon returning to worship, she was arrested because the pastor called 911. For the full story click here. (Listen to the 911 call)

On February 21st 2008, this was the headline of the Dallas Observer: “Pentecostal Preacher Sherman Allen Turns Out to Be Reverend Spanky.”  The article goes on to explain that, “The Fort Worth preacher is accused of beating, threatening and assaulting women for more than 20 years.”  How was this allowed to happen!?  He convinced some in the congregation that he had the authority to spank girls, women, and in some cases, grown men.  (Full story here)

Finally, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley wants to know how these servants of God end up enjoying the trappings of a billionaire lifestyle.  He wants to be certain that televangelists’ donors and church members, many of them tithers, are not being exploited.  In response to this request for accountability, many of these “billionaire ministers” are crying foul.  Wait, how is this above reproach?  What is there to hide? 

The arrogant response is basically the same.  We are Pastors, men and women of God; we don’t have to answer to anyone.  Is this acceptable to you? Do you think Pastoral Rule is Biblical?

Congregational Rule — This is where the people elect the leaders of the church.  I’m not sure that there is any biblical basis for this practice.  Simply put, I think to have the pastor’s job on the line based on the satisfaction of the people only opens the church up for more politics, division and favoritism.  Can you imagine campaigning to be a pastor? Can you imagine the scene after a close vote that keeps the pastor in his post? Click here for such a story.


Elder Rule — In the midst of the Ted Haggard debacle, I found myself really proud of New Life Church.  What could have been a church split or never-ending saga and embarrassment to the Church was handled with precision and pose.  The story went public, the independent board of pastors and ministry leaders gathered from around the country, and within a matter of days, they made a decision.  

“We, the Overseer Board of New Life Church, have concluded our deliberations concerning the moral failings of Pastor Ted Haggard,” a statement from the church said.  “Our investigation and Pastor Haggard’s public statements have proven without a doubt that he has committed sexually immoral conduct.”

With that, the leadership and guidance needed in such a time was in place and fully functional.  Instruction from the by-laws, stating clearly what would be done in a case like the one they experienced, was disseminated to the congregation.  Even in crisis, there was decency and order. 

Different people call these independent boards different things.  Stewardship Teams, Overseeing Boards, Board of Elders, and Trustee Boards.  No matter the name, the functions remain similar: provide protection for the church and her members and accountability for its Pastor.

As a church member, do you care what type of accountability is in place for your pastoral team and leadership?  What happens if your pastor can no longer lead the church?  Have you ever seen your church’s by-laws or financial statement?  Should you?

Think about it.

All comments, question, concerns, criticisms and critiques are welcome.  You can feel free to respond anonymously if you desire. 

To join me in praying for Pastors everywhere, click here.



17 thoughts on “Re-thinking Pastoral Accountability

  1. This was a lot of information, so let me just try to summarize my thoughts on the subject. Accountability? Yes! Every human being needs to be accountable to someone. Lay persons and clergy alike need a circle of people who will call them on their stuff when necessary, pray with them, cry with them, think with them, congratulate and encourage them.

    It’s just dangerous to be your own ultimate authority. Power in man’s hands never ends well, unless he is tempered by balance and truth in his life from the outside.

    I would think that given the great responsibility on pastors, they especially would desire accountability in their lives! Who would want to risk going wrong when you have more than just yourself to be concerned about?

    Every man is flawed and no one is infallible, so it can never hurt to have others in your life who know you and can correct you; people who have your back and can vouch for you in the face of accusation. Not puppets you surround yourself with to affirm everything you say and do… true brothers and sisters with backbone and your best interests at heart.

    The accuser of the brethren is out there. We need to be blameless before the world. As the old church used to say, “Live him a liar.”

    • I believe Ted haggard has the most biblically based restoraion process of any leader that we have ever witnessed on an american national ministry platform !!!!!!! The flock was protected and put first over loyalty to the pastor !!!!!!! I enjoy and have ministered to so awesomely by ted haggard!!!!!!!he has become a hero to me based on how he arose from the ashes to now have a beatiful new ministry now that is more effective than most !!!!!!!!!

  2. I can agree with what’s being said here. It’s just another sad story to the state of many (not all) of our churches. Anytime Churches are uncomfortable showing their financial books, it’s obvious something wrong is going on there.

    • Thank you!!! I agree totally!! I would like some advice on a situation.
      The church I attend has a “for Profit” coffee shop in it and it is one of the members in the church that owns it. They dont even claim the church as their home church. Also, the church is financing a remodel for them. Please give me any views on this. Also there is no accountability to where money is going.

  3. I love the Lord but I am very cautios about ‘church’. I grew up in church and for many years gave and gave and gave and was badly bruised and broken. I have made my peace with God and possibly Him alone. I will attend ‘church’ but I cannot commit. Possibly in time that would change but this is where I am right now. I guess that I am dealing with trust issues as well so I’m not a good candidate to talk. This is just where I am if you can take my honestly. Blessings….

  4. I think that Pastors should remember that they are mere men, and should be accountable to their church or board.. The 71 year old member was within her rights to ask to see the by-laws, the reaction by the Pastor makes me feel that he had something to hide, of he felt that no one should question him. It is high time that people realize that God gave them a brain to use, and that they are not tied to any church.
    Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe that the Pastor should be loved and respected, and honored, but He should not be made a demi-god, and what he says, does not always go… Thank you for introducing these as we do need to re-think Pastoral authority, and keep an opened mind as to the things of God. Peace and blessings to you.

  5. @ Aletha –

    I understand your hesitation. I served in ministry under a pastor that thought he was God. I’ve only been “off the plantation” for about 2 months and I’m still dealing with my flesh issues. I am, however, closer to God than I ever was – and I’ve promised Him that I will read the Word for myself and never be fooled by a false representation again. Take some time to process your emotions…just keep chasing after Him.

