Accountability is a topic that receives much discussion but I believe is misunderstood by many. For those who struggle with sexual and relational sin and brokenness, accountability is a necessity, not an option. Throughout the Scriptures there are many examples of accountability. The Lord had His prophets hold His people accountable. There are several New Testament examples where Paul and the apostles held each other answerable for their actions.
Accountability, like quiet time, is a discipline. It requires a choice of the will to enter into such a relationship with others. Discipline is required because we must choose to make this time a priority rather then an occasional event. It is a commitment we make to one another that this is going to be a fundamental part of our Christian walks, our sanctification process.
Some confuse confession with accountability. Although confession is a necessary part of accountability, it is by no means its equivalent. I may confess my sins and repent, but unless I give permission for others to also ask me about the circumstances that led to my sinful choices, it remains only confession. It also must be stated that there must be a willingness to share with others what we have confessed in private with God. We need to allow our brothers and sisters to enter into those places in which we experience our weaknesses and deep vulnerabilities.
Accountability also is not simply having understanding of another’s struggle or being able to have empathy for them. If I am not willing to make the difficult choices to overcome similar sin in my own life, how will I truly be able to call others to go where I will not (I Corinthians 9:27)? Such a situation can easily turn into legalistic transference. I impose the “law” onto another in an attempt to avoid having to face my own sin. It may also turn into “sloppy agape” (love without boundaries) where I enable others to remain stuck because I will not speak the words which I also must adhere to in my life.
In the remainder of this article, I will offer some helpful guidance as to how to implement healthy and effective accountability relationships in your life.
Who do I approach?
Prayerfully seek the Lord to guide you in your search for an accountability partner. Perhaps your pastor or a church elder can assist you in your search, but I believe it is important not to expect your pastor to be that person for you. Here’s why: the ideal accountability partner is one who is readily available to you. Due to the demands on church leadership, many pastors are simply unavailable for this purpose. However, they may be aware of others who are searching or may know of a group you may join.
Those whom you would approach to be an accountability partner must have some capacity to demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance. Ideally there is a mutual vulnerability as peers between accountability partners. Without this, a situation can arise which may result in defensiveness or posturing. Our role is not to try to fix or give advice (unless requested) but to the best of our ability to be non-judging and good listeners!
Allow the Lord to choose those who will come along side of you. He is the one who knows us best and those who would be ideal. Our hearts never have totally pure motives and we may knowingly or unknowingly ask someone who may not have the capacity to truly hold us accountable. Since the Lord knows us completely, it is best to trust in Him to connect us with those whom He knows will be able to function in this capacity. One of the first steps in establishing accountability is the laying down of my control issues!
Willingness to be real
The bedrock of accountability is my willingness to commit to honesty, transparency, vulnerability, and ultimately to the Lordship of Jesus in all areas of my life. In a truly committed accountability relationship, I am willing to hold nothing back. I am willing to acknowledge my shame or self-hatred and not let these feelings limit the depth of my transparency. I willingly take off my masks no matter what they may be: perfectionism, religiosity, self-protection, victimhood, etc.
It is I who make the choice to be accountable. I don’t require another to force me to be transparent. Eventually I will take responsibility as an adult son or daughter to share and not wait for another to ask me that pivotal question. We may not be able to do this at first but begin by requesting to be asked key questions that you know need to be asked. Ultimately however, we each must mature to a place where we willingly bring forth the necessary information before someone asks. We choose to humble ourselves and in so doing will be lifted up.
I highly recommend that the goal and definition of accountability be understood by everyone involved. Each accountability partner initially should share what his or her expectations and hopes are. This will help to minimize confusion or any false perceptions that could otherwise arise later.
Guiding principles need to be initially established as well. Each accountability partner needs to be committed to the group. This includes making attendance a priority, keeping shared information confidential, praying for each member daily, and following through on any promises.
Discuss any limitations such as where (work/home), when (time), and how (phone/e-mail) each accountability partner can be contacted. Pick a location and time to meet that is best suited to everyone’s schedule.
The specific areas of accountability will vary as needed. Each accountability partner needs to share what his or her specific areas of weakness are. Be open about what questions you need to be asked or what the situations are in which you find yourself most vulnerable to temptation. Initially these questions can be written down so they are available for each meeting. A general list can be made up as well which is applicable for all. Eventually this list may not be needed.
Items covered during a meeting need to go beyond just areas of weakness. I would also include asking each other about having quiet times, spending time in God’s Word, fulfilling family obligations, having other ongoing healthy relationships, making time to have fun, etc. Also, don’t focus just on behaviors but ask how God expressed His Presence in your life during this past week. Give testimony of how God manifested His gifts/blessings.
After an accountability partner has shared any particularly intimate or difficult information, be sensitive to how he or she may experience subsequent feelings of shame. Express gratitude for the courage it took to be that revealing or transparent. Follow up contact later may be especially helpful (even welcomed) as spiritual warfare may occur which could lead to isolation or turning inward to self-hatred.
Prayer is a crucial aspect of accountability groups. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading when difficult information has just been shared. Instead of moving on, stop for a moment and pray. Each time you meet always save adequate time to pray for each other! Don’t make prayer a quick superficial closing but one during which God can minister to each individual.
The true goal of an accountability group is found in I Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” The bottom line goal is that we can encourage each other to become the men or women God created us to be. We offer support in times of struggle and affirm that which expresses God’s true nature within us.
By Rev. Bob Ragan
Originally Published June 2006