Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The “A” Word

Written by: on March 15, 2021

In Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, he writes a striking phrase: “God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.”[1] I remember the first time I read this sentence was in the middle of my “church crisis” where I was questioning what the function of the church was and what, to me, I felt it should look like. I had a vision for what I thought church should look like and what should happen within the church, but it was it the vision that God has for the church, or was it my vision?

Bonhoeffer clarifies more on what he means as he writes:

“The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.”[2]

There is nothing inherently wrong with having vision. However, are we leading out of our vision, or are we leading out of the Great Visionary? As Christian leaders we must pause to ask the question, “In whose image am I leading?” Are our churches or organizations extensions of our image, or are they manifestations of God’s image through us?

Simon Walker writes, “All of us create worlds in our own image, but the difference for leaders is that they have the positional authority to do so.”[3] Because leaders have this authority, it is imperative for leaders to know him or herself and to know the the hidden motivations in his or her leadership. The baggage that we carry from our lives can bleed into our leadership as we may try to create a world that protects us from our past harms.

Because of our tendency to create the world in our image, when someone or something tries to bring us out of that world back into reality it can lead to a dissonance in our hearts and minds. We may fight tooth and nail to hang onto that vision as a means of protecting ourselves and our pride. This can cause the need for power to skyrocket as we wrestle for control over our own destinies.

Enter the dreaded “A” word: Accountability. Walker writes, “Accountability and submission are crucial factors in leadership: no leader should be without them.”[4] Accountability serves not just as a series of checks and balances, but as a means to maintaining mental, emotional, spiritual, and even physical health. The toll of leadership is great and without someone to keep us in check, we can easily lose ourselves in the torrent of leadership.

We must have people who know us and are willing to step into our lives when we lose sight of ourselves. There are few examples as poignant in this as the relationship between Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. The moment when Frodo begins to lose himself, Sam proves himself to be not just a true accountability partner, but friend as well. He is willing to tell Frodo the hard truths, that the Ring is corrupting him. He offers to share the load, but this causes backlash from Frodo who instead gives in to the temptation of Gollum’s cooing to be rid of Sam.

When it comes to finding accountability, there are two lessons from the above illustration I want to pull out:

  1. Find Your Sam. Find someone who not only knows you for who you are, but who can call you back to yourself when you lose sight of your true Self. A “Sam” is not just a friend, but they are someone you can love and trust. They are someone to whom we can be mutually submissive. These are the ones who, when the vision begins to drive us, bring us back to reality.
  2. Beware of Gollum. There are people in our lives who appear to have good intentions and give off the persona that we can trust them. However, beneath the surface is someone who wants to see our destruction, who wants the power of leadership for themselves. They feed into the false image we project while slowly hijacking our Self for theirs.


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1954) 27.       

[2] Ibid.

[3] Simon Walker, Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership (Carlisle: Piquant Editions Ltd, 2007), 66.

[4] Ibid., 67.

About the Author

Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

10 responses to “The “A” Word”

  1. Jer Swigart says:

    I was on a call with one of my mentors yesterday and were talking about accountability and submission. He pushed me to bring up a moment in the Scriptures where accountability was modeled and/or instructed. I struggled. He then invited me to consider moments where submission was modeled and/or instructed. I could think of many.

    He encouraged me to consider the difference between “accountability” and “submission.” One of the major distinctions of submission (and I would argue mutual-submission is likely more biblical than hierarchical submission) in comparison to accountability is where authority is located. My experience with “accountability” is that, by-and-large, authority still rests with me. However, within mutual submission, authority rests outside of me.

    I wonder if leaders were to lean into this distinction a bit, how it might shape our understanding of where vision comes from, who holds, and what are roles are as leaders to steward it well.

    • Dylan Branson says:

      That’s a good distinction. Mutual submission rather than hierarchical submission is what I would argue is the preferred biblical notion of submission.

      It’s difficult though. Mutual submission requires humility and our pride stops us from making that jump more often than not. I do think embracing that idea would change the way leadership manifests and that it would also move leadership teams into more of a shared vision.

