Accountability and Discernment: Another Tragic Story

Todd Bentley exploded onto the scene a few months back with a rare sense of style, prophetic witness, and a legacy of praying for people who would be healed. From the beginning of the Florida Outpouring, Bentley’s videos and sermons were posted online enabling a new generation of charismatic spiritual pilgrims to seek out the Fresh Fire Ministry events. For UK leaders like Jason Clark, it didn’t take long for the questions of Bentley’s authenticity to reach his congregation. Then, a few weeks later, I too was being asked by good friends in Switzerland what I thought about this loud unorthodox preacher. “He is healing the sick, he is changing people’s lives, he is being used remarkably as a man of God,” they would all say emphatically! Unfortunately, like so many other people in the past, present, and future, the first chapter of this story has a tragic ending. According to a few different reports, Bentley has resigned from his leadership position after admitting to having an unhealthy emotional affair with another female staff member. Fresh Fire Ministries have also canceled all Fall training events.
Now many people will chalk this one up to the vicious combination of power and evil. Many will say that this is just an attack from “Satan”, and that Bentley, like so many other young leaders before him succumbed to the temptation around him and lost his focus. While I’m guessing that some if not all of this may be true, the deeper question of the tragedy was put well by Jason Clark when he asked, “when will we ever learn, and practice discernment and accountability?”
Over the few short years that I have been involved with formal ministerial structures and personalities, the questions of accountability and discernment have been key. Several times I have witnessed both the healthy relationship of proximity-based accountability and the strong arm of hierarchical and distanced accountability. In many regards, while I am sure that with distance comes the need for a different kind of hierarchical understanding, very rarely have I experienced a distanced accountability that operated with as clear of a mandate and authority as the ones much closer to the ground. In fact, with proximity-based accountability, I have also experienced in others and myself, a greater capacity for discernment and willingness to listen to the concern and wisdom of those in authority.
So what does this mean? Are we somehow as a result of hyper-connectivity moving ironically away from the webs of accountability which have traditionally worked? Are we, as has been discussed in so many different places and venues, moving into a season of more and more localized structures of discernment and accountability? And if so, what does that mean for the networks and organizations that we deeply enjoy being a part of; ones that would we would even, in some cases, define ourselves by?
At the end of the day, Todd Bentley’s story may not be the story of structural accountability and discernment gone bad. Bentley could have very well have had a small group around him listening, offering advice, giving counsel, praying for his well-being and giving him the slaps on the hand he needed. However, one thing is for certain, this story is again a reminder of the primacy of personal accountability and discernment. It is a reminder that individuals are always a part of a larger system, and that no matter much good any person or movement seems to be doing, each of us has role to play in taking care of our own souls, minds, and actions.
The first chapter of the Todd Bentley story is over. For those whom he touched in powerful ways, this is not a statement that what they experienced was wrong or illegitimate. If anything, it is a reminder that we must ever keep our eyes on the giver of genuine Hope and Life. It is also a reminder to pray that as Bentley moves on to the next chapter of this story, he and those whom he encounters will be better prepared to face the challenges, temptations and opportunities to come. And last but not least, let the end of this chapter be a reminder to us all to check in with those who have marked us, for the greatest friends of personal accountability and discernment are voices of encouragement and care from past experience.
Live, learn, thrive…
joshua c