The Number One Missing Ingredient in Church Leadership

In the 1970s, one researcher noted, “There are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept.” According to these definitions, leadership is influence, power, mobilization, motivation, processes, and inspiration, among many others.

The same could be said of the church: “There are almost as many different ways of leading the church as there are persons who have attempted it.”

There are a lot of good studies, books, and articles on church leadership. But one ingredient of church leadership is under-represented, not only in the literature but also in practice. The number one missing ingredient in church leadership is a willingness to be held accountable.

It’s more than theology. Leadership accountability is found throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. However, just because a leader acknowledges biblical accountability doesn’t mean that leader will act on it. A leader may believe in the biblical nature of accountability but not follow through, like a person who believes exercise is good for the body but never goes to the gym.

It’s more than a system. The willingness to be held accountable is also more than a system of accountability a church puts into place. A leader may submit to a system of accountability but do so begrudgingly. Additionally, no system is perfect. Loopholes always exist. People who want to game the system will find ways to get around the rules.

It’s a spiritual discipline. Leaders should seek out accountability. They must be willing to be held accountable. It’s more than believing the theology of accountability. It’s more than submitting to a system of accountability. It’s a spiritual discipline in which you act upon belief.

What can you do to demonstrate a willingness to be held accountable?

1. Pray: How often have you asked God to introduce people and situations to keep you accountable? I believe God honors such prayers.

2. Don’t rely just on your church: Every pastor should have people inside and outside the church for accountability. However, those on the inside are, at times, too close to situations to speak pointedly. Therefore, outside sources of accountability are needed for truly unbiased accountability.

3. Make it a priority: Your willingness means putting it on the calendar—schedule times with people specifically for accountability.

4. Create overlapping circles of accountability: You need multiple people and processes (e.g., software for online accountability). Don’t fear redundancy. Overlapping circles of accountability mean you will have fewer blind spots!

5. Be public about who holds you accountable: Tell your deacons, your staff, your elders, your spouse, and other key leaders who have the responsibility and permission to speak the truth in your life.

The number one missing ingredient in leadership is not accountability. Theologically, the Bible gives us the foundation of accountability, and plenty of systems exist to implement accountability. The number one missing ingredient in leadership is a willingness to be held accountable, and it requires spiritual discipline to have it.

Posted on June 1, 2022

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • Ronnie Naidoo says on

    Number One ingredient in Leadership : a willingness to be held accountable is a great article. Yes, it is understated, often not taught or practicised in leadership or church circles.
    Thanks for the article.
    Pastor – South Africa

  • Alan McLeod (gmail) says on

    I agree and suggest 1 Peter 5:2 as a scriptural grounding, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are WILLING, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; (NIV, Capitals for emphasis).” This verse makes the all-important distinction between secular leadership and spiritual leadership — it’s who we are ultimately accountable to.

  • So true! It seems to me that many of the problems the church, and the individual within the church faces, could be resolved or lessened through accountability. Unfortunately, many in the church see this as an “old fashioned” value instead of one the protects them and the church.

  • William A. Secrest says on

    One of the things that I have learned in 20 years of ministry is that accountability is a one way street. Pastors will be held to an unbelievable standard and the lay leaders are not held to the same standard at all. It is not that I am unwilling. After accountability has been abused, you become less willing to put yourself out there once again. The irony of your post is that the Southern Baptist Convention is finally being held accountable for decades of sexual abuse. I would love to hear your take on how the SBC can create a new plan of accountability around this. The number of women and young girls whose lives were ruined is no joke and might explain the dwindling numbers within your denomination.

    • Sam Rainer says on

      William – You are correct about the SBC. It’s tragic. We at Church Answers stand with survivors. The SBC will need systemic change in order to deal with the systemic problem. It will take a large group of leaders coming together and reworking the entire denomination. No one person will be able to solve the problem. I hope the change happens, but, as of right now, I don’t see a lot of movement in the right direction.

      • Elaine S says on

        As a Christian and a survivor of sexual abuse (although not through the church), I am unsure how change will happen. I think it would necessitate changing how the church talks about women, their value, submission, gender roles, domestic violence, sexual purity, and divorce. Not changing the SBC interpretation of scripture, but specifying headship doesn’t mean harshness, physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Women in domestic violence situations can divorce without sinning. Submission doesn’t mean accepting ungodly behavior towards a spouse or children. Survivors who find the courage to speak out aren’t typically lying or seeking fame, we just want to be heard and believed.

        I heard loud and clear the message of the purity movement of the 90’s that I was a used piece of gum – simliar to Elizabeth Smart – if I had sex before marriage. That was my whole value. It didn’t matter that I was attacked at 5 years old and had no agency, I was now and would forever be dirty in the church’s eyes.

        I agree the world is watching how Christians treat each other, much less non-Christians, and they don’t see much love. I would love to see the church repent and lament what has been allowed to happen.

  • In leadership you have to be willing to talk to and listen to people, even those you don’t want or like. Some people might tell you the truth but if you refuse to hear or consider it because of who says it, you have just lost your credibility. Having always been on the bottom rung of the ladder in both govt. and the private sector, I quickly learned who would talk to me and who would not as well as who was (not) trustworthy.
    Respectfully, I think your discussion of accountability is insufficient. Either the leader can be removed or (s)he cannot. Almost no leaders are willing to be accountable because leadership is power. Powerful people don’t (have to) answer questions and only listen to a few select people.