The Pastor and His Accountability

  To whom is the pastor accountable?

This is a question that gets raised in a variety of ways. It has been raised in our church as well and my position, as pastor, is that my responsibilities as a pastor are solely answerable to the Lord Himself. The reason is that He is the One who can, and will, properly evaluate my work. As a Christian brother, I am mutually submissive to one another (Ephesians 5:20) and the joy of that is immense. Those men and women whom the Lord has redeemed and who come to me and exhort, and encourage, and befriend me are without equal. However, the direction of my work in the Lord and the evaluation of that work as to its quality (1 Corinthians 3:10-15) can only be rightly evaluated by the Lord Himself in that day of evaluation (2 Corinthians 5:10). This is a fearful thing (2 Corinthians 5:11) and does, at least in my case, remind me of such high accountability as to guard me from knowingly sinning against anyone or, especially, practicing private sin.


The answer to this question really boils down to what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 

2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. 

3 But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 

4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 

5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. 


Herein lies the reality of accountability. In the minds of many, “accountability” would mean that a man or woman is liable to give an account to another for the sake of scrutiny. The examination can take on many forms. In the church, for the elders of a church, examination is ultimately left only to One-Jesus Christ.


Let me explain. There are human courts in the world. These courts serve a purpose and are helpful for a myriad of civil issues where a verdict is needed. Further, there are even courts in the church wherein a verdict is needed, as in the case of the “legal” issues between brethren (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). Paul’s bases in that chapter is that the quality of a human court and the quality of the church court are two different things. They are, because one is based upon the Law of the Kingdom of God and the other is not, mutually exclusive. Further, the quality of the court and the law(s) that determine that quality, lead to protocol, and protocol leads to precedence, and precedence determines verdicts. Paul writes to the Corinthians that the differences between both kinds of courts is all the way down to the law upon which each court is built. In other words, the human court is not concerned with breaking the law of love from Christ (John 13:34), but the church court has that as its only standard. And, a human court is required wherein serious civil crimes might be committed by a professing Christian.


However, when it comes to those who serve as elders, pastors, teachers, there is an even higher court than these, and this court makes rigorous demand upon the preacher which, then, requires of him the highest level of adherence to the standards of that court (James 3:1). That is to say, to survive my “day in court” with Jesus Christ as my Examiner, my life among the world and especially the brethren must be entirely above reproach. The church is not always in the best spiritual condition to evaluate a preacher and his life. Although, when a man transgresses the Law of Christ, the church will see it. There are repercussions, like church discipline (1 Timothy 5:19-20). However, ultimately, the church is not the court. The future presence of God is (2 Timothy 4:1).


Although an elder may not know anything against himself, that does not mean that he will survive in that court. It means that, like Paul, whenever there is an accusation against a pastor’s reputation, we try to “conciliate” (1 Corinthians 4:13). And as often as failures arise, and they do, so also does the work of conciliation arise. When peace is restored between relationships, as much as possible (Romans 12:18), then that case is closed and unity is maintained. When peace is not restored, even after being sought after, it makes for a difficult hardship on the parties involved and there is no peace.


To address what so many Christians are concerned with, however, this does not mean that a pastor or elder is above the scrutiny of the people to whom he is ministering. It does not mean that a pastor can sin and be untouchable. It is sad that people are led to that conclusion. But, based upon the history of church leaders who have hidden behind such thinking, I can very much understand why. These hypocrites are very detrimental to the efforts of godly men who are working hard to be above reproach. A pastor who sins and transgresses against God is accountable to God. That accountability is felt and implemented, as determined by Scripture, usually by other godly men. They would have the spiritual maturity to interpret the facts properly so as to render a mature verdict and help the man to reconcile/repent. To minister to that pastor for his building up requires tremendous maturity and wisdom. That is why going to a man caught in a trespass, especially a pastor, is the duty of mature believers (Galatians 6:1). Ideally other godly, qualified, leaders. This behavior fulfills the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).


It is true, and unfortunate, that men do disqualify themselves. Scandal of hidden lives of church leaders constantly emerge, it seems, and is wearisome to hear about. But, what is even more unfortunate, is the spiritual condition of many more churches who, themselves, are guilty of disobeying the Law of Christ in their daily behavior. It is true that an elder is under even more scrutiny for his work in the church. But it is just as true that the congregation has an obligation to obedience to Jesus Christ to the degree that pastors do. Once under the leadership of such a godly man/men, the church is obligated, for her benefit in time and eternity, to follow his example and faith and serve the Lord alongside him/them (Romans 16:1-24, for example). For many “Christians,” their rebellious self-styled behavior, which if publicly exposed shames the name of Christ, would disqualify them from Christianity.


Hebrews 13:17 

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.