One of the things that you may have picked up from the Ravi Zacharias scandal is that a lot of responsibility for accountability lay with family and friends. That’s one of the problems with a self selected group of people becoming responsible for a person’s accountability. If we simply choose our own friends and family members them we are not going to necessarily choose people who will hold us firmly to account. If there are problems then the temptation for them to stay silent to protect their own reputation becomes stronger too.
Now, those risks may be obvious when we are talking about a ministry set up as a parachurch outfit but it is also important that we look at churches too. There are ways in which we can allow a church to become beholden to one or two families or individuals as well and that is likely to weaken proper accountability and scrutiny.
This can happen when the leaders begin to select new leaders based on their friendship circles. Now, this may not be overtly obvious so take time to stop and think. Do the leaders all appear to share the same social status and interests? Is there evidence of group think so that ideas are always nodded through without challenge? Do the leaders have deep, meaningful friendships outside of the leadership team?
Another factor is when a leadership team becomes dominated by one or two families. I know of some churches that insist in their rules that husbands and wives cannot serve on the leadership at the same time. I think that’s a good rule. First of all, if you are both on the leadership then either you may find yourself in the difficult position of disagreeing with your husband or wife in public or in effect you both agree all the time. This brings a double whammy because it means both that the leaders lose the benefit of another voice and in effect a block vote is created on the leadership team. Secondly, it is hard to challenge or question a leader’s decisions or actions when this could create problems with other members of the leadership team.
Another example of problems within the local church is when small to medium sized churches set high voting thresholds for decision making. The basis for this is often that they want to get as close to a strong consensus as possible. However, imagine the situation where you have a church membership of 40, a vote requiring 80% members in favour can be blocked by just 8 people. In effect 2 or 3 families can work together to block a church moving forward.
It is important that we don’t just pay lip service to accountability by putting surface procedures in place. We need to look and make sure that leaders can genuinely be challenged, corrected and held to account.