I’ve been a Southern Baptist for my entire life. I grew up in Southern Baptist Churches, went to Southern Baptist schools, and pastor a Southern Baptist Church. By doctrine and conviction, I am a Southern Baptist. And I am broken and angry.

Sunday afternoon, May 22, the Sexual Abuse Task Force posted the Guidepost Solution’s Investigation into the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee and its handling of sexual abuse allegations. It is a devastating read. The headlines of the report are being published on mainline news sites.

But as devastating as it is to read about dismissing victims, cover ups, dishonesty, immorality, and the like, I can’t even begin to imagine how devastating the abuse was for the victims detailed in the report. No one should be sexually abused. Ever. And it most certainly should never come from someone claiming to be a Christian or someone who is a pastor or church leader. When victims are shamed, dismissed, and dishonored to protect perpetrators, it only adds to the sin.

At last year’s SBC annual meeting, the messengers spoke loudly that they wanted an investigation into allegations that denominational leaders had mishandled allegations of sexual abuse. This report details those findings. The sober reality facing our denomination is that you cannot hide from God.

In Numbers 32, two and a half of Israel’s tribes asked to be able to settle on the not-Promised Land side of the Jordan. Moses told them that they could settle there, but that their men/warriors must travel with their brothers into the land to help them inhabit the Promised Land. Here is what he told them:

But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out

Numbers 32:23

This text suggests a fascinating contrast. Israel was about to inhabit the Promised Land. They were finally at their place of refuge and redemption. God had rescued them from Egypt and judged them through 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. Yet even in his judgment, he sustained them with food and protection for 40 years. Then on the precipice of fulfillment, a few tribes wanted their land early. The warning, fulfill your obligation to your brothers or “be sure your sin will find you out.”

This is where we are as a denomination. God has accomplished many good and redemptive realities through SBC churches, missionaries, and seminaries. God’s redemptive work uses even fallen men and women.

Yet our sin has found us out.

Maybe like me, you have tried to hide some sin. And like me, God uncovered that sin.

Our denominational leaders who were more concerned about liability than truth cannot hide from God. It has been uncovered.

Those who have perpetrated abuse cannot hide from God. Some were uncovered in this report. Too many more will not face justice in this life. But none can hide their sin from God. It will be uncovered.

Southern Baptists should be angry after this report. Most of us are not guilty of abuse or cover up or dismissing victims. Rank and file Southern Baptists just want our denominational leaders to act with integrity and justice. We should be angry that our polity was used to excuse acting with compassion and justice. Every dollar given by Southern Baptist Churches has been funneled through an entity entrusted with the stewardship of money and mission for the sake of the gospel. But those entrusted with these offerings have damaged that trust. Opting for personal and institutional protection, they neglected the abused and the broken.

I’m not sure about what will happen next. The Guidepost report recommends specific actions that the messengers can take. We will see at the annual meeting on June 14 and 15.

What do we do going forward?

  • We confess. Part of the reason so many of us are angry is that our cooperative giving through the entity of the Executive Committee connects us to this report. It is appropriate then that we confess the coverup and dishonesty that is present among denominational leadership.
  • We pray. We pray for the victims. We pray for the abusers. We pray for denominational leaders. We pray for the messengers in Anaheim who will meet and act on the recommendations brought to the floor.
  • We act. It is our obligation as a church to care for the abused and broken. Churches should be safe havens for the hurting, not for predators. Churches must take care through policies and procedures to protect those who attend and make it difficult for abusers to use our churches for their sins. I believe the messengers got it right last year asking for an investigation. It will be important that the messengers act again this year with a path forward holding our entities accountable for how they handle these issues.

Photo by Joshua Brown on Unsplash

This week’s word is not specifically theological, apologetic, or evangelistic. Rather, the word accountability is a term embedded in the concepts of spiritual growth and discipleship. It is sorely needed in a culture defined by deception and debauchery.

The confirmed immoral and abusive behavior by Christian leader, Ravi Zacharias deceased head of the RZIM Organization, is the latest in a long line of examples. In recent years pastors, Carl Lentz of Hillsong Church, NY was fired for adultery, and James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel was fired over abusive behaviors.

I could cite too many other examples. And unfortunately for every public example like these, there are countless other resignations, forced sabbaticals, and firings of pastors or Christian leaders that will never make news headlines.

