I hadn’t seen this friend for some time and I was looking forward to our lunch together. It seems that both of our calendars stay full, but our relationship is one of those that doesn’t include shopping trips together or surface conversation so periodically we make time to be together.
As we sat across from each other looking over the menu choices, the conversation quickly moved from the broad descriptions of what has been going on in each of our lives to a list of several things she wanted to process or get my read on.
I smiled as I thought of how many of our times together have been just like this. She honors our time together and is clear about how she desires to steward it. Now don’t misunderstand. We don’t spend all our lunch visits on deep theological subjects or get stuck swimming in old news, but the conversation is always purposeful.
Each of my relationships is precious to me and each is unique. The truth is: I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My friend is a leader in ministry and as a result of my similar ministry involvements, she feels safe to express things she might not otherwise share. I’m a safe place for her. Sixteen years her senior also puts me in that place of being an older woman in her life.
There are many things that are different about each of us. Our backgrounds and hobbies do not totally align. Our church and ministry experiences have also been different. She is single and I am married with children and grandchildren. Even so, the Lord has blessed our link with each other around the hard choices and evolving ministries we have each been a part of.
I especially respect her fear of the Lord and her desire to watch over the flock given to her as a stewardship from Him. She has seen too many harmed by the misuse of power, authority, and trust within ministries. She has seen too many ministries crumble or erode over time despite starting with a solid foundation marked by humility and reliance on the Lord’s leading.
Our conversation had included sharing about such a ministry on this day and her concern that she not fall prey to what she sees happening in so many places. We had spent time talking about what safeguards might help prevent such things.
We both agreed that accountability was key and that leaders needed to have at least one safe relationship with which they could be totally authentically real.
It would also need to be strong enough for the person to be able to share hard truths with the leader if she or he saw the leader appeared to be off course, caught up in seeking to control those entrusted to them or use them to build up his or her ego.
During a pause in the discussion, my friend looked up and asked me if I could be that person for her and be willing to risk saying hard things she might not always like to hear. In many ways our relationship has been much like that for a while, but this felt different because it was asking me for a specific clear commitment. The request honored me, but also humbled me.
It was a rare gift of trust and responsibility and one that required a considered response.
Beyond that, it carried with it the unspoken understanding it would require me to be aligned with the Lord so that I would speak less out of my own preference or opinion and more from a biblical perspective as well as I could comprehend it in my own finiteness. As I accepted her request, I felt the weight of it and an awareness of my own fallibility.
The sad thing is that it is rare as members of the body in this modern age to risk being vulnerable and risk saying potentially hard things in order to be pulled back from our weaknesses, the chinks in our armor, our temptations to hide behind the cleaned up exteriors of our lives while ignoring the condition of our heart and spirit.
I have a personal trainer who holds me accountable for my physical well-being. I know I need her to do that because I know myself well enough to know I don’t do well on my own. If I want to steward my body, I know I need such accountability.
On more than one occasion, the Lord has shown me that I need someone to hold me accountable for the condition of my heart, my spirit, my attitudes, and behavior.
Of course the Holy Spirit seeks always to do that, but I doubt I am the only one who may not always listen as carefully as I should or turns off the receiver if it is not pleasing to hear.
Jesus sent out his disciples two-by-two. He clearly had knowledge of the value and importance of that. I think he was pointing to the gift and protection of accountability.
Accountability. It’s a rare and needed gift for each of us, for all of us.