The Value of Pastoral Accountability
"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective" (Jas 5:16, NIV).
“We should lay our infirmities on one another’s breasts, to receive among ourselves mutual counsel, mutual compassion, and mutual consolation. Then, as we are aware of our brothers’ infirmities, let us pray to God for these” (John Calvin, Instit., 3.4.6).
For over half a year now I've enjoyed a co-pastor in ministry. This has always been a dream of mine, for both psychological and ecclesiastical reasons. An off-the-charts extrovert who recoils at the thought of being alone, I love having someone nearby with whom to chat. More seriously, the solitude of pastoral ministry can occasion unhealthy habits and depressing thoughts. Pastors need peer review and accountability, not least for time management, and they profit immensely from a peer sounding board, off which to bounce ideas and receive encouragement. Though a recent seminary graduate, the co-pastor with whom I labor has wisdom and skills that far exceed his ministerial experience and through co-laboring with him I've been spiritually enriched and pastorally motivated.
For a variety of reasons, however, I'll be commencing next month a relationship of pastoral accountability with a colleague other than my co-pastor. The advantage this colleague has is similarity in age, life-experience, and temperament. Together we want to commit a "pastoral rule of life" which draws upon the spiritual practices of the Christian tradition, inclusive of the Benedictine way of life, in order to enhance personal holiness and ministerial integrity and capability. Our intent is to function for one another not only as spiritual directors, personal confessors, and counsellors, but as theological and cultural informants who share resources.
I serve a church in the Reformed tradition, and so I'm surrounded by elders (lay church leaders) to whom I'm already accountable for many ministerial practices. Among the practices to which my colleague and I will keep each other accountable are:
- Committed role in the family. We're both husbands and fathers, and we want to ensure that we allocate meaningful time to spend with our wives and children.
- Daily practices of prayer. Perhaps like others, or perhaps more than others, pastors often struggle to form disciplined prayers of daily prayer.
- Vigorous reading of Scripture. Pastors should be reading large swaths of Scripture, and I'm committed to reading through the whole Bible four times a year.
- Mindful internet usage. My colleague and I have filters on our computers to block porn, but we both fall for stupid (though filtered) click-bait which hampers both our purity and productivity.
- Dedicated missional engagement. Pastors must be committed to pursuing, initiating, and maintaining relationships with the unchurched.
- Deliberate professional development. Pastors need to have disciplined reading habits that keep them informed of cultural and theological developments and of diverse and effective ways to help people in pastoral situations.
- Faithful honoring of commitments. Nearly all pastors have a schedule of speaking and writing engagements and we need accountability to ensure that we are preparing well and being productive. I've personally committed to writing two chapters for academic publications and an academic booklet.
- Intentional ecumenical relationships. Among others, Peter Leithart ("The End of Protestantism") encourages evangelical pastors to form relationships with other clergy within and beyond Protestantism.
At some point in the future, I'll post an update on this blog regarding our progress.