How Accountability In Ministry Leadership Has Changed
I was recently thinking back to the season where I started doing youth ministry. When my journey began, America Online was the main way to get on the internet and they charged for every hour you were online. Around the same time, a certain former professional football player turned actor was just acquitted of murder. So let’s say it was a long time ago.
In my initial youth ministry job, during my first meeting with our new Senior Pastor, I recall being introduced to a series of questions that he would be asking me for accountability. They were extremely personal and super weird. I had been following Jesus for a whopping three years, and I had not had someone probe so deeply into my thoughts. I thought to myself I want to be honest with him, but do I really want to be that honest? I had literally just met this guy!
In the years that followed, I would be exposed to the various tensions of doing ministry with boundaries. Could I have a meal with a female youth leader? Should I only invest in the guys in my youth group? They’d say um, your wife can meet with the girls! But of course my wife wasn’t employed by the church, and her calling was different than mine. Everyone seemed to have strong opinions on one side or other, and I will admit that I spent times in both camps.
In those years, I believed accountability in ministry leadership was either about following some unwritten ambiguous rules that you had to figure out, or being willing to tell your boss things you had no interest in telling him. I struggled with questions such as “Will honesty impact my job?” “How do I know if this is a good idea when my boss seems to think I should know this?” “Who can I talk to when everyone I know and trust is in this church?”
Looking back into the glorious 90’s and fast forwarding to today, I see a major way accountability in ministry leadership has changed, and I believe it’s mostly changed for the better.
I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me
Technology has undoubtedly had the largest impact on accountability in ministry leadership. The church I work at now has cameras everywhere. I mean EVERYWHERE. While it might make me self-conscious if I need to “scratch” my nose, it also creates a feeling of safety because I know when I am in the building, I am protected. In addition to our church building, pretty much every place I meet people is littered with cameras, because that’s just how things are. If I’m connecting with someone at Panera, Starbucks, etc., these are no longer private meetings where I sit unaccountable.
Along these lines, accountability is different not only because of security cameras, but because people in your ministry have the ability to capture anything you say or do on their smartphone. In the pre-smartphone era, there were things done in youth ministry that I would never be so foolish as to write out, but let’s say that looking back, I cannot believe we did those things (anyone who has been in ministry more than 15 years surely has a story like this). Whether they were gross or aggressive games or other foolish antics that we shake our heads at today, accountability has changed the game. I think this is a good thing as it makes us filter these mostly immature things through a better lens. Instead of justifying things with “That’s youth ministry!” we can ask “What would happen if people watched this on video?” The accountability is built in because you live with an awareness that someone outside of that immediate context will likely see what you are doing.
Accountability continues with our personal social media usage. Did you know if you once tweeted something stupid in 2010, someone is going to find it? That Snapchat story you shouldn’t have shared has probably gotten a screen shot. Your Facebook comments from years ago are still around somewhere. That text you sent will likely be seen by someone you never considered when typing it. We are accountable in a way this world has never seen before.
We live in a culture where we feel like we constantly need to update people on our lives. We sometimes say things on social media and in text that we would never say in person. The problem is that people tend to find these things eventually. I’m pretty sure the only reason people know the stupid things I said and did in my early youth ministry days is because I told them, but for those doing youth ministry today, there’s probably video evidence!
Technology breeds accountability whether we like it or not. This has been a game changer, and one that can make us better.
Many times in my journey I have failed to be above reproach. Today we can consider technology an aid to help us in our striving for accountability. Let’s be people who serve faithfully, and consider the potential audience in our actions. Let’s refuse to allow our immaturity and foolishness to bring down what God has built up. May God alter our perspective to the reality that not only is He always watching, but others may be as well.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.