This article looks at accountability in the church. Do we really have supervision over our fellow officers and church members? The author also discusses church discipline.

Source: The Outlook, 1999. 2 pages.

Accountability: The Key to Good Pastoral Care

Over the years, I've written literally dozens of columns for elders and deacons. In them, I've stressed a common theme: these offices aren't designed by Christ to fulfill merely administrative tasks within the church (go to meetings, structure budgets, oversee building and grounds), but are established with pastoral purposes in mind. They are given to the church to defend the flock from evil, to nurture the flock in the Word, to guide and coordinate the stewardship of the flock, and all of this with a view to equipping the membership to give itself in its own service to Christ. If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times: elders (especially) are pastors, and ought to be involved in pastoral care.

Recently, however, someone who reads this column visited our church in Dallas on a particular Sunday. He sought me out after church to ask me how we "did things differently" here. I guess he was looking to see whether I prac­ticed what I preached in this one-monthly column. I had to admit to him that we struggle just as might­ily here to implement this vision as anyone does anywhere in the Re­formed and Presbyterian church world. I suspect this is so for a couple of reasons. First, we're all busy, and the demands of pastoral care are heavy. (We have no retired elders here; all are engaged in de­manding careers.) Second, tradition is weighty. In most churches, the view that "the pas­tor" should pastor the flock, the el­ders should "rule" (read: "adminis­ter"), and the dea­cons should take care of the money is a dominant viewpoint. Though we may agree that Acts 20 and 1 Peter 5 describe a different model, it's hard to implement. We've always done it the other way.

So, how do we improve our pas­toral care? How do we actually get elders and deacons beyond mere agreement with a concept, all the way to hearty involvement in the pastoral care of individuals and families? In a word, accountability.

"A Rose by Any Other Name..."🔗

I recently read an article in a theo­logical journal that was discussing the validity of the third of Calvin's "three marks of the true church." The first (pure preaching of the Word), and the second (right ad­ministration of the sacraments) are indisputable for Reformed Christians. But the third (faithful appli­cation of church discipline) is not as popular these days, and many are beginning to question whether it really belongs in the list.

I believe it is absolutely essential. That means, I believe that without it, the church will lose her spiritual vitality, and ultimately shrivel up and die. Let me explain (but first, let's change the name and call it "accountability"). By "accountabil­ity" I mean holding people account­able to agreed-upon standards of behavior and doctrine. In the busi­ness world, that is assumed. You ei­ther have accountability, or your business fails. In the educational arena, academic achievement is measured in terms of accountabil­ity. You do your homework, you ful­fill the requirements of your degree, or you fail. It's as simple as that.

So too in the church. When a be­liever hears the Word of God (purely preached!) or reads the Word of God, he or she is called to a response of life and heart. That is a nonnego­tiable component of a covenant re­lationship with God. (Jesus de­manded doers, not only hearers!) When a believer commits herself to membership in the local body, she promises to honor the care of the eldership as they, shepherd her ac­cording to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Why then should we balk at the notion of "church discipline," properly understood? It's not merely punative, but is intentionally pastoral. It doesn't aim merely to scold, but to hold God's people accountable to the Word of Christ, to the body of doctrinal truth that the church embraces, and to the lifestyle of holiness that the Scriptures demand of the con­verted.

I once said, in an elders conference, that "all church mem­bers are at all times under the dis­cipline of the Word." Discipline isn't just applied when pastoral care fails. Pastoral care is discipline! Or, for the purposes of this column, pastoral care demands accountabil­ity. Elders dare not merely make suggestions without following up. Imagine confronting an adulterer with "advice" to leave his lover, but without ever following up to dis­cover whether obedience to the Word of the Lord brought about the conversion of life? Imagine "suggesting" that a member who neglects worship repeatedly might consider attending ser­vices periodically, but doing noth­ing if she doesn't? Such behavior would be pastoral neglect.

That's what I think Calvin meant when he called "discipline" a mark of a True Church. That's certainly what I mean when I call account­ability evidence that a church has vitality. Unless the church (and that means the preacher, the pastoral el­ders, the deacons and everyone else) takes the Word seriously, and insists that it be honored and obeyed, the church is not and will not be alive in Christ!

Now, back to my point. All this applies to elders and deacons, too. I can write column after column ar­guing for and articulating what the Bible says about pastoral care by the elders of the church. I can write and preach until I'm blue in the face about the fact that the preacher cannot and should not pastor the flock by himself. I can holler and scream and dance about all I want, but unless there is accountability to the Word in this church in Dallas, and in the congregations, you serve wherever you read these words, we'll be disobedient to our Lord, and thus will jeopardize the vitality of His Church.

Elders and deacons can agree with me that Acts 20 demands that elders become intimately involved with the flock, defending against the wolves of false doctrine and unholy living. They can agree that 1 Peter 5 demands a pastoral heart and style of relating with the flock. They can endorse my insistence that Acts 6 demands deacons who do more than collect money, but who actively seek to cultivate, assess, receive, and manage all kinds of resources, including both spiritual gifts and finances.

But if your elders and deacons don't look each other in the eye regularly and ask: are you doing these things? you won't make the nec­essary changes to improve your pastoral care. You must hold your­self accountable. You must hold your brethren accountable. You must insist on obedience to the Scripture within your own body of officebearers. You must encourage the hesitant, and rebuke if obedi­ence isn't forthcoming, even going so far as to bring witnesses to bear on stubborn and noncompliant brothers.

Why? Because the spiritual vital­ity of the church of Jesus is at stake!

And that, after all, is the goal, isn't it? Our goal as Reformed churches is not merely to prove that we're maintaining traditions, stay­ing conservative, avoiding liberal­ism. The goal is to be alive in Christ, displaying the vitality of a church throbbing with His Word and Spirit, pulsating with personal and dy­namic relationships with Christ, His Word and each other, flexing ser­vant-hearts and performing effective ministry. That's what the reforma­tion is all about. Nothing more, nothing less.

So, dear brother, hold yourself ac­countable to the Word of Christ. And start holding your fellow servants accountable to their Master's expectations. His Church's health is at stake!

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