We are exploring Archibald Hart’s thoughts on the Four Risk factors of ministry life from an article he published, “Time To Get A Life”. The risk factors he had found peculiar to pastors involve Aloneness, Arrogance, Addiction and Adultery.
We all agree that being a pastor (or an assistant pastor, a youth pastor, a spiritual formation pastor, even a pastor to pastors) can be—doesn’t have to be but it can be—a place of aloneness. I hope that the emerging leaders, new younger pastors who have a proclivity toward community, will break free of the loneliness so many of their predecessors have known. Me included.
Hart observes in the spiral down what is birthed out of aloneness: “You develop a certain Arrogance. Who can teach me anything? You stop being accountable to anyone”. You start thinking, “I’m the one people turn to for answers. People come to see me with their most intimate problems and ask for guidance. When they are hurting, suffering, wandering, dying, struggling or hungry to learn, they come to me”. That is quite a gig. In your little corner of the world, you are the “Bible answer man”. You are the one who has “Mastered Divinity”.
I remember a story of the guy who went to the Doctor and told him his car was broken down. The doctor told him to go see a mechanic. He went to his mechanic and told him that he was having a problem with pain in his right arm and the mechanic told him to see a doctor. He went by his church and saw his pastor and said my car is broken down and my right arm hurts and the pastor said, “Come into my study and let’s talk about it”. It is hard to be a humble servant of the Lord when people see us as the one who is strong, smart, witty and wise.
I love Steve’s open, honest vulnerability in his recent vid! He is teaching at the Billy Graham Center and asked for our prayer because he said, “I’d like to say I don’t want to bring shame on the name of Christ and I want to be faithful to the truth…but most of it is I don’t want to make a fool of myself at the Billy Graham Training Center.” Oh if we could be that honest with ourselves and with others. There is a total lack of arrogance.
Hart says we arrogantly are no longer accountable to anyone. I confess I have not joined the ‘accountability group’ band wagon, where you get a group together and confess your failures and struggles (maybe it is my pride). Most groups don’t have any accountability to them. Accountability implies consequence and there is little consequence in those groups. Instead it descended into a group version of a catholic confessional. “Say three hail Mary’s, stop doing it, and try harder this week”.
I am accountable to my presbytery for my theology and my moral life. I’m accountable to those men because if I have moral failure or my theology gets twisted, they can do something about it and I have seen them use their “something” on others. I am accountable to my loving wife, Rachel. There is consequence to the relationship. And she is accountable to me too. I am accountable to my Board of Directors. I have accountability.
However, I think it is wise to have other relationships that help with our personal, spiritual and missional lives. In our forthcoming book, Gospel Coach, (Zondervan 2012—Steve Brown has written the forward), Scott Thomas (President of Acts 29 Network) wrote a section on five basic foundations for good accountability:
1. Focus on the Gospel and your responding to the grace of God. It is the love of Christ demonstrated through His death and resurrection that controls us (2 Cor. 5:14-15).
2. Find people of your same gender who have regular contact with you and can observe your life closely.
3. Find people who are not employed by you or under your direct authority. Sometimes silence on their part means not getting fired. It is acceptable to supplement your accountability with people under your supervision, but they cannot be the only ones who are holding you accountable.
4. Tell them you may lie to them on purpose occasionally to test whether they will press you for an accurate answer to their questions. Someone asked me how I would know if an accountability team was actually working for their benefit. I told him to lie to them and see if they press anyway. If a person can lie to their accountability team, it is of no value or protection to them. The point of this is not to cultivate a habit of lying, it’s to train your accountability partners to ask hard questions and to be relentless about their receiving an accurate answer, even if they question your honesty. Ultimately, you do this because you value honesty and are deeply aware of your own capacity for sinful deception.
5. Utilize questions that are not the same every week and find questions that examine sins in our head and our heart and not just in our hands.
Lastly, I want to suggest one sure fire way to deal with our arrogance. Gospel motivated Prayer. A pastor friend of mine who had been used by God to plant several churches, lead hundreds of people to Christ, preached thousands of wonderful sermons, led a pastoral care network and taught seminars around the country, crashed and burned in ministry. I never saw it coming. A total blindside. When asked, so how did you end up here, his reply was simple. “I stopped praying”.
A praying life keeps us humble and away from arrogance. Getting back to prayer, we recognize that we cannot do this. And we know we are heard because Jesus, in the Garden, prayed the prayer we struggle to pray—“Father, not my will but your will be done.” To help you with your prayer life, read Steve’s book, Approaching God and check out www.prayercurrent.com.