by Rabih Hasbany
In September 2017, I was assigned Team Leader for a missions ministry in Lebanon. At that time, I found myself needing to develop a better understanding of leadership, and in order to do that I consulted models of leadership in the New Testament. I was struck by how the early apostles described themselves; for instance:
“Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle” (Romans 1:1);
“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1);
“Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1).
Ubiquitously, they use the term “servant” rather than “leader” to describe their contributions to ministry. Do we, therefore, truly see ourselves as servants?
In my first few months as a leader, I enjoyed exercising the authority of a team leader, but I recognized that those who have authority must accept responsibility. After my first meeting with my mentor, I came to know that I must not only accept the responsibility of leadership, but also the accompanying accountability.
As such, I focus in this post on accountability as an important aspect of servant leadership, an aspect that I had to learn the hard way because I have never seen it modeled in our political leadership – and only rarely modeled in our church leadership.
Authority is delegated from someone with higher authority; that is, from the top-down. However, authority also comes from the bottom-up. An employee consents to work for a supervisor and thereby gives the supervisor a degree of authority over him or herself. The supervisor is therefore accountable not only to those over him or her but also to those s/he supervises. Thus, accountability is mutual between leaders and the people under their leadership. In light of the apostles’ description of themselves as servants, this concept of authority, responsibility, and accountability makes one a servant both ways. We are the servants of those over us and those under us. Remember Matthew 20:26-27, which says, “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”
Furthermore, accountability promotes community affiliation. Accountability is only exercised in the context of a community. A leader should be a wise steward of his or her responsibilities and should be surrounded by those to whom s/he is accountable and who at the same time support them in their role. Once, my mentor asked me, “How do you understand accountability?” I told him that accountability paves the way for further growth. Instead of seeing it as a tool for judgement, accountability can be seen as an evaluative tool that serves to improve our leadership skills and attributes. Leaders should never serve without a support structure, without others to help maintain their focus, their purity and the characteristics that make them eligible to lead.
One of the most challenging aspects of accountability in the Kingdom with which I still struggle has to do with the scale used to evaluate the performance of leaders. Many count the number of followers or members of a congregation, but do we also account for their lives? How do we understand our mandate as leaders to be “in charge” of God’s flock? Do we understand the implications of it beyond just counting the numbers? Do we account for the lives of our members? As servants of Christ, can we truly say we have assisted our master in properly executing the mandate of reconciling humans to God?
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NIV).
Another strategic area that God will hold a Christian leader accountable is “reproduction.” This may sound like a tough calling, but this is the example we see in Jesus Christ. Jesus spent about three years with his twelve disciples. He invested in them and trained them and when he left, almost all of them could do what he did; they were even called to do greater works. I like the way the apostle John described their experience with Jesus:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1: 1 NIV).
They experienced Jesus first hand, saw his works and heard his words. This is reproduction! We also see Paul’s discipleship of Timothy in the New Testament as a model of the generational movement of leadership. Paul delegated pastoral visits to Corinth and Thessalonica to Timothy and empowered him to pastor the church of Ephesus. Moreover, Paul exhorted Timothy to develop others and entrust them to advance the Kingdom of God: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2 NIV).
There are three types of leaders. Those who are like Herod want more and more followers. Those who are like Moses are happy to identify more leaders. However, great leaders are like Jesus; they pour themselves out in service to others, making leaders that will not just perform like them but outperform them. This is the standard to which all Christian leadership must be accountable.