Accountable To or For?

In many church organizations, accountability is often not openly and clearly stated, and yet the organization itself may be an interconnected web of accountability. Whether spoken or unspoken, accountabilities form the integrity and foundation of the organization due to both structural and relational dynamics. Explicit accountabilities linked to requisite roles create organizational coherence and relational congruence.

Requisite roles are roles that are linked to intentional aims, such as a volunteer coordinator role is linked to the aim of getting people meaningfully involved in some form of service or outreach. Explicit accountabilities are what someone says YES to when agreeing to fulfill a role.

Knowing who a person is accountable to is important but clarity around what he or she is accountable for is the major issue. Without mutual understanding between both parties, there is a risk that needs won’t be met and consequently interpersonal drama can ensue, leading to a downward spiral of negative storytelling, politicizing and blame.

As we all know, interpersonal drama is a major hindrance to community cohesion and mutuality. Churches tend to be a breeding ground for dysfunctional behavior when people are unskillful in dealing with their needs, frustrations, concerns and wants. This is especially prevalent when we depend upon people to do the right thing and make the best of imperfect situations given little or no formal training, orientation or coaching in support of critical roles and activities.

Our default application of the principle of accountability is: “Who are you accountable to?” This really tells us nothing about the Accountabilitiesrelationship between you and your partners in ministry. A better question is what do others count on you for and what do you count on others for? As you can see from the illustration, the principle of accountability becomes meaningless when we consider how we hold the membership accountable. In our current paradigm of ministry, there is no structure of accountability for the governing member role. (Sometimes people say that the membership is accountable to God. Tell that to someone who’s behavior is questionable.)

And yet, being accountable and having a system or process that invites people into the integrity of what they say YES to is essential, especially for the governing member role. The challenge is that until we identify explicitly what someone says YES to; the things they are to do that fulfills an expectation, need, or aim, we have yet to give people what they need in order for their YES to be in alignment with the needs of the role.

When accountabilities are implicit, unclear, or under defined, there is often a large gap between what individuals expect and what is demonstrated. For instance, church members will expect that the minister’s job is to care about their well-being. But what does that look like? And, does it look the same for everyone? It is assumed that people count on the minister to be caring and interested in her congregation, but how can this expectation ever be universally met if the minister does not know the specific way this needs to happen for each individual? And, would it not be important for the congregation to know the limits or scope of the minister’s capability to fulfill this need?

In relationships, when each individual has clarity surrounding what is counted on, two important elements essential to relationship health and integrity come into play. First, people have the opportunity to get very specific about what they will and will not do to fulfill the needs / expectations of others.

Second, people are able to negotiate the fulfillment of needs when there is a gap between what is counted on and what the person is willing to do to meet the specific need. Agreement regarding what others count on each other for and clarity regarding the specific ways that needs are to be fulfilled reduces the tendency to make others responsible for what’s missing in the relationship. If something is missing or not working it is because we have not made specific what we are counting on from someone.

The process of transitioning from the implicit to the explicit not only requires a mapping of all tasks, linking them to roles, and linking roles to aims, but also entails unpacking the complexities of relational dynamics among and between roles. In other words, while a staff member may be accountable TO the minister, the staff member also COUNTS ON his/her minister for specific things. Consequently, the most important component in transitioning from implicit to explicit is the conversation that must take place to map out “what we count on each other for” and “what we say YES to” when roles and accountabilities are taken on.

So, how do you hold a governing member accountable? First, it is necessary to identify what you count on your governing members for; identifying all of the things you count on them to DO in acceptance ofAccountable For the governing member position. Absent of saying YES to all of the things you count on this role to fulfill, you have no way to bring someone back into alignment. When they have  clearly said YES to the specific expectations and qualifications you have surrounding governing membership, then you can check in with them if you observe that their YES seems more like MAYBE or NOT NOW.

The conversation goes like this: “Say, I have noticed that you are no longer _________________ (the thing they said yes to). I was wondering if your YES has changed. Let’s talk about it.

If they are unable or unwilling to restore their YES and demonstrate alignment, they know that they can no longer occupy the role as this is also what they said YES to in the onset. The process of holding people accountable to their YES is straightforward, clean, compassionate and without drama.

Blessings, Gary




One thought on “Accountable To or For?”

  1. Clarifying what’s expected is so straightforward and critical to do. And it’s going to be a perfect complement to the information in “Crucial Conversations”–especially the information on the path of dialogue and the path of meaning. Can’t wait until we incorporate that set of concepts, too.

Comments are closed.