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Finishing Strong

“Therefore…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2a NIV)

Yet another famous Christian is in the news for an ignominious fall from grace. This time it’s Josh Duggar, eldest son of the “19 Kids & Counting” family. He was a member of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian lobbying organization, and the executive director of the FRC’s political action committee. When news broke of allegations that he had molested girls while in his teens and, more recently, had cheated on his wife, he resigned from his position and the show was canceled.

Sadly, this kind of scandal is all too common. Mark Driscoll, Ted Haggard, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart… They’re not always sex scandals, but they amount to Christians in the public eye very publicly failing to live up to the standards they profess to hold. Certainly none of us is sinless and all of us have acted hypocritically at some point, so we want to be careful about rushing to judgment, but we should all hope to avoid such disgrace in our own lives.

Yet some Christians leaders stay strong to the end. Is there something they do that allows them to stay righteous in the public eye when so many fail? I believe there is: radical accountability.

If you’ve been around the church long enough, you’ve probably heard the term “accountability partner” – someone who will encourage you to meet your goals and help you get back on track when you don’t. In college, I was part of an “accountability group,” a few women who met each week to discuss our lives. I remember feeling like we didn’t really know how to react when someone confessed a failure, and the group suffered from breaches of confidentiality that eroded trust. I left college thinking that accountability was a good idea but hard to make effective.

A few years later, my small group at Creekside went through Chip Ingram’s Bible study “Balancing Life’s Demands,” and it reshaped my opinion of accountability. In it, he talks about scandals in Christian leadership and offers accountability as the preventive – but his accountability goes way beyond a weekly session of tea and sympathy.

First, he pointed out that you’ll have different circles of friends who hear different levels of detail, but you need to find one person who will hear it all. Importantly, you don’t necessarily need to be that person’s accountability partner in turn – what you’re looking for might be more of a spiritual mentor, although a reciprocal relationship can also work. And what makes it work is the depth of what you share: everything. I mean that. You don’t just call her when you feel like you can’t tithe, you show her your bank statements and tax returns every year. You don’t just confess to him when you’re struggling with pornography, you have your computer automatically send him a list of every website you visit.

That kind of accountability obviously requires a huge level of trust, but imagine what a relief it could be, as well. As Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (NIV). Imagine what might have changed if Josh Duggar had gotten a call from a friend, someone he loves and trusts, who said, “I noticed you visited the Ashley Madison site. Is there something you want to talk about?” Duggar probably wouldn’t have found it easy to go back to the website; in fact, maybe all he needed was a reminder that he was heading down the wrong path. He would’ve had no reason to try to deny it, either, because his friend already knew the truth. Perhaps that whole part of the scandal never would have happened.

I suppose it’s all too easy for well-known Christians to feel trapped by their own standards. They fear being discredited and, like so many humans of all religions, they convince themselves that no one will find out. Ironically, however, the best way to solve most problems turns out to be ensuring that someone will find out. Only then can the light of truth nip a scandal in the bud. Only then can a leader in the public eye hope to say, as Paul does, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7 NIV).

If you’re interested in the “Balancing Life’s Demands” study, Creekside has the DVDs and a sample workbook for you to borrow.

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