Saturday, November 8, 2014

Longevity in Ministry ~ Dare to Disclose

A few months back I began a series that has certainly been challenging and thought- provoking for me. I hope God is also using it in your life. The information discussed comes from a sermon by the senior pastor at my sending churchMy notes start with these words: "Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed - right genes, right diet, right exercise, and right environment." Can you see the spiritual parallels? Examining how these principles apply to longevity in ministry on the mission field is forcing me to evaluate whether or not I've been building into my daily life the right sorts of habits and practices to facilitate such longevity.

In the first few posts of the series, I shared the foundation my pastor laid out: to "start, run and finish well," includes two key components. First, we must trust in the sovereignty and sufficiency of God which includes praying like everything depends on God. At the same time we must be obedient, working daily as though everything depends on us in God's strength and for God's glory.

What does the practical outworking of that look like?

Studying through the Bible references my pastor gave in that sermon, I've identified seven essential priorities that help protect from burnout and the temptation to sin... ones that direction and hope for the future... ones that remind that all is grace and a gift from God.

Those priorities are:
  1. Growing an increasingly intimate relationship with the Lord by consistently, daily and throughout the day, seeking Him
  2. Praying without ceasing (steadfastly, continuously, patiently, powerfully); 
  3. Striving to maintain a good balance between personal growth and service or ministry
  4. Welcoming accountability
  5. Committing to marriage and family; 
  6. Choosing to be teachable even in difficult circumstances; and 
  7. Determining to be a genuine team player.

Recently, I've spent some time looking at what I think just might be the hardest one of these priorities for those of us who consider ourselves followers of Jesus. Add on the detail of full time Christian worker, minister or missionary... and we become even less likely to welcome what is, at best, viewed as an intrusion.

And the dreaded word is...

photo credit: yksin via photopin cc

Accountability means submitting to, as an obligation and with personal willingness, the responsibility to report and to explain one's words, actions, plans, etc. Give an account means to:
  • disclose
  • recited
  • unfold
  • enumerate
  • enunciate
  • proclaim
  • relate
  • make known
  • report
  • reveal
  • hold forth
Those are just a few synonyms, and they cover many fine nuances of genuine accountability. But genuine accountability is scary. It means being vulnerable and leaving yourself exposed to the evaluation (informed and uniformed) followed by the resulting opinions, criticisms and  commentary of others. We might expect those outside of our church and our faith to "not get it," and we prepare for it. But when those we call brothers... sisters... colleagues... partners... disagree, don't understand or disapprove of what we've done or are doing or hope to do, it becomes easier and less painful to conceal, hide and suppress details and to instead craft a correct image that meets the expectations of others.

It feels like way to protect.

But that sort of image crafting doesn't protect. Rather, it is insidiously dangerous, leaving us vulnerable. 

Accountability is hard: requiring specific intent, diligent effort and a supernatural dose of humility.

1 Timothy 3 lays out the qualifications... the characteristics God desires to see in those who would seek to serve Him in a leadership position. These verses specifically speak of overseers and deacons, but I think the principles are applicable to all. In this case, I'm considering those who lead through their role as missionaries or overseas Christian workers. One of the key verses in that passage refers to the fact that if "anyone aspires to [such a position]... let them also be tested first; then let them serve..." "

The importance of accountability recurs throughout the entire counsel of God's Word: 
  • iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27.17),
  • restore those who sin, in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1),
  • bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2),
  • confess our sins to each other (James 5:16)
  • pray for one another (James 5:16), 
  • Matthew 18 and the description of how we are to confront one another when it is needed,
  • "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12),
  • bring back the brother who wanders (James 5:19-20),
  • meet together, encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25), 
  • exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today” (Hebrews 3:12-13), 
  • it is shameful to legally settle a dispute between believers that should be settled as though between brothers (1 Corinthians 6),etween the brothers,
  • “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me" (Ezekiel 33:7),
  • We are obligated to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves (Romans 7),
  • "Whoever says to the wicked, 'You are in the right,' will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them" (Proverbs 24:24-25),
  • seeing a brother in need, closing the heart and not helping is not evidence of God's love abiding within... and in fact, if we do so our own heart condemns us (1 John 3:17-21)
  • "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (from Hebrews 13),
  • encourage one another, build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11),
  • Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” (Genesis 4:9),
  • consider how to motivate each other (Hebrews 10), 
  • Pay attention, rebuke the sinning brother and forgive him when he repents (Luke 17:3),
  • "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." (Proverbs 17:17),
  • “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (from Matthew 5)
We can't escape the fact that God expects us to be accountable not only to Him, but to those in our lives here on this earth. This principle is literally peppered throughout the Bible - described and mandated directly, demonstrated both positively and negatively by different Biblical characters, and encouraged in principle even when not declared outright.

Is accountability hard for you? Why or why not?

Share ideas of what have you done, as an overseas or missionary worker, to build accountability into your life and ministry.

PS We'll keep on looking at accountability in the next post - so make sure you jump on in to the discussion and leave your responses in the comment section or on Facebook.

 Looking forward to hearing what you have to say.

Series: Longevity in Ministry
5. Habituate yourself? 27/09/2014
7. Of rest and rescue, 23/10/2014

Please note: 
Italicized words are from my notes or from the guided notes in the church bulletin
and are, to the best of my recall, actual content from the sermon.
The rest comes from my continued study and meditation prompted by that sermon.

To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.


  1. Yes, I think accountability is definitely a good and helpful thing, even if it isn't an official accountability relationship. We try to make it a priority in our ministry. There have been times when I've had official accountability and other times when I have not had anything official in place. When there have been other families in our ministry, I've often had more "official" accountability or peer mentorship with the fellow mom or moms on my team (as in we had scheduled times to meet and talk). Currently one of my leaders' wives is doing more intentional mentorship and accountability with me. There have been other times when I haven't had anyone in our ministry in our city that could function officially in this role. At those times I've had good friends that I was able to communicate with via email. I'm thankful to have several friends that I can be completely open with about both the good things and struggles of life. We've kept each other accountable not because it is specifically an accountability relationship, but because we have intentionally created the sort of deep friendship where we are willing to be completely open with each other about what is going on in our hearts and lives. These friendships are so life-giving!

    1. i tend to prefer those deep friendships who will ask me how i'm doing and probe and keep me accountable. hubby tends to prefer the more official kinds... with a mentor/superior within our organization.

      wonder if that is reflective of men/women differences... or just personalities???