“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17)
I’ll never forget one day after I presented a workshop on pornography and sexual addiction, when a youth pastor approached me to tell a most sad story. He explained how he had recently moved across country to take a position at a church. He was in the office early on his first day and was attempting to set up his computer, but was having difficulty connecting to the Internet. As he tried to find someone who might be able to help, he walked into the sanctuary.
As he explained it to me, there was a large stained glass window behind him, a huge cross in front of him, and a video screen right beside the cross. He stood in amazement as a pornographic video was being played on the large video screen. As he looked up to the control booth, he saw his new senior pastor huddled up and watching the video. Out of sheer disbelief and anger, the young pastor screamed, “What are you doing?” and quickly walked back toward his office.
The senior pastor gathered himself, stormed past the young man, went into his office and slammed the door. In a later discussion with his senior pastor, it became apparent that a very proud and defiant stance was going to be the approach against this youth pastor’s discovery. Ultimately, this event cost the senior pastor everything. However, what was even more revealing was his attempt to blame the youth pastor for his demise and not to accept any responsibility for his actions.
This is not an uncommon story. Of course, the details are not the same in each instance, but there are pastors all over America that have lost it all to a pornography problem. They live their lives with no accountability whatsoever because they honestly believe either it’s too risky or they are simply above it. Like the pastor in this story, many have a lofty attitude regarding not only their problem, but also regarding accountability.
Being a pastor myself, I understand how everyone looks to us for spiritual guidance, and we become the spiritual authority in many people’s lives. But if we’re not careful, this authority mentality can carry over into everything.
You see, when you are never challenged, when you are always the one giving the answers, casting vision, bringing perspective, it is easy to develop an “I’m the man” mentality. It is within that mindset that the idea of accountability is not at all embraced and yet it is the very lack of accountability that propagates this attitude. The subject of personal accountability cannot even be addressed when this attitude prevails. So please understand if you don’t want accountability and if you think you are above accountability, you will simply continue with the status quo.
I Corinthians 10:12-13 tells us, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability.” That’s good news, but it goes on to say, “but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
Personal accountability involves looking for that way of escape before temptation comes, like removing any porn from your home or office immediately, keeping your office door open at all times, calling your accountability partner—and the biggest one of all—Internet protection1—because without it, you are just wasting your time.
Who can hold you accountable?
First and foremost, you’ve got to get away from the “Lone Ranger” syndrome. You are not in this battle alone, unless you choose to be. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” I love this Scripture because it establishes the need for someone to come alongside you to pick you up when you fall. But really, accountability is not only about helping you up, but staying the course, so that you won’t fall to begin with. It can become one more element of successful Christian living and a voice of reason when yours is distorted by lust. Accountability is something you should seriously pray about and ask God to give you guidance and discernment over.
1. Fellow staff member
A great place to start is another church staff member, if you are blessed to have one. You are both in the same situation, living life in a fish bowl, serving the Lord in the capacity of ministry, and needing a sounding board and someone to be transparent with. There has to be one man in your life with whom you can be brutally honest and allow the same for him.
I happen to have lunch weekly with another staff member at my church who has become my accountability partner. We talk about many things and nothing is taboo. He knows my thoughts and I know his, and we help each other along the way. It has developed into an incredible friendship and I trust him with my life and that is what accountability breeds.
You will find through accountability that a close friendship will develop and every man needs one good and close friend. Something interesting about an accountability partner is how comfortable you can become with one another. When that relationship is strong there really isn’t anything you can’t talk about. When you see that the inner thoughts and struggles that you share are kept confidential it only propels you to share in greater ways and this is key. We all need someone like this in our life.
2. Long-distance friends
Some pastors have long-distance accountability partners. These are relationships that have stood the test of time, men who they trust and have a relationship with but who live somewhere else. It could be that friend you went to college with, the friend that stood up at your wedding, the guy you played ball with—the one who has simply been a trusted part of your life. This is the best kind of long distance partner.
This sort of partnership, as well as any accountability, must begin by identifying your need for it. A starting point might sound like this: “As you know, I am a pastor and in my position it is difficult and even risky to share any personal struggles I may be facing. I know however, that away from my title, I am still a man and I too have to deal with stress and temptations and as you can imagine, I want to walk away from them with victory. You have always been a friend that I can count on and I would like to ask a very important favor from you. I need someone in my life with whom I can be totally honest, who will hear my concerns and issues, will support me through them, and hold me accountable to be the man of God I am supposed to be. I need you listen to me, pray with me, encourage me, as I will you, and keep this only between you and I. Can you commit to this for me?”
You have now just ignited a new kind of friendship that will go even deeper and more meaningful than what you have experienced up to this point. We should never view accountability as a burden, but instead as an incredible honor. To be asked by a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ to be their partner will be an incredibly special opportunity for your friend that they will not only take seriously, but will do it with a love for you that few others could.
If you choose long-distance accountability is the method you choose, you must make time each week to call this friend and share from your heart. It is important after the normal small talk of catching up to have a process you go through each and every time you talk.
No matter whom you choose, you and your accountability partner must establish a “covenant of confidentiality” about anything that is shared. Honesty must be a cornerstone of this relationship. Transparency is essential because accountability without transparency is a waste of time. Always pray for one another. Have Scriptures ready to share with each other as an encouragement for the week ahead. Become a partner to him and help him in his walk as well. You must also have an agreement of being available for each other whenever needed, outside of these weekly calls. You must be ready and willing to call your partner or receive a call from them whenever either of you is struggling. You both have to take accountability seriously enough to drop whatever you are doing to help your friend in need.
