Accountability and the Great Commission

By Steven Douglass

Have you ever heard someone say to you, “I am going to hold you accountable”? What was your initial reaction? Negative? Uneasy? Wondering who gave him that right?

Those are fairly understandable human reactions. Isn’t the truth supposed to set us free?

Yes, but there is a biblical concept that limits our freedom: accountability. No Scripture makes it more clear for us as leaders than Hebrews 13:17a: “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.”

As leaders, we will have to give an account to God for what kind of stewardship we exercised over the opportunities God gave us. I am constantly sobered by my accountability to God for my leadership of thousands of staff and hundreds of millions of dollars.

But the first part of that verse is also convicting. I need to obey my leaders and submit to their authority. You see, I report to a board of directors. I can’t just ignore their input into my decisions and my life.

In God’s overall scheme of things, there are many reasons that receiving input and respecting authority are important. A main one is that it helps us to live in such a way that the light of Jesus shines from our lives. The light of Christ in our lives is the foundation for verbal witness and, in turn, for the fulfillment of our Lord’s Great Commission. In Matthew 5:16 we read; “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Bill Bright came to Christ after he met a number of young adults who attended Hollywood Presby­terian Church. He was impressed with what Jesus was doing in their lives and responded.

However, several years before, a pastor in Bill’s hometown in Oklahoma was unfaithful to his wife and that caused Bill to not want any part of Christianity. Had the story ended there, Bill would not have founded Campus Crusade for Christ.

You see that the Great Commission and the lifestyle of Christian leaders are very interrelated. Today, younger people are looking at the behavior of Christians and don’t want any part of it. A new study shows that only three percent of 16- to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views toward evangelicals (reported by David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group and author of the book unChristian). Kinnaman says “as we probed why young people had such conclusions, I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches.” What we and our organizations do and say in the name of Christ has a huge impact on people.

On the positive side, when people perceive a ministry and its leaders are accountable, they believe in them more. They, in turn, are more generous in giving to that ministry’s needs. The net result is that more of the Great Commission is fulfilled.

If you read this newsletter regularly, you are likely an influencer in a Christian organization. So what I am saying is that what we do, both individually and corporately, makes a huge difference in helping to fulfill the Great Commission. People either see the attractive, loving light of Jesus flowing from us or they detect a judgmental spirit and hypocrisy. Every positive experience helps, but every scandal hurts the advancement of God’s Kingdom on Earth.

It is sobering that, apart from the power and grace of God, a scandal could happen to any of us or our organizations. So what can we do to seek to avoid that? One way is to submit ourselves to the wisdom and even censure of responsible Christians. We must make sure we are humbly accountable. That takes different forms:

  1. Being meaningfully involved in an accountability group of people who are close enough to see how we live.
  2. Assuring our organization abides by guidelines established by certifying agencies such as ECFA.
  3. Responding to criticism of us and of our organizations with humility and teachability.

These may sound obvious, and we may think we do that. But often we don’t realize how much we are not being accountable. Some time ago, I was talking to a good friend who was sad about what he was seeing in his pastor’s life – pride and lack of accountability. Here were some of his specific observations:

  1. All the people around him are so impressed with him that they tend to accept everything he says without thoughtful reflection.
  2. If someone does seek to correct him, that person is quickly marginalized and often dismissed from leadership.
  3. Because of his schedule he often does not seek out the facts well before forming a conclusion. Once he “goes public” with his conclusion, he finds it very difficult to be confronted by the real facts and publicly reverse his decision.

There was more, but let me simply conclude by posing a few self-examination questions that will test our teachability:

  1. Am I truly accountable to other people?
  2. Do I gladly receive their input and aggressively seek to change in response?
  3. Do I gladly lead my organization to conform to ECFA guidelines, or do I sometimes resent and resist them?
  4. Would those who know me best consider me a humble, teachable person?

Why ask such pointed questions? Because leadership can become a lonely position over time. Too often I have seen leaders grow more isolated and less accountable. Often I have seen leaders think too highly of themselves and eventually put themselves “above the law.”

The big problem then is that pride comes before a fall. That fall is visible to many—both non-Christians and Christians. And it severely hurts the fulfillment of the Great Commission.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.