Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

September 2002
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Accountability

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

A godly leader will choose accountability. To be accountable means to be responsible to others, to allow others to call one to account. An unaccountable person, on the other hand, will answer to no one outside of himself.

The word “accountability” in English comes from the fourteenth century word accounts, meaning a record of money received and paid. King James II of England was the first to publicly use the term “accountability.” In 1688 he said to his people, “I am accountable for all things that I openly and voluntarily do or say.”

In short, the word means being answerable for your actions. It does not necessarily mean you will succeed. James lost his throne within a year of making his pledge – due to religious quarrels! Nevertheless, accountability offers something better than success. It provides a measure of whether you are doing the best you can in the circumstances, important information however well you do.1

Jesus, of course, was accountable. He lived and ministered under the authority of His heavenly Father:

…I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. (John 8:28)

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:30)

Moreover, as a Child, He was also accountable to His earthly parents:

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them… (Luke 2:51)

Jesus thus taught that in order to have true authority, one must first be under authority.

The centurion in Matthew 8 was accountable: “I myself am a man under authority” (v. 9). In that state of being “under authority” he exercised authority: “with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (v. 9). The centurion exercised sound authority because he was first under authority. Consequently, he was able to recognize the true authority of Jesus: “just say the word, and my servant will be healed” (v. 8).

Accountability is central to character and to effective leadership.

Leaders are given trust by their communities. To accept a leadership role is to receive trust from one’s community. The task of Christian leadership comes with high standards – the highest, we would hope! Therefore, some form of accountability must be in place to measure whether or not such standards are being adhered to by the leader and whether the trust his community has given him is being honored or abused.

Even Paul, the great apostle, was accountable in his ministry. Too often, people think of Paul as an independent ministry. But Paul was sent out by the church at Antioch (Acts 13:3) and he remained accountable to that spiritual community throughout his ministry (Acts 14:26-28; 15:2-3, 35-40; 18:22-23). Moreover, Paul willingly made himself accountable to the leaders of the church at Jerusalem, from whom the Gospel had come initially (cf. Gal. 2:2).

The following are some areas of accountability that should be maintained in a leader’s life and ministry:

Healthy leaders will be accountable ones!

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1 From Accountable Leadership by Paul Chaffee (1993), pp.8-9.

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