The missing ingredient in church leadership

In the 1970s, one researcher noted: “There are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept.” According to these definitions, leadership is influence, power, mobilization, motivation, processes, inspiration, among many others.

The same could be said of the church: “There are almost as many different ways of leading the church as there are persons who have attempted it.”

As a researcher of leadership and one who has led the local church for 10 years, I’m constantly searching for better ways. How can we disciple better? Does a better operational process exist? Is fried chicken truly the best option for the church picnic?

There are a lot of good studies, books, and blogs on church leadership. But one ingredient of church leadership is under-represented, not only in the literature, but also in practice. The missing ingredient in church leadership is a willingness to be held accountable.

It’s more than theology. Please note, I’m not denying to the biblical foundations of accountability. Leadership accountability is found throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. However, just because a leader acknowledges biblical accountability doesn’t mean that leader will act on it. A leader may believe in the biblical nature of accountability but not follow through, like a person who believes exercise is good for the body but never goes to the gym.

It’s more than a system. The willingness to be held accountable is also more than a system of accountability a church puts into place. A leader may submit to a system of accountability, but do so begrudgingly. Additionally, no system is perfect. Loopholes always exist. People who want to game the system will find ways to get around the rules.

It’s a spiritual discipline. Leaders should seek out accountability. They must be willing to be held accountable. It’s more than believing the theology of accountability. It’s more than submitting to a system of accountability. It’s a spiritual discipline in which you act upon belief.

Practically, what can you do to demonstrate a willingness to be held accountable?

Pray: How often have you asked God to introduce people and situations to keep you accountable? I believe God honors such prayers.

Don’t rely just on your church: Every pastor should have people inside and outside the church for accountability. However, those on the inside are, at times, too close to situations to speak pointedly. Outside sources of accountability are needed for truly unbiased accountability.

Make it a priority: Your willingness means putting it on the calendar. Schedule times with people specifically for the purpose of accountability.

Create overlapping circles of accountability: You need multiple people and processes (i.e. software for online accountability). Don’t fear redundancy. In fact, overlapping circles of accountability mean you will have less blind spots!

Be public about who holds you accountable: Tell your deacons, your staff, your elders, your spouse, and other key leaders who has the responsibility and permission to speak truth in your life.

The missing ingredient in leadership is not accountability. Theologically, the Bible gives us the foundation of accountability. Plenty of systems exist to implement accountability. The missing ingredient in leadership is a willingness to be held accountable, and it requires spiritual discipline to have it.

sam_s_rainer_IIISam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (, a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also is the senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at @samrainer or at his blog,


One Response to “The missing ingredient in church leadership”

  1. How very true. In my experiences just in consulting in governance to churches (who are open and have invited me – not to speak of all the others), the pastor starts out open and supportive of an improvement in board governance, but then begins to realize there is also balancing accountability on his part. He frequently cools his enthusiasm, becomes passive aggressive, procrastinating, etc. Anything to avoid the accountability. He wasn’t told about that part of healthy organizational leadership in seminary.
    I then wonder if the pastor has ANY form of accountability – outside or inside – in his life.

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