The Advantage: Embracing Accountability

We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.

Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.

Lencioni writes,

Even well-intentioned members of a team need to be held accountable if a team is going to stick to its decisions and accomplish its goals. In some cases, people will deviate from a plan or a decision knowingly, tempted to do something that is in their individual best interest but not that of the team. In other cases, people will stray without realizing it, getting distracted or caught up in the pushes and pulls of daily work. In either case, it’s the job of the team to call those people out and keep them in line.

Of course, people aren’t going to be willing to do this if they have doubts about whether their peers bought into—really bought into—the decisions that were made. That’s why commitment is so important.

Accountability? For elders? Ministers? Even the preacher? Yes, absolutely. You see, once a team makes a decision, the members of the team have to support it — even, indeed, especially if they disagree.

Passive-aggressive tactics cannot be permitted. Nor may team members be allowed to avoid the team process by going around the team.

For example —

* The fait accompli — such as where a minister introduces an innovation in worship without pre-clearing it with the elders, figuring that forgiveness is easier to obtain than permission. Such ministerial behavior indicates a lack of trust by the minister and failure by the elders (or his supervisor) to hold him accountable. Such tactics should be treated as rank insubordination.

* The slow obedience — where a member obeys but does so so very slowly that the entire process is frustrated. The member always seems to have a higher priority. There’s always some kind of excuse — but no actual submission. Again, such team members aren’t really part of the team and have to be held accountable.

* The convenient failure to remember.

* Insisting on re-arguing (and re-re-arguing) points already decided.

* Doing the task but doing it so poorly that the plan fails.

* Doing the task but speaking ill of the decision or the leadership behind their backs.

* Intentionally misunderstanding the instructions.

* Agreeing to take on a task and delegating to someone else without making sure he does it and does it well — as though your word can be transferred to someone else.

No, whether you’re a fellow elder or staff member or deacon or other committee member, if you are going to have a position of responsibility, you have to genuinely support the team’s decisions, even when you disagree.

Now, the hope is that by being encouraged to participate in the process — “Everyone gets a say; no one gets his way” — everyone buys into the decision and truly supports it. But it doesn’t always happen that way, and in my experience, resistance is rarely upfront and straightforward. It’s almost always passive aggressive — because it’s so much harder to hold the passive-aggressive resister accountable.

But this makes it essential that the leadership hold the passive-aggressive team member accountable — or else he’ll continue to seek to manipulate the team to his ends by such tactics.

The irony of all this is that the only way for a team to develop a true culture of peer-to-peer accountability is for the leader to demonstrate that she is willing to confront difficult situations and hold people accountable herself. That’s right. The leader of the team, though not the primary source of accountability, will always be the ultimate arbiter of it. If she is reluctant to play that role—if she is a wuss who constantly balks when it’s time to call someone on their behavior or performance—then the rest of the team is not going to do their part.

Among the elders, the “leader” is all the other elders. All the elders have to hold each other accountable. No one is exempt.

Now, optimally, accountability is peer to peer. Optimally, the entire team has so bought into the plan that peer pressure holds the group accountable. But ultimately, it’s up to the leaders.

In a staff/elders team, the elders have to hold the staff accountable. The group may choose to give the chair of the meeting that authority, but ultimately it’s the elders who must insist on accountability.

So—and here is the irony—the more comfortable a leader is holding people on a team accountable, the less likely she is to be asked to do so. The less likely she is to confront people, the more she’ll be called on to do it by subordinates who aren’t willing to do her dirty work for her. …

At its core, accountability is about having the courage to confront someone about their deficiencies and then to stand in the moment and deal with their reaction, which may not be pleasant. It is a selfless act, one rooted in a word that I don’t use lightly in a business book: love. To hold someone accountable is to care about them enough to risk having them blame you for pointing out their deficiencies.

This is hard. But love is hard. You see, if you want to avoid firing a reluctant staff member or removing a recalcitrant deacon, you have to confront them with their conduct, suffer their reaction, and insist that they change … which is good for the church and good for that person — as very unpleasant as it might be for you.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in The Advantage, by Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage, by Patrick Lencioni, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Advantage: Embracing Accountability

  1. Grizz says:

    “* The fait accompli – such as where a minister introduces an innovation in worship without pre-clearing it with the elders, figuring that forgiveness is easier to obtain than permission. Such ministerial behavior indicates a lack of trust by the minister and failure by the elders (or his supervisor) to hold him accountable. Such tactics should be treated as rank insubordination.”

    IS it just me or does this sound more than a bit cultish to anyone else? Rank insubordination? In every case? Is this person always rebelling or is it possible they are just failing to realize the resources God has provided?

    Where is the eldership that never fails to appreciate insights others may have reached before they do? And where is the group of similar size and flexibility that holds the elders accountable? Are they a ruling body or are they stewards? The difference is palpable, especially in such arbitrary choices like the one above?

    Or is it wrong for anyone to ask these questions?

  2. When the preacher is a hireling in the employ of a religious business, then treating him like one is certainly appropriate. When an employee makes a decision for the business which he does not have the authority to make, then this may be treated as anything from a simple mistake to gross insubordination, depending on the intent and the consequences of the decision. I find it interesting that making a modification to a meeting is seen as such a dire and serious matter. Preacher Bob lets Brother Jed play his guitar during a Sunday service. If the elders don’t like it, tell Bob after the service not to do that again. It is causes waves because the pond is so shallow, stand up next Sunday and explain that the elders don’t think it’s appropriate and it will not be an ongoing thing. This is hardly a rank heresy or moral collapse. It is just such gross exaggeration of minor things which keeps us from addressing major themes with credibility. Now if the employee is just rebellious, who hired a guy like that? Manaagement should bear just as much responsibility as the employee for the lapse of judgment. I was once on executive staff of a regional corporation and was listening to a group of managers complain about the stupid things their employees were doing. I finally spoke up and said, “Perhaps we need managers who won’t hire incompetents.”

  3. Grizz, I also question the demand for accountability being made by a counsel of men who are not accountable to anyone but themselves. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

  4. Paul clearly told Timothy to rebuke elders when they sin (1 Tim 5:19-20).

    Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicloy, so that the others may take warning.l”

    Now, I do not for a moment believe this “trumps” what Jesus said about private rebuke followed by taking one or two with you before rebuking someone publicly. Yet, it says what it says.

    I was once teaching this in a Bible Class and asked the class, “What would happen if a preacher did what this says?” One of the elders immediately responded, “Why, he’d be fired, of course.” It was only half in jest. I had occasion to speak to that elder about something he was doing (privately and, I believe, with humility). Three months later, I was fired.

  5. Alabama John says:

    So, what did you learn?

  6. That was the last congregation where I preached that had elders. (Though I do not believe that incident had anything to do with that factoid.) Nor am I certain that my having spoken with the elder in a gentle rebuke had anything with my dismissal – though it is an interesting coincidence.

  7. Alabama John says:

    You are very kind.

    All congregations have elders, someone is calling the shots. Some just have ones qualified and others don’t.
    I preached a sermon many times years ago titled the drunken elder.
    It actually was from a real life experience and applied to churches that “had no elders”.

  8. A sermon with that title should draw a crowd, all wanting to know the same thing: “Which one?”

    A preacher announces that next week he is going to identify all the hypocrites, gossips, backbiters, talebearers, and troublemakers in the church. Of course, next Sunday, the pews are packed for this revelation, and the preacher opens his sermon with the observation, “Oh, good. You’re all here.”

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Is it proper for a minister to do something in his capacity as a minister that he knows his elders would not approve?

  10. Alabama John says:

    Charles, that goes back to our vulnerability and not telling all to the elders or congregation.

    A church with no elders has everyone that votes as an elder in capacity regardless of their sinning situation known or not. In one case, it was well known but who had the authority to stop their voting?

  11. John,
    Doesn’t the congregation have the authority to discipline these members whose sin is well known?

    Follow the procedure of Matthew 18 and Galatians 6. It may cause a church split? What is the status quo doing to that church? I suspect, though, that the church (or most of them) are like mice who are afraid to “bell the cat.”

  12. Alabama John says:


    The question that always comes up in no elder churches regarding enforcement is:HOW? Also WHO among us has the right to enforce it? Separating into different camps ensues.

    That is why leadership and authority is so important. Qualified deacons and elders were appointed and required for good reason.

Leave a Reply