    @ Jacquelyn –

    Not only do pastors need to remember that they’re men – we must treat them like they’re “mere mortals”. If we stop genuflecting and bowing to them, then they’ll stop acting as though they’re the Begotten Son. I speak from experience because I was genuflecting and bowing to them myself…


  6. @ Katrice

    “It’s just dangerous to be your own ultimate authority. Power in man’s hands never ends well, unless he is tempered by balance and truth in his life from the outside.”

    Well said.

    @ Rob, more and more churches and ministries seem to be working to stay above reproach. At least that’s what I would like to think.

    @ Aletha, I love the honesty. That is exactly why I address these issues. When people can’t trust the leaders in the church. When you have to be apart of a community with your guards up, something is wrong.

    @ Jacquelyn, I too believe that the Pastor should be loved and respected, and honored, but they should not be made a demi-god or any kind of god, and what they says, does not always go, just ask the Bereans

  7. I am certainly rejoicing to read this info. Too many times people are misled because of wrong leadership. (not all – thank God)

    But I have a question for you that has really been pressing upon me. In our bible study, the question was asked about the accountability of one who sits under a pastor who is leading them wrong. We wanted to know what happens to that person at the time we are before the judgment seat.

    Is the responsibility and accountability all on the pastor?

    The answer we were given was: everyone will be exposed to the truth of God’s word and they are the one who will be held accountable. We came back with: what if that person never hears anyone else but their pastor and if someone does approach them with the truth, they will just shune them off thinking they are not telling the truth and will only believe what their pastor is teaching. What then?

    Please help us with this as we are totally confused about where the accountability lies in a situation like this one.

    Also, is it wrong to pray for personal needs. We were told that it is and those who do are vain and only thinking of self. I’ll await your answer.

    • NO!!! It is not wrong to pray for one’s personal needs!!! ……all through out the Bible there is praying for personal needs, and God honored that, he wants us to pray for what we want and need..
      Praying for you

  8. I just briefly had a conversation with one who is a Pastor, and His response was: “Whoever made that information public was wrong in doing so and they are taking the Word of God and causing confusion. And when they say Pastors are wrong in disciplining; they are the ones wrong. (Despite the articles) The scriptures that are being used are being taken out of context and I can show you in the Word where they are wrong.”

    My response: “This man, who brought up the discussion is a Pastor himself and has a congregation. Why would he want to cause confusion in his own congregation? and the Word of God was made public when the Bible was inspired by God and written so that we ALL could read it and how can God’s Word be wrong?” I was given Matthew 18, what scripture? – I have no idea and was told: “The Word is not wrong, it’s just being interpreted wrong. For one he doesn’t know what he is doing and this is why people who are not saved won’t come to church and why people in the church raise up against those (Pastors) who are trying to lead them, because people like this twist and corrupt the word. Members ARE to obey their pastors because they watch for their souls and members are to do as the (Pastor) says and NOT be going to other members in the church.”

    What can anyone say when even (some) Pastors won’t adhere to the correct teaching of the Word of God, abuse their Pastorial position and find it perfectly alright (and back up their actions with scripture) to put out, abuse, interpret the scripture for their own self gain, lord over or call police on church members simply because they may not agree or because they ask questions?

    What is the church coming to?

  9. This is not new, you see since the days before Luther men seeking final authority have tried to twist scripture to gain control over the lives of others.

    I would agree that we are to submit to the Pastors, as long as what they ask, or teach is in line with the word of God.

    It’s an old debate, do Pastors or the church have the final authority or do we find final authority in the word of God.

    See we are called to develop a Godly conscience and be learned in the Word of God. Should a man, any man, ask that you do that which is contrary to the word of God, you have a choice. Obey God or obey man.

    No man, pastor, or not has the right to teach error and demand obedience as they do.

    This is what scholars refer to as foolishness.

    Let’s us reason here. If the pastor says to a member, “you must stop committing adultery.” We would say the member should obey the pastor. Why? Because the pastor is expressing the will of God. If the pastor say to his member, “you must commit adultery with me.” Are we really going to say the member is obligated to obey the pastor and disobey God? God forbid.

  10. Pingback: A years worth of conversation « SCREAM

  11. I have an accounting degree and an MBA in management. Better still, I am an evangelist with specialization in prison ministry. The truth remains that all pastors and churches, I repeat all pastors and churches preach accountability and honesty in life in general and in finance particularly. How can they ( pastors and churches ) be exempted from this rule? If anything they are the ones to lead and demonstrate this virtue in every sense of it. Honesty is better demonstrated than preached in so far as we are all still human.

    The current scandal in extravagant living of the pastors including but not limited to purchase aircrafts seriously calls for a rethink especially as this is more rampant in the pentecostal churches where there is little or no hierarchical reporting and accountability. There can never be any justification for these extravagant lifestyles in the light of the abject poverty that pervades the Christendom. Simply put, the wealth in the church must be plowed back into the populace with a view to winning souls for Christ. That wealth is not for the pastors to use as they see fit. As a matter of fact they should be seen to shun material and extravagant tendencies especially as the scripture warns us of the inevitable proliferation of false churches and prophets who will mislead their flock.

    I know where the problem can be fixed from. The regulating agencies of the various governments should ensure that there are sufficient safeguards as provided for in the charter of establishment of these churches and ministries. A situation where regulating board members are chosen by the pastors themselves simply makes a mockery of the rules and safeguards and ends up relegating the whole exercise as an exercise in futility and a one man show. Government should appoint independent members to ensure vibrancy and functionality.

    A stitch in time will always save nine.

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