One of the buzz-words in the "Christian-ese" vocabulary is accountability. Christians everywhere talk about it, few Christians actively pursue it, and even fewer Christians pursue it in a healthy way. For many, accountability seems to be harsh and unloving. For others, it is a good idea that is never actually practiced. And for others, it is a soft, unsanctifying conversation where Christians basically encourage others that their sin is no big deal and they are simply forgiven. In other words, I think the idea of accountability is being played out in unhealthy and unhelpful ways in the church. This needs to stop.
The word "accountable" simply means, "to be required to explain actions or decision to someone." Accountability is often used in Christian circles, but it is not a "Christian" term. Accountability is everywhere. Teachers hold their students accountable for their schoolwork, police officers hold society accountable to keep the laws of the land, and mortgage companies hold homeowners accountable to pay their mortgages. If we fail to turn in a paper on the due date, we will have to explain to our teacher why it is late. If we go 55 mph in a 35 mph zone, we will be required to explain our actions to the police officer (and hopefully get off with a warning). If we fail to pay our mortgage, we will have to answer to the bank. Even if we tried, we would never be able to escape the concept of accountability. Without accountability, society would crumble. We need accountability to survive.
I would argue that the same is true for the Christian life. Christians need accountability to keep us moving in the right direction spiritually, and without it, our spiritual lives have the potential to crumble. The purpose of this post is to show the great need that all Christians have for accountability, as well as to offer some ideas for how accountability can be practiced that would lead to the sanctification of believers and add depth to their relationships for the glory of God.
The structure of this post will be to ask the big questions around the subject of accountability and then answer them in the most succinct way possible. Here we go...
What Scriptures Point us Toward Accountability?
- Hebrews 10:24-25 - "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
- Proverbs 27:17 - "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."
- Hebrews 3:13 - "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."
- Ephesians 4:15 - "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,"
- Ephesians 4:25 - "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another."
- Galatians 6:1-2 - "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."
- James 5:16 - "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."
- James 5:19-20 - "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."
- Colossians 3:16 - "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11 - "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
- Proverbs 12:15 - "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice."
Why Do Christians Need Accountability?
In my opinion, there are basically two reasons why Christians need accountability: Sanctification and Witness
- Sanctification - Simply stated, we need accountability because our hearts are wicked and we need to be sanctified (to become more like Jesus). Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" and Psalm 51:5 says, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Obviously, God's Word teaches us that our hearts are sinful and bent toward ourselves (even if we have been born again, we will always battle our flesh). One of the most amazing gifts God has given us to lead us away from ourselves and toward the fulfillment of the Great Commandment is community. God created us to live in the context of community, and by doing so, we help each other by pointing out each other’s "blind spots" (sinful areas of our lives that we do not see) so that they might be confessed and repented of. Our individual pursuit of holiness is exponentially better when community and accountability are highly valued in one’s life.
- Witness - God has set His people apart for the purpose of reflecting Him to a world that does not know Him. God has always been and still is concerned about bringing those who are far from Him near to Him. It is far better for Christians to see the sin in each other’s lives and encourage each other out of it than for the world to look at Christians and simply call us hypocrites. Accountability helps shape us into the people God has called us to be so that we might make His name revered among those who do not yet know Him.
Why Do "Accountability Relationships" so often Fail?
As sinful humans, all of our relationships tend to move toward disarray without the power of the Holy Spirit. Accountability relationships are no different. I have come up a with a list of 5 reasons that I think accountability relationships might fail:
1. Mixed Up Priorities – Too often people look for “accountability partners.” Let me be clear about something: IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR AN ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER, STOP LOOKING! The first step to having accountability is not to find an accountability partner, it’s to find community. Accountability is a natural bi-product of authentic community. If we get accountability before we are experiencing authentic community, we are sure to fail. Trust in any relationship takes time to develop, especially in accountability relationships where the goal is to be vulnerable. Keep your priorities in line and find true Christian community, and then from there seek out accountability.
2. Calling OUT instead of calling UP – In my experience with accountability, there seems to be a great desire (for men especially) to get in each others’ faces and tell people how sinful they are. In other words, people think accountability is about calling people OUT. If this has been your experience, I just want to say, “I’m sorry.” This is not the proper way to enter into accountability relationships. Accountability is more about encouragement than truth telling. It is more about calling people UP as opposed to calling them OUT. Accountability is about hope because the Gospel is about hope. We have to encourage each other and give each other hope that Jesus is not done working on us. No matter what we have done, no matter what we will ever do, God could never love us more and never love us less. This is grace and grace is what motivates change. Rather than calling OUT, we should call each other UP and remind each other of the hope of the Gospel for a transformed life that honors God. We need to “stir one another up toward love and good works,” not bash each other for our sin.
3. Harshness – As I stated earlier, our Christian growth is not going to take place because we will get yelled at if we mess up. That is behavior modification at best (and religious). Our Christian growth will occur as we desire to know Jesus, be like Jesus, and reflect Jesus to the world. It is a matter of the heart being transformed. Being harsh with each other will most likely cause negative Christian growth and damage the relationship at the same time. Remember, it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.
4. Softness – Just like being too harsh will not help anyone become more like Jesus, being too soft will not be helpful either. If we are doing accountability with no truth, it will be pointless. If we don’t make each other painfully aware of the call to holiness that God has placed on our lives, we are not helping each other. We simply cannot look at each other and say, “Hey man, its ok… Jesus died for that sin so you are forgiven. It’s no big deal.” Sin is a big deal! Such a big deal that the Creator of everything died to make His creation right again! If we fail to speak honestly about the need for sin killing, then there is no purpose in our accountability and we prove that we don’t care about that person’s sanctification. God is serious about His people killing sin and He has called us to help each other in the process.
5. Lack of intentionality – Accountability has to have structure. Structure calls for intentionality. Whatever method of accountability we implement into our lives, we have to be consistent and intentional. Because accountability can be embarrassing, we have to approach with a degree of structure that causes it to be a regular occurrence in one’s life. If we fail to be consistent, the relationship will naturally drift away from dealing with difficult topics. Accountability takes time, but it is well worth the investment.
Why Are More People Not Pursuing Accountability?
Many Christians are not pursuing accountability at all and I would offer 3 reasons as to why this might be happening:
- Uninformed – I truly believe that many Christians don’t know how to “do accountability” in a healthy way so they just avoid it altogether. This is a matter of discipleship and unfortunately, it seems to be one issue of many that Christians have not been taught how to implement into their lives.
- Guilt and Shame – Because we fail to remember the beauty of the Gospel and that we are completely forgiven and made righteous because of Jesus, we allow guilt and shame to govern our decisions. So many people are ashamed of what they have done or how they are currently living that is causes them to detach themselves and live a private life. This plays directly into Satan’s plan to isolate and destroy the lives of every person on earth. If the Gospel is true (and it is) then we have no reason to be ashamed because our sinfulness is an opportunity to allow Jesus to look wonderful! Don’t let guilt and shame about your past or present be a stumbling block in your Christian walk… allow yourself to enter into loving community and from there be vulnerable and accountable. It is a step toward health and wholeness.
- Pride – We hate to look bad. The main reason we are not honest about our shortcomings is because our pride will simply not allow us to say that we are anything but perfect. Once we can kill the pride in our lives and become vulnerable with others, God will do amazing things in our lives. Remember, God exalts the humble.
Why Should Christians be Intentional About Accountability?
Christians should be intentional about accountability for 3 reasons:
- We care about our own sanctification – We want to become more like Jesus and we are willing to ask others to help us in our journey.
- We care about the sanctification of others – We want to help others become more like Jesus and we are willing to enter into their lives, no matter how messy it may be, in order to help them in their journey.
- We care about the glory of God – We want the character of God to be reflected through His people so that those who do not yet know Him would be drawn to Him and worship Him.
What are Some Methods of Accountability that Actually Work?
Practically speaking, accountability might look very different depending on time, personality, availability, geographic location, etc. The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to look a certain way, but it needs to be happening in your life if you are a Christian. I want to offer 5 possibilities for how you can make this a regular part of your life.
Once you have established authentic, Christian relationships, try out one or some of these methods and see how they work for you.
Method #1 – 4 Simple Questions
In this method, you give a list of 4 questions to an accountability partner or an accountability group and arrange a time where you can be asked these questions. For example, this method might look like this:
- How was your relationship with the Lord this week?
- What is the current state your marriage?
- Do you have any sin that you need to confess this week?
- What ways did you see the hand of God at work in your life this week?
The questions may vary, but they should be specific to your life and your areas of desired growth.
Method #2 – Phone Calls
In this method, you intentionally arrange a calendar where people call each other on different days to check in with each other is certain areas of life. For example, if there is a Community Group of six men (Bill, Tom, Greg, Sam, Dave, and Bob) they might each call each other throughout the week to discuss the areas of accountability. The calendar might look like this:
- “Marriage Monday” – this phone call is designed to encourage each other to love, lead, and serve their wives and to represent Christ in their homes. Phone Calls: Bill calls Tom, Greg calls Sam, and Dave calls Bob.
- “In the Word Wednesday” – this phone call is designed to encourage each other to make the time to read and study God’s Word and to make it a priority in their lives. Phone Calls: Tom calls Greg, Same calls Dave, Bob calls Bill
- “Finance Friday” – this phone call is designed to encourage each other to use God’s resources in the right way and to make sure that money/work is not an idol in their lives. Phone Calls: Bill calls Sam, Tom calls Dave, and Greg calls Bob
The questions will vary depending on the people involved. These are just meant to serve as examples of what questions or topics could be discussed.
Method #3 – Partners
Sometimes people have a strong relationship with one other person and they decide to meet regularly to pray and be open with each other. This is a great way to maintain accountability and it might look like:
- Talking about struggles with sin
- Praying for each other
- Reading the Bible together
- Asking each other desired questions
- Memorizing Scripture together
This is a very personal and relational approach that works well when someone is not involved in a Community Group or if a Community Group decides to assign accountability/prayer partners.
Method #4 – Fill Out a Report and e-mail
A great way to be intentional about accountability is to create a list of questions and then e-mail your answers to your Community Group or accountability partner every week. This method takes a little more time but allows the person filling out the answers to really meditate on his/her week and creates great conversation when those reading it follow up with anything that needs to be talked about. The questions will vary depending on the person.
Method #5 – Community Group Open Discussion
Another way to pursue accountability is through your Community Group meetings. You can structure your meetings so that you make time every week or every month to ask each other your desired questions. This method takes a lot of vulnerability and honestly but can also produce a great amount of closeness within a group if done correctly.
One last note: Accountability is not easy. It takes sacrifice, intentionality, vulnerability, and time, but it is worth the effort. We need each other as we walk through the Christian life. We were not created to live life alone.
Romans 8:13 – “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”