I have heard some pastors say that all they need is an “anonymous” long-distance accountability partner. It will never work. How in the world is an unknown voice on the other end of the phone going to help in holding you accountable?
One of the reasons accountability is so powerful is because you know you will have to face your partner and openly share the times when you fall. This makes you stop and think before you embark upon premeditated sin. It is simply one more level of clarity prior to you making a decision to either partake or walk away from sexual sin.
When someone knows you well, they know how you act, talk, and express yourself. If you chose to be untruthful with an anonymous partner, how would they even know if you were lying? Accountability partners who know you and have a history with you can clearly see when you are being honest and when you are blowing smoke.
I believe with all my heart that an anonymous partner would be a waste of time, because there really isn’t accountability there. It simply becomes an exercise between two guys who don’t know one another and truthfully don’t care. There has to be a vested interest in each other’s lives in order for accountability to work.
3. Another pastor in town
Another form of accountability is to consider teaming up with another pastor in your town. Remember he is in the same boat as you and also needs accountability. I am aware how competitive church building can be, and yet I know this is not an attitude that God embraces. We are all working on the same team toward the same goal—winning people to Christ. We have to move past that competitive nature within all of us, break down those walls, and be there for one another.
Some smaller communities will have regular breakfast meetings with fellow clergy members, and in larger metropolitan areas, many denominations will have luncheons with other pastors within your particular fellowship, where solid relationships can develop. As you develop a friendship, you will become more transparent with each other and accountability will naturally develop. Who better to hold you accountable than a man who clearly understands everything you are dealing with? And there is absolutely nothing wrong with cutting to the chase and simply telling your fellow pastor you have found accountability essential in your Christian walk and how you would be honored if he would consider teaming up with you.
But I can’t think of anyone…
A statement I hear often is, “There is no one to whom I can go for accountability,” and I must tell you just how arrogant a statement that is. Truthfully, this plays right in line with the mindset that I am above accountability. Our enemy uses our positions of “spiritual authority” against us. We think no one is capable enough, or spiritual enough, or strong enough, or discreet enough.
Yes, I know your personal struggles getting into the wrong hands can create trouble for you, but let’s get real here. If you have prayed about this there comes a point where you have to truly trust God in ways you have been teaching your flock…completely. I believe with all of my heart when God sees you attempting to do something about your struggles, He honors that effort by directing you to the right person.
Ultimately, whoever you choose to help you in your struggle must exhibit a strong walk with Jesus Christ. He can’t be intimidated by your position and must not be afraid to call you out. Like King David, you need a Nathan in your life. Also like King David, your accountability partner should be a Jonathan to you. The two of you must have other interactions besides just accountability conversations over your sexual struggles. You must take time to be friends and simply develop that bond which is required for true accountability, because true accountability develops through a relationship where true love for one another exists.
Allow yourself to be held accountable, because accountability before man is a stepping stone to integrity before God.
Men of God, if you are struggling with pornography or sexual sin of any kind, the first step is to confess it. It is the secrecy of this problem that will continue to keep you bound by it. “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (John 3:20-21). If we live by the truth, and that is what we profess publically every week in front of our congregations, we’ve got to bring our sin and weaknesses into the light. Secrecy about your struggle with porn will get you nothing but a deeper addiction for it. This is the essence of our faith: being transparent before God, confessing our sin, and being cleansed by the blood of Jesus.
Never forget, God’s grace, forgiveness, and mercy still apply to you, man of God. Your position doesn’t preclude you from this and truthfully, you need it now more than ever.
Once you decide to come clean, not just with God but to a fellow believer in Christ, your path away from this problem begins. There is something liberating about openly sharing your struggle with another. Chains are broken and you can for the first time start down a path of freedom, because no longer is your secret holding you captive. Just like you have habitually created this problem, you methodically break away from it. This is where accountability becomes powerful. But no one can hold you accountable until you empower them to do so.
Lastly, let me say that our greatest form of accountability is to Jesus Christ. It becomes easy in the ministry to run on autopilot. We stay so busy preparing sermons, counseling, planning for the future, and keeping it all together that few find time to really nurture that most important relationship we all have. Often, when we are in the Scriptures, it is usually developing a sermon. We pray for so many people about so many things that we can forget to pray for ourselves and take time to commune with God.
To be a spiritual authority in others lives, we must truly know the heart of God and understand and dwell in His Word. Pastors cannot afford to run on yesterday’s experiences. We must have new encounters with God and new revelations in our own lives if we are to be effective at leading the Church of Jesus Christ. When we are truly living the life we preach about in a passionate and all encompassing way, this is when we are led by the Holy Spirit. So, when times of temptation come, we feel the Holy Spirit’s conviction, and we act accordingly. We don’t tune it out. This is the ultimate form of accountability in the life of any believer.
Don’t get lazy in your faith! Refuse to live in the status quo! Seek God daily and develop an even deeper understanding of Him and what He requires of you!
1Now you are probably thinking that because I am writing a chapter in this book, that the good folks at Covenant Eyes told me to mention their product, but that’s just not true. This is Square One for any pastor. If you are not willing to take this most obvious first step, you are not applying any personal accountability! Pastor, if you use a computer at work or home, Covenant Eyes is essential! Internet surfing accountability should be standard on all computers at all church offices and home offices.