For all these leaders who have failed, there are thousands of others who remain faithful, godly examples. What is the difference? What keeps some from falling? While I won’t pretend to have all the answers, it is clear to me that those who have regular and real accountability in their lives are far more likely to remain firmly in the path of Christian sanctification than those who do not.

In the case of the recent Ravi Zacharias discoveries, not only was their deception at the root of the sin, but there was also a toxic culture that lacked accountability. If people are too afraid to call a leader out for disconcerting, inconsistent, or even deceptive behavior, then there is not a culture of accountability.

In a recent conversation, a friend observed, “When all you have around you are sycophants, there is no one to keep you accountable.” But we are accountable, and we should pursue accountability in our lives.

We are accountable to the Lord. God sees all things. Paul affirmed to the church at Corinth, “It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:4). We might hide things from family and friends, from acquaintances and co-workers, or even from church members and accountability partners. But we can never hide things from God. We must take heed. God sees. This very fact should drive us to examination, confession, repentance, and behavior that pursues accountability.

We are accountable within our churches. Whether you like it or not, the spiritual growth of those around you in church is partially dependent on your spiritual walk. Sunday school classes, discipleship groups, and accountability relationships are important ways that the body of Christ can function for the spiritual accountability of believers. Knowing that others are struggling with temptations and challenges is motivation to keep our lives close and clean. Discipleship groups and accountability partners have provided enormous benefit to my spiritual growth. We need others to ask us hard questions, challenge our faith, and encourage us to be holy in our conduct.

We are accountable in our homes. The spiritual health of your home is in part dependent on your holiness as a spouse and parent. A number of years ago, my wife and I had a very difficult conversation that resulted in confession of sinful behaviors, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It was difficult for me to be confronted, but I would not trade that conversation for anything today. While my wife is not my accountability partner, we don’t hide anything from each other. She has access to all my devices. I have access to hers. We monitor our children’s screen and media access as well. Believers, we need to take seriously our responsibility to encourage holy conduct in our homes.

Here are several specific action points related to accountability that you could pursue today. If you need help with these action points, let me know. Or if you are a part of another church, reach out to your pastor. You can message me in the comments section below or on the social media platform that I post on. Or you can find my email on the About page of this website.

  • Confess and repent to God and to any person you’ve sinned against. God already knows your hidden sins (Psalm 19:13; 51). Confess hidden sins to your spouse, family, or fellow church members. Remember, God already knows and offers cleansing through Christ (1John 1:9). You should not feel any more shame or embarrassment at another finding out your sin than God knowing your sin. You cannot carry the weight of sin. And you cannot imagine the freedom that awaits a repentant heart.
  • Participate in a group. Spiritual accountability begins by growing in your faith with other believers. Participating in Sunday school and discipleship groups offers encouragement and the beginning steps of accountability. We need each other. In order to grow, we need to be anchored in the church. If you don’t have a discipleship group, start one. Other than my own personal devotional time, no other discipline has benefited my spiritual growth like my discipleship groups.
  • Find an accountability partner or partners. My accountability partner and I talk regularly. We pray for each other, confess to each other, challenge each other, and correct each other. I am deeply indebted to him for helping me work through several struggles and sins over the years. It would help to ask one another specific questions. Here’s an article by Ed Stetzer that suggests some classic and helpful accountability questions for groups and partners.

Reach out if you’d like to know how to begin a discipleship group or find an accountability partner.

Accountability can and does protect ministers and Christians from spiritual disaster. A number of years ago, one member of my accountability group began behaviors detrimental to his marriage and ministry. Another member of the group and I confronted him. This confrontation coupled with the subsequent confrontation with his wife saved his marriage and ministry. I wonder how many Christian leaders’ marriages and ministries could be rescued if there was someone to speak honestly into their lives.

In a conversation on this subject, my accountability partner observed, “Pastors who have led through this pandemic will need accountability. They’ve made more decisions and garnered more power than ever before.” I believe he’s right. But not just about pastors.

Here’s the bottom line. You need someone you can trust to look you in the eye and be able to call you out on a sin or behavior. If you don’t have that person, you need one.

I’ve tried to make this post practical and helpful. But if you are not sure where to go from here, let me know. Share in the comment section that you’d like some further conversation on this subject. Or you can encourage someone else by sharing your story of how accountability helped deepen your faith or restore relationships.

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash