Part of my pastoral ministry involved making regular visits with the members of my congregation. My elders and I did our best to visit every household in the congregation once a year. There were and are a number of benefits to doing this. First, it allowed me as the pastor to get to know my sheep. It is very difficult to get to know people if the only interaction you have with them is on Sunday when you spy their faces from the pulpit or when you see them across the buffet line at church lunch. I would spend a portion of my visit with the household getting to know them. Second, it was an opportunity for me as the pastor and my elders to be present in a home before there was trouble. It is a bit difficult to enter into a home for the very first time when you have to deal with a problem. People might not trust you, know you, or be willing to listen to your counsel because you have not established much of a relationship with them. True, regardless of these things, members of a church have the biblical responsibility to submit to their elders (Heb. 13:17), but knowing your sheep certainly helps.
However, one of the things that I quickly noted was that when holding members accountable to their profession of faith, accountability was only as good as the truth. What do I mean? On a number of occasions I would observe a family and instinctively know that something was wrong. I saw certain behavior that led me to believe that there were spiritual problems. When an unmarried couple, for example, is very “hands-on,” in public, showing a great degree of public affection, then chances are such behavior is merely the tip of the iceberg—what they do in public is a fraction of how they’ll conduct themselves in private. I visited with such people and flat out asked them about their sexual purity, and I typically received answers, that on the face, were correct—they denied wrong-doing.
I also typically asked the members of my congregation, “Are there any significant struggles, or sins, that we can assist you with, pray for you, and hold you accountable?” I typically received negative replies to this question with the assurances that all was well. Apart from any specific hard-evidence, and only unfounded suspicions, I had no other choice than to take people at their word.
The problem was, that in a number of cases people were telling bald-face lies. In due course my elders and I found out about significant sin—in certain cases there were long established patterns of gross sin and deceit. Our spiritual lives, in some ways, is like a sewer system—if you don’t maintain it, things will eventually back-up and run out into the streets. If you don’t confess your sin, seek the accountability of your pastor and elders when needed, it will eventually catch-up with you. What is within our hearts eventually, for better or worse, comes out.
Hence, accountability is only as good as the truth. If you want to grow in your sanctification, you have to be honest with Christ, yourself, your family, and your church. When you’re honest and admit your sins, your need for Christ, and your need for assistance, then you can begin to deal with your need for repentance and greater sanctification.