Ministers are accountable to God for the exercise of their ministry (see 1 Corinthians 4:1-4; Galatians 1:10; Hebrews 13:17).
Therefore, they have a responsibility to exercise their ministry in a way that is responsive to the spirit’s leading. But ministers are also accountable to the church.
Just as Paul and Barnabas gave an account of their missionary activities to the church at Antioch which had set them apart for this particular work (Acts 13:1-3; 14:27), so today’s pastors should be prepared to give an account of their ministry to the people of God, and not least to their lay leaders who with them are the “managing trustees” of the church.
Rightly understood, accountability is about trust and transparency, and not about control and power. Examples of accountability should include the following:
1. Clear job descriptions.
Currently, most ministers in the United Kingdom do not have an agreed upon job description. This may have been acceptable in the past, but this will no longer be so.
Responsibilities will need to be defined, including preaching and teaching, leadership in worship and the Christian rites of passage, pastoral care and mission.
There can, however, be no one standard job description for a minister; responsibilities will vary from church to church and will differ according to a minister’s personality and gifting. Indeed, they can even differ at various stages in a person’s ministry.
2. Regular ministry reports.
Although ministers need to be given broad authority to exercise their agreed upon responsibilities, the church’s lay leaders will expect regular ministry reports.
Where there have been agreed goals, there needs to be a good deal of latitude and flexibility in assessing the pursuit of those goals. Leaders need the freedom to fail so that they will be willing to take risks.
Clearly, such reports cannot include pastoral confidences, nor would they deal with the minutiae of day-to-day ministry. However, deacons or elders must be able to hold their ministers to account for their ministry.
Such accounts will hopefully be a source of encouragement, a spur to prayer, a cause for corporate reflection and lead to deeper commitment on the part of the leadership team to support the ministry of their pastor.
3. Ministry beyond the local church.
As part of their job description, ministers will want to make it clear that their ministry will often go beyond the borders of the local church. Some ministers, for instance, will be involved in their local community, while others will be serving God on wider church bodies.
Elders and deacons “worth their salt” will always recognize that the kingdom is broader than the local church and will be happy to see such wider ministries as part of the work of their pastor.
However, wise pastors will want to make sure that they give regular reports on these aspects of their ministry and so make themselves accountable to their fellow leaders.
4. Continuing education.
Ministers may be required to give reports on conferences they have attended, study weeks they have taken, sabbaticals they have enjoyed. Most deacons and elders are genuinely delighted to discover how their ministers have been blessed by time away from the church.
5. Annual appraisals.
Ministers will be expected, like most other people, to undergo annual appraisals. Because of the specialized nature of ministry, these appraisals are best conducted by an external ministerial facilitator together with two representative deacons or elders.
Appraisals properly conducted can be a great source of encouragement and help.
Now that continuing professional development is a requirement in many jobs, ministers will be expected to give evidence that they are committed to continuing ministerial development.
6. Healthy work-life balance.
Perhaps within the context of appraisal, churches will want to ensure that their ministers are developing a healthy work/life balance, giving time not only to preparing sermons and visiting people in their homes, but also to developing their spiritual walk with God and supporting their families.
They will want their minister to observe the principle of Sabbath by enjoying a proper weekly day of rest, by taking proper holidays and by going on a three-month sabbatical every seventh year. Churches know that it is in their interest to have a happy and healthy minister.
How can accountability be built into the call of a minister?
Hopefully not by the imposition of a one-sided contract, but rather by the mutual acceptance of a covenant between the minister and the church, in which not only the accountability of ministers to the church is recognized, but also the care and support of the church is pledged to their ministers as they seek to lead the church forward in mission and ministry.
Paul Beasley-Murray recently retired after 21 years of ministry as the senior minister of Central Baptist Church in Chelmsford in the United Kingdom. He is currently serving as the chairman and general editor of Ministry Today U.K. and as the chairman of the College of Baptist Ministers. He is the author of numerous books and articles; his writings can be found at PaulBeasleyMurray.com, where readers can register to receive his weekly blog post. A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission.
Paul Beasley-Murray retired after 21 years of ministry as the senior minister of Central Baptist Church in Chelmsford in the United Kingdom. He is currently serving as the chairman and general editor of Ministry Today U.K. and as the chairman of the College of Baptist Ministers. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including “Living Out the Call,” a four-volume series on pastoral ministry.