Friday, 26 September 2014

Accountable to Whom?

It continues to disturb me how many parallels there are between my church experience and the continuing Mars Hill drama!

Apparently Mark Driscoll has recently suggested that he made a mistake in "trying to be under the authority of [his] elders" (see Warren Throckmorton's post). He says that what he needed to do was choose some "older and more seasoned" pastors from outside his church to give him counsel. This, despite the fact that most of his elders were actually older and more experienced than he was! (see this 'Musing' from under the bus.) Why would he not want to benefit from their wisdom?

In my situation, it was made painfully clear that elder J didn't think his fellow elders - his peers and equals - should be holding him to account. He thought instead that he should be 'submitting' to a group of men who were all telling him what a fabulous job he was doing and how he really should be the leader over the rest of us. They even opined that if he left the church, it would collapse! Get the picture?

So you have two 'church leaders' rejecting peer accountability seemingly in order to 'submit' to those they know would say what they wanted to hear. I'd say there's something seriously wrong with that.

Firstly, both men felt entitled to choose who they would submit to, and it seems that choice was based on finding those who would see things their way and agree with them. Men who would tell them that they were the 'vision-carriers' and that anyone who stood in their way should be run over.  It seems that they didn't want men who might ask tough questions - might even disagree with them - but instead chose men who would effectively stroke their egos.

And understand this - the freedom to choose was theirs alone!

By their actions, it seems obvious that both men believed that no-one else had a choice - that everyone else was obligated to submit to them. Submit or be hounded out of the church. Some christians are more equal than others. The anointed ones get to pick and choose, but 'the sheep' must submit or get slaughtered.

In choosing to be accountable solely to those outside the church, they were choosing people who did not experience the day-to-day realities of the organisation, and who therefore lacked the intimate understanding of those who worked at the coalface every day. As Paul Tripp said when he resigned from the Mars Hill board,
" became clear to me that a distant, external accountability board can never work well because it isn't a firsthand witness to the ongoing life and ministry of the church. 
Such a board at best can provide financial accountability, but it will find it very difficult to provide the kind of hands-on spiritual direction and protection that every Christian pastor needs. Unwittingly what happens is that the external accountability board becomes an inadequate replacement for a biblically functioning internal elder board that is the way God designed his church to be lead and pastors to be guided and protected."
And in these circumstances, the board members tended to receive highly biased reports. Paul Tripp put it this way*,  “One of the problems with the [Mars Hill board] is that they are getting their information from the people they are supposed to be holding accountable.”

In my experience this made for a highly partisan response from the board. But what else would you expect when they'd been set up to see everything through the eyes of the 'leader'!?

* from the document: Concerns and Critical Information for the Elders of Mars Hill Church


  1. Another excellent post, LL. Outside accountability appears to be objective and cleaner on the surface. But how can you hold someone accountable when you don't do life with them on any consistent basis. And more fundamentally, does the felt need for accountability in the western church point to gross misconceptions about the nature of leadership itself? Does love hold another to account? Do I feel loved when others audit my behavior?

    1. Thanks, James. I believe you've hit the nail on the head. I've found that the concept of 'accountability' has been twisted and abused by the institutional church. When we live in intimate, honest relationship with our brothers and sisters, it happens naturally and makes us feel safe. When we allow ourselves to know and be known, that aspect of relationship becomes just another expression of our love for one another rather than a tool of abuse or self-protection.

  2. LL - Have you read this blog post by David Hayward? If you choose to check it out - I would encourage you to peruse the 700+ comments. I have a feeling it might prove to be a cathartic experience. ;-) (

    1. "One of the things I highly value, and I wish the church would, is mutual passion for truth and the well-being of all people, rather than its own security or agenda. The comments on this post are an indication to me that voices have been silenced…"

      Just got as far as this comment and I almost stood up and applauded!

  3. Keep reading - it gets even more interesting! We've taken "honor your elders" to mean "silence the oppressed." It's really sad. It's not primarily about right and wrong relating to issues. It's got to be about relationships and how we treat everyone involved, especially those who feel victimized.

    1. Absolutely! As soon as we place anything higher than relationships, it's game over. I tried to make this point repeatedly in my situation but it became clear that it was going to end badly for anyone who got in the way of 'doing church'. It's become a god to some people :P

      Btw, I have kept reading and it's fascinating stuff. Thanks so much for the heads up :)