Allegiance or Accountability? By Dr. Brian S. Simmons
The Choice Between Blind Allegiance or Brutal Accountability
There is a tension between allegiance and accountability. All organizational leaders, at one time or another, face the dilemma of approaching a leader overtaken by a fault or challenging ideas that may not be the best.
We wrestle with the tension between disregarding wrong or unwise behavior on one end of the continuum vs. being overly negative and confrontational on the other. We know the biblical principle that says a follower is to submit to those placed in authority by God; otherwise, things may not go well for you (Hebrews 13:7). Add to this dilemma an overarching belief held by some Christian leaders that anyone who challenges the ideas or opinions of a pastor, for example, has a deep-seated, rebellious spirit. We have the ingredients for ineffectiveness at best and man-enabled disasters at worst!
Looking the Other Way
On one end of the blind allegiance vs. brutal accountability continuum, organizational leaders are tempted to sit by and do nothing when confronted with wrong, counterproductive, or ineffective behavior! This is uncaring for the leader to be overtaken by the fault and the organization entrusted to the leader’s care by God.
I have experience with a megachurch led by a senior pastor who had become addicted to prescribed pain medications. When this pastor’s behavior came to the elders’ attention in an elders’ meeting, which included the senior pastor, the pastor became defensive when confronted with the evidence of his addiction and stormed out of the room. Before leaving, he resigned from his position.
After the dust settled, one of the elders made the motion to accept the resignation of the senior pastor, and the chairman refused the motion and abruptly adjourned the meeting. Several months later, the situation still had not been resolved. Sadly, this pastor left his wife and family and was homeless on the city streets for a while. The inaction of this chairman enabled behavior that ruined the life and ministry of this lead pastor.
On a smaller scale, this scenario is played out time after time as organizational leaders turn a blind eye to organizational problems, most of which wear a face. These problems may be arrogant behavior, denigrating colleagues in public meetings, financial activities not aligned with best practices, unethical actions with fundraising, irresponsible use of organizational resources, etc.
The point is that turning a blind eye to problems, especially under the guise of following biblical principles, is not aligned with best practice nor the will of the Master, God, who will one day hold His stewards to account for all He has so graciously entrusted to their care. While core values and organizational mission may be sacrosanct, the ideas and actions of human beings, no matter their positions, do not rise to this level! And leaders should not be protected from their ideas being challenged or adequately criticized. This is healthy as the Bible teaches that the wounds of a friend are a blessing (Proverbs 27:6).
Accountability is important! It has been said that a life with no accountability is a life of no account. But there is a right way and a wrong way to confront problems. Proper, God-honoring accountability should not be harsh but should be done!
A few years back, I had the privilege of seeking the wisdom of a trusted counselor about a situation I was facing with a person under my authority. He challenged me to be “velvet steel.” By that, he meant for me to hold firm to biblical principles while being soft to the touch. In other words, he encouraged me to instruct gently.
As a starting point, Scripture admonishes us to remove the plank in our eye first before attempting to help someone else with the speck in their eye (Matthew 7:3). The Bible does not say to ignore the speck in another’s eye. I wear contact lenses and can tell you from experience that a speck under a contact lens drives you crazy!
Once we have removed the plank from our eyes, we are to help one another in love! God expects His church to be characterized by love and unity (I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4). But unity does not mean uniformity. We do not all look alike. And unity does not mean unanimity.
We do not all think alike. Unity demands a leader to regularly engage the team he or she leads in constructive conflict! Constructive conflict is a rigorous debate about ideology and ideas. We cross the line into destructive conflict when we attack others. This is always wrong. Conflict is not always something to be resolved. Sometimes, conflict is something leaders should embrace.
Now, there is a proper time and place for constructive conflict. We should not go around the back of the person God leads us to talk to, instead complaining about that person to others. And we should not confront another person in public but rather in private.
There are also effective behaviors we must embrace when confronting another person. It has been said that God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk. And it is important that we not be filled with hubris when we confront a terrible idea or wrong behavior in another.
Finally, according to Richard Blackaby’s book Spiritual Leadership, we must move others onto God’s agenda. This is the same as the steward leader seeking to faithfully fulfill the purposes of the Master, God, for all that has been So graciously entrusted to his care. Leaders steward time, treasure, talent, and relationships. Of these, the most precious is relationships!
If we genuinely care about leaders and the organizations they lead, we will confront wrong behavior! And we can disagree without being disagreeable. As we do this, however, we need to avoid the extremes of blind allegiance and brutal accountability.
Dr. Brian S. Simmons is the Vice President of CIU Global and a Professor at Columbia International University. He exists as a visionary builder to further the kingdom of God through Christian education, teaching, and influencing others.
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