Contracts Versus Spiritual Accountability

Written in September 2001



Ajith Fernando


I think that at its heart Christian leadership has to do with commitment to God and to the people God has given us to lead. That results in the church/organisation moving in the direction that God wants it to move. Also I think that the heart of motivation to engagement in Christian ministry is spiritual. If the people are deeply committed to God, to the gospel and to the church/organisation to which they belong they will be willing to die for the “cause.”


Today a key feature in determining the nature of involvement of staff in churches and organisations is the signing of contracts and job descriptions. The activity is governed by certain rules that characterise the organisation. Indeed contracts and rules are important, and I am so very weak here. Those who are not self-motivated can exploit systems that work primarily on trust and spiritual motivation. I am a victim of such exploitation. Yet believe that these external motivators are of secondary importance. We must always focus our attention primarily on the internal factors. I must say that I have seen people who are not internally motivated who have entered into an environment where people are internally motivated and have changed into motivated people. When they see others working hard and when they become spiritually accountable to these hard-working people, they too become motivated to work hard.


I believe that our culture is primarily a relational culture and not a project oriented culture. The weakness of such a culture is that we can become less pragmatic and thus unproductive. This is where we need the pragmatism of the west. Contracts and rules are part of this. But if the primary place is not given to the relational, then we will find people who work to rule and who will find ways of escaping making sacrifices by using the rulebook. We will hear statements like the following: “This is not my responsibility,” “This is what I was asked to do, not this.”


I believe that at the heart of our present day preference for the rules and contracts almost to the exclusion of spiritual accountability is that we are trying to avoid the cost of spiritual caring. We are an activist generation. We prefer to work than to pray; to run around being busy than to talk about spiritual, family and personal problems. This is a serious spiritual malady, namely the preference for working out solutions to our problems through our work rather than through trust in God and spiritual means. I think our generation is too impatient to stick through the long drawn out process of working through problems and situations spiritually.


What does spiritual caring involve? Here are some basics, and I think all of them will take time. I am not giving Scripture texts to back these points. That I will do in abundance in my book.

  1. Most important is praying daily for the people we lead. There is an amazing tie that develops when we pray daily for people. Paul, of course, was a master at this.
  2. Then there are extended times of conversation, discussion and friendship activities like eating together with them just like Jesus did with his disciples. Perhaps this is the single greatest contributor to developing team spirit, but it is very difficult to organise, as most people are so busy. Therefore the leader has to take the initiative of ensuring that this happens.
  3. The leaders take personal responsibility for the members, so that they are aware of the problems the members face. For example, when a loan request is made the member should know that it is been made to a person who has already been earnestly praying about his/her finances.
  4. Essentially the leader is like the good shepherd who dies for the sheep. When the leaders die for the people, the people will in turn die for the church/organisation. Dying often takes the form of the busy leader giving time to the person though he/she is very busy.
  5. If the leader finds out a member is upset, hurt, angry, ill, or questioning a direction the group is taking, he/she meets that member and talks until the problems are solved. Sometimes such conversations may take several hours and drag on for days. But the leader must consider this as a priority and separate time for it.
  6. The leaders should endeavour to be there at the special times of the members life—such as sickness, birthday of family member, baptism of child. The most important place in the life of a member is his or her home. Therefore the leader MUST visit the home of the member, at least once or sometimes several times. Home visits bring about an unusual bond between the leader and members. When a member changes homes, it is so powerful if the leader is there to participate in the moving and to pray with the family members when they go to the new house.
  7. The members participate in decision-making, so that they sense that there is ownership in the path to be taken by the church or organisation. For example, if the members are upset about a decision taken by the Board or a committee, it may need to be taken back to the Board and fresh thinking done taking into account the objections of the members. This makes it a long drawn out process. But once consensus is reached everyone works hard to achieve the goal and the long-term effect is usually much more powerful.
  8. There is participation in crisis resolution so that the members know of the crises facing the church/organisation. They are given constant progress reports on these things and are given the opportunity to contribute with their ideas. The only crises that are not shared are personal issues that require confidentiality so that the person in crisis is not betrayed by the sharing of things said in confidence.
  9. In the west we have this terrible dichotomy between administrative and pastoral roles. So it is said that it is best for the supervisor not to be involved in the personal struggles of the individuals. Indeed it is very difficult to put these two things together. But where in the Bible do we see them separated? This is an aspect of the unhealthy specialisation and linear thinking of the west that is invading our cultures. We must break that barrier and stop this pollution of our churches with worldly thinking. We must show that leaders are parents or shepherds who take both spiritual and administrative responsibility for those they lead.
  10. At the heart of our belief in such commitment to people is that when a person advances the organisation advances. If leaders make it their goal to work towards the advancement of the members, then the group will automatically advance too. God’s will for the individual must dovetail with God will for the organisation to which he sent that individual. That is an implication of our theology of the body.
  11. Because of the desire to work for the advancement of the members, the church/organisation may change its programme to accommodate the unique gifts of some members. This can be done if the use of these gifts can be facilitated within the primary aims of the organisation. If that is not possible the leader and the member may together explore another group to which this member could transfer. I think it is scandalous that often people tell their leader of their intention to change jobs long after the interview process is complete and only after the job is confirmed. This is the way of the world, but it is not the way of the kingdom where people are expected to have one heart and one mind.


If contracts and rules are introduced within the context of a spiritual accountability that is forged through the steps outlined above, then there can be a harmonising of the biblical principles of community life and modern management studies.