  2. Darcy Hansen says:

    When my husband and I left our previous church, there was a small group who were also dissatisfied with the direction leadership at the church was taking and they were leaving, as well. We all decided to do what I called “tiny church.” We met weekly in a home and worshipped together. Over the course of a couple months, our small numbers doubled, from 6 to 12 as people invited others to join. It was a sweet space of vulnerability and authenticity. But I realized quickly that people were looking to me to pastor and lead. I knew I wasn’t ready to do that, as my heart was still completely shattered, and I realized I wasn’t interested in creating a church in my own image. After 4 months of meeting, my husband and I walked away and the “tiny church” disbanded.

    I continue to wonder what the Church would look like if along the way we, as Christ followers, were able to reconcile and restore brokenness, rather than throw up our hands and move on to create something in our own image? How do we create a level playing field where accountability and mutual submission are embraced?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      Darcy, that’s a big reason why I ended up staying at my current church. After I walked away from it for a while, I was church hopping and going to several different congregations per week. After a while, I thought, “Why not make something better?” But I felt conflicted about it and after a lot of conversations with various people, realized I was doing something that would alter the image the church is supposed to bear into my own image.

      The question we always asked though was, “How much is enough?” At what point are we justified in throwing our hands up and walking away? Or is part of Kingdom restoration the ability to keep our nose to the ground and being patient for God’s timing?

  3. John McLarty says:

    Having the onus of responsibility can be both humbling and invigorating. For those who try to maintain a posture of humility, there are always pressures to be more assertive, more commanding. For those who are invigorated, the pressure is about not letting the power go to one’s head. This week, you and Jer are both tracking the importance of mentorship- having someone who can speak truth and demonstrate the paradoxes of weakness and strength. Leadership can be a lonely place, and without people we trust around us, we can often get confused about humility and courage. How do you discern who to invite into that deeper place of accountability for your own life?

    • Dylan Branson says:

      Personally, I look for people’s stories and look to see where their life events touch my own. It’s a patient process because as time passes, more and more of their story comes to light. There needs to be an inherent trust as we both go through the process — they learn more of my story, I learn more of their own. I also look at their interactions with others and seek advice from mutual friends we may have.

  4. Greg Reich says:

    Out standing blog! I find it amazing how we walk though life with preconceived expectations and definitions of what a Christian community should look like. I have learned that leaders often see themselves in their strengths while their followers often see them through there weaknesses. It often takes tiem for followers to see them in their strengths. When they do the danger for hero worship becomes real.

    You discuss the importance of accountability. I would encourage you to see accountability in a broad perspective. I don’t believe there can be a true level of accountability without certain amount of a yielding of power and mutual submission. To truly be accountable to another individual gives that person the authority to speak the truth and to ask hard questions. It takes a willingness to yield a place of power to another in a submissive posture in order to allow someone to hold you accountable. We see this in Jesus when he stood before Pilot. Jesus still had authority, he could have snapped his finger and proved his godhood. Instead he yielded that power and submitted to the process even while hangin on the cross.

    • Dylan Branson says:

      I agree with you, Greg. In my mind, my first thought of accountability is that it’s a mutual submission (at least that’s how it was supposed to play out when people I knew in college would have “accountability partners”). However, those expectations needs to be laid out fully and carefully. When the balance of power shifts, the dynamics of the relationships changes as well.

  5. Chris Pollock says:

    Coming together in a world of what Love looks like; dreaming and imagining together, the world of God’s Kingdom come here as in Heaven…does that sound cool?

    What if the vision for this Hope derives from the experience of trauma under oppressive and/or aggressive leadership and/or systems?

    Accountability is helpful, but is it the end-point to verifying vision?

    I love the thought of Sam and Gollum, sweet characters. Both have their place with us, don’t they 🙂 one is loved and one not so much. Is there a better kind of love, a more productive love, that we could show Gollum? Sam has his moments too, doesn’t he.

  6. Shawn Cramer says:

    I love how many are allowing their biographies to speak alongside Walker. In what ways did you see Bonhoeffer espouse or embody accountability?

Leave a Reply