Life is replete with irony. One of the biggest ironies connected to personal health and safety is that the best time to develop personal accountability is when we don’t particularly need it. Unfortunately, when the need for accountability strikes, most people don’t have any significant relationships on which to lean. We haven’t invested consistently in deep friendships and our isolation often increases in times of trouble.
The Christian men’s movement has raised awareness for the need of accountability, but it remains difficult to develop – especially for men. Various accountability programs are available, but nothing takes the place of intimacy between two or more transparent people who really care about each other.
Our most basic need in life is relationship with God and others. Within these relationships, we can safely discover our blind spots and receive new input and teaching. Sadly, however, it’s in our human nature to hide ourselves if we sense disapproval from others.
Another factor is that Christians seek moral perfