Accountability Re-Imagined

Accountability Re-Imagined

If we’re really honest, most of us don’t do (or know, for that matter) accountability well. We buy into misconceptions, reactive behaviors, and misdirected trust issues. Yet accountability is exactly what renovates the soul of a youth worker and other church leaders. Confusion and frustration around this issue can put us in a vulnerable state.

Somehow we’ve come to believe that the only place for accountability in our life surrounds areas of sin and personal struggle. We tend to use James 5:16 as the proof text for this idea. James is direct in his mandate: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” While this is certainly an aspect of accountability, it’s not the only one.

Starting the accountability process based on combating personal struggle makes accountability reactive or remedial rather than proactive. Once we buy into this myth, we’re desperately attempting to remedy or eliminate a problem rather than prevent or circumvent it.

It’s funny to hear people explain accountability. The conversation usually starts by someone admitting that he is in a great accountability group. I often ask how that works and what he does in that group. The response usually falls in line with something like, “We talk about our struggles.” My response is usually, “…And?”

People don’t know what to say next. They often throw in something about praying for each other. Prayer is good, effective, and needed, but that’s not all accountability is. If I press the issue, three distinct models emerge which reflect a basic dysfunctional philosophy of accountability.

Model #1:

You tell me your junk, I’ll tell you my junk, and we agree it’s junk.

Member 1: “I’m really glad for this accountability group. I’m glad we can be real here…I really need to talk about something; this week I’ve been struggling with Internet porn again.”

Member 2: “How can you get it? You’ve got that accountability software.”

Member 1: “Yeah, I know, but…we can be real here…there are ways to get around it, and sometimes the temptation is so great that I just give in.”

Member 3: “I know what you mean. I have the same problem, only I’ve been renting videos.”

Member 2: “Well, we all know what should be done.”

Member 3: “Yep, but sometimes it gets too difficult to deal with; then I fall.”

Member 1: “I’m glad I can talk about this. It’s a real weight off me, but we have to agree to stop doing these bad things. Everyone agree? Good!”

[long pause]

Member 1: “Okay, let’s pray about it.”

This is the most common emerging model. Accountability occurs when we sit around talking about the garbage in our lives. While this time is heart-felt and often feels refreshing to the soul, it does little to assist long-term spiritual revitalization. This model is built on an undetected value of acceptability and agreement, not accountability. Then after we’re done talking about the problems, we tack on prayer (though usually more time is spent talking than praying). This is an impotent view of accountability that ends in agreement. We don’t know what to do, so we agree we have struggles and then pray.

Model #2:

You tell me your junk, I’ll tell you my junk, and then we’ll make the other guys responsible for it.

Member 1: “I’m really glad for this accountability group. I’m glad we can be real here…I really need to talk about something; this week I’ve been struggling with Internet porn again.”

Member 2: “How can you get it? You’ve got that accountability software.”

Member 1: “Yeah, I know, but…we can be real here…there are ways to get around it and sometimes the temptation is so great that I just give in.”

Member 3: “Dude, when the temptation gets great you need to call us; we’re there for you.”

Member 2: “Yeah, I’m glad you told us. I going to commit to call you every night and ask you hard questions like, ‘Did you look at porn today?'”

Member 3: “Yeah, dude—Satan wants you to think you’re all alone, but you’re not. We have your back.”

Member 1: “I’m glad I can talk about this. It’s a real weight off me!”

This view of accountability grows out of two dysfunctional values. The first is what the social science community calls codependency. Codependent people believe that others can’t function without them. They have to be in the center of the struggle because they’re driven by a need to be needed. They want to manage other people’s lives. That’s exactly what happens when we’re at the beck and call to rescue one another. This form of accountability breeds codependency. We’ve created a culture where we trust humanity in the form of each other. Often youth workers do this to kids, too. We teach them to run to us and trust our power, not God’s.

The second dysfunctional value of this model is a strong-arm Christianity. This is the idea that we’re invincible together; that we can just buck up and take the hill. A recent outbreak of literature in the Christian market surrounds the notion that power is a spiritual attribute. These popular books resonate with this type of accountability, because it gives the person without the struggle a spiritual edge. Many of these books are written to men, equating warriorlike attributes as virtues. We start to believe that if we “power up,” we can rescue anyone.

This power-up, codependent approach burns people, because we really believe that we can exact results in someone’s life. When that doesn’t happen it’s easier to back away and ultimately ignore the struggle than to constantly burn hot and burn out.

Model #3:

You tell me your junk and I’ll whack you.

Member 1: “I’ve really been struggling with some things that I need to be accountable for.”

Member 2: “Okay, that’s good, God says that we should confess to each other.”

Member 1: “Yeah, I know, but it’s embarrassing… I’ve been struggling with porn.”

Member 2: “Dude, you need to step down from ministry until you can get things together. We need to tell the senior pastor and the elders about this too. I’m glad that you told me; it must be a great weight off of you.”

This form of accountability isn’t safe at all. It often substitutes rightness for grace and restoration. We’ve come to value being in the seat of correctness rather than being gracious and possibly taking it on the chin for a brother. Grace many times has a cost. A church might take some heat if it became a place where real sinners can come and find safety. That church would probably be labeled liberal or compromising. Many times pastors and elders act out of interests of protecting the organization at the expense of the individual. This is a proactive form of accountability, but I wonder if it’s really what Jesus would do. In scenarios where this model of accountability is practiced, my observation is that there’s very little sharing of real-life issues. The issues shared are struggles with quiet times, lustful thoughts, attitudes, etc.—stuff that you can’t really get whacked for. Who in their right mind would share anything that would put them in judgment?

Accountability Re-Imagined

We need to quit putting each other in bondage. We need to create environments that are more about grace and restoration, regardless of the cost—safe and nonjudgmental without compromising godly characteristics. And we need to rethink what godly characteristics look like. Most of our views of accountability have become pharisaical—but with Jesus-y language.

Accountability doesn’t eliminate sin; Christ does. We forget that we stand righteous because of Jesus’ sacrifice. We forget that we have the Holy Spirit in our lives to empower us to live righteously, not accountability partners or groups.

Accountability must be proactive for spiritual growth. Hebrews 10:24-25 should be the key verses regarding accountability. We are encouraged to meet together regularly and encourage, spur, literally aggravate each other into being more loving and doing good things. This proactive approach can push sinful habits out by replacing them with positive action.

Meetings of accountability need to focus on the person and work of Christ. Usually sin becomes the focal point. We become so consumed by the sin we must eliminate that we fail to fix our eyes on God. Any time sin becomes the consuming focal point of a Christian’s life, we exchange freedom for bondage. Let’s hold each other accountable to live free in the victory that Christ has already secured for us.

If we’re really honest, most of us don’t do (or know, for that matter) accountability well. We buy into misconceptions, reactive behaviors, and misdirected trust issues. Yet accountability is exactly what renovates the soul of a youth worker and other church leaders. Confusion and frustration around this issue can put us in a vulnerable state.

Somehow we’ve come to believe that the only place for accountability in our life surrounds areas of sin and personal struggle. We tend to use James 5:16 as the proof text for this idea. James is direct in his mandate: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” While this is certainly an aspect of accountability, it’s not the only one.

Starting the accountability process based on combating personal struggle makes accountability reactive or remedial rather than proactive. Once we buy into this myth, we’re desperately attempting to remedy or eliminate a problem rather than prevent or circumvent it.

It’s funny to hear people explain accountability. The conversation usually starts by someone admitting that he is in a great accountability group. I often ask how that works and what he does in that group. The response usually falls in line with something like, “We talk about our struggles.” My response is usually, “…And?”

People don’t know what to say next. They often throw in something about praying for each other. Prayer is good, effective, and needed, but that’s not all accountability is. If I press the issue, three distinct models emerge which reflect a basic dysfunctional philosophy of accountability.

Model #1:

You tell me your junk, I’ll tell you my junk, and we agree it’s junk.

Member 1: “I’m really glad for this accountability group. I’m glad we can be real here…I really need to talk about something; this week I’ve been struggling with Internet porn again.”

Member 2: “How can you get it? You’ve got that accountability software.”

Member 1: “Yeah, I know, but…we can be real here…there are ways to get around it, and sometimes the temptation is so great that I just give in.”

Member 3: “I know what you mean. I have the same problem, only I’ve been renting videos.”

Member 2: “Well, we all know what should be done.”

Member 3: “Yep, but sometimes it gets too difficult to deal with; then I fall.”

Member 1: “I’m glad I can talk about this. It’s a real weight off me, but we have to agree to stop doing these bad things. Everyone agree? Good!”

[long pause]

Member 1: “Okay, let’s pray about it.”

This is the most common emerging model. Accountability occurs when we sit around talking about the garbage in our lives. While this time is heart-felt and often feels refreshing to the soul, it does little to assist long-term spiritual revitalization. This model is built on an undetected value of acceptability and agreement, not accountability. Then after we’re done talking about the problems, we tack on prayer (though usually more time is spent talking than praying). This is an impotent view of accountability that ends in agreement. We don’t know what to do, so we agree we have struggles and then pray.

Model #2:

You tell me your junk, I’ll tell you my junk, and then we’ll make the other guys responsible for it.

Member 1: “I’m really glad for this accountability group. I’m glad we can be real here…I really need to talk about something; this week I’ve been struggling with Internet porn again.”

Member 2: “How can you get it? You’ve got that accountability software.”

Member 1: “Yeah, I know, but…we can be real here…there are ways to get around it and sometimes the temptation is so great that I just give in.”

Member 3: “Dude, when the temptation gets great you need to call us; we’re there for you.”

Member 2: “Yeah, I’m glad you told us. I going to commit to call you every night and ask you hard questions like, ‘Did you look at porn today?'”

Member 3: “Yeah, dude—Satan wants you to think you’re all alone, but you’re not. We have your back.”

Member 1: “I’m glad I can talk about this. It’s a real weight off me!”

This view of accountability grows out of two dysfunctional values. The first is what the social science community calls codependency. Codependent people believe that others can’t function without them. They have to be in the center of the struggle because they’re driven by a need to be needed. They want to manage other people’s lives. That’s exactly what happens when we’re at the beck and call to rescue one another. This form of accountability breeds codependency. We’ve created a culture where we trust humanity in the form of each other. Often youth workers do this to kids, too. We teach them to run to us and trust our power, not God’s.

The second dysfunctional value of this model is a strong-arm Christianity. This is the idea that we’re invincible together; that we can just buck up and take the hill. A recent outbreak of literature in the Christian market surrounds the notion that power is a spiritual attribute. These popular books resonate with this type of accountability, because it gives the person without the struggle a spiritual edge. Many of these books are written to men, equating warriorlike attributes as virtues. We start to believe that if we “power up,” we can rescue anyone.

This power-up, codependent approach burns people, because we really believe that we can exact results in someone’s life. When that doesn’t happen it’s easier to back away and ultimately ignore the struggle than to constantly burn hot and burn out.

Model #3:

You tell me your junk and I’ll whack you.

Member 1: “I’ve really been struggling with some things that I need to be accountable for.”

Member 2: “Okay, that’s good, God says that we should confess to each other.”

Member 1: “Yeah, I know, but it’s embarrassing… I’ve been struggling with porn.”

Member 2: “Dude, you need to step down from ministry until you can get things together. We need to tell the senior pastor and the elders about this too. I’m glad that you told me; it must be a great weight off of you.”

This form of accountability isn’t safe at all. It often substitutes rightness for grace and restoration. We’ve come to value being in the seat of correctness rather than being gracious and possibly taking it on the chin for a brother. Grace many times has a cost. A church might take some heat if it became a place where real sinners can come and find safety. That church would probably be labeled liberal or compromising. Many times pastors and elders act out of interests of protecting the organization at the expense of the individual. This is a proactive form of accountability, but I wonder if it’s really what Jesus would do. In scenarios where this model of accountability is practiced, my observation is that there’s very little sharing of real-life issues. The issues shared are struggles with quiet times, lustful thoughts, attitudes, etc.—stuff that you can’t really get whacked for. Who in their right mind would share anything that would put them in judgment?

Accountability Re-Imagined

We need to quit putting each other in bondage. We need to create environments that are more about grace and restoration, regardless of the cost—safe and nonjudgmental without compromising godly characteristics. And we need to rethink what godly characteristics look like. Most of our views of accountability have become pharisaical—but with Jesus-y language.

Accountability doesn’t eliminate sin; Christ does. We forget that we stand righteous because of Jesus’ sacrifice. We forget that we have the Holy Spirit in our lives to empower us to live righteously, not accountability partners or groups.

Accountability must be proactive for spiritual growth. Hebrews 10:24-25 should be the key verses regarding accountability. We are encouraged to meet together regularly and encourage, spur, literally aggravate each other into being more loving and doing good things. This proactive approach can push sinful habits out by replacing them with positive action.

Meetings of accountability need to focus on the person and work of Christ. Usually sin becomes the focal point. We become so consumed by the sin we must eliminate that we fail to fix our eyes on God. Any time sin becomes the consuming focal point of a Christian’s life, we exchange freedom for bondage. Let’s hold each other accountable to live free in the victory that Christ has already secured for us.

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