I am trying to lose 15 pounds to reach a normal range for my body mass index. My physician says it is good for me. Unfortunately, the only way to reach my goal is to consume fewer calories and exercise more. I walk the golf course which is a pleasant activity. I ride my bicycle with my wife at a leisurely pace. Those were helpful, but I was not losing weight. So now I am working out on a stationary bicycle and that is hard—after 5 minutes I am ready to quit. It does not feel good. But I know I need it. Let’s not even talk about cutting back on my eating!
Having to tell other people how my ministry is going stinks as well, especially if they have power over me. I get nervous about meeting the Kansas Area Episcopacy Committee—what will they say about my work? I get more nervous about meeting the South Central Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy—where will they send me?
I know that pastors feel the same way about their district superintendents and bishops—how do supervisors view their ministry? What will happen in the appointment process? Over the years accountability in the United Methodist Church has been allowed to decrease because we want to be nice and affirming to each other. There is not enough accountability in our system, and we are suffering because of that lack. We suffer both individually and collectively.
We suffer individually because human beings were meant to live in community. We are created in the image of God, and God is triune. Real community means loving each other, and real love means telling each other the truth and helping each other be the best we can be. Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team teaches us clearly that high-functioning teams are honest with each other and focus on their goals. Wesley’s class meeting was (and is still among United Methodists in Africa) a means of grace where people hold each other accountable for their progress toward full salvation. Individuals thrive when loving accountability is present.
We suffer collectively when the mission of our church is sacrificed to protect people’s feelings. With regard to our ministry, pastors need the honest communication of staff-parish committees. Too often the committee does not want to be honest. They prefer being nice. Bishops need to be honest with DS’s and hold them accountable for improvements in their districts. Some of us are working on that.
The big hole in our system is how to hold bishops accountable? Let’s be clear about our polity: bishops are not accountable to the Council of Bishops. We are accountable to the Jurisdictional or Central Conference which elected us. One way to hold bishops accountable is to create term episcopacy. That means bishops would be seeking support from the potential electors rather than leading decisively.
The better way to hold bishops accountable is to strengthen the Council of Bishops so it is in fact a place of accountability, and then to strengthen Jurisdictional and Central Conference Episcopacy Committees so that they conduct thorough evaluations. There is nothing in our Book of Discipline that stops that from happening right now. What we need is an agreement from bishops and committees to move in that direction. Accountability stinks, but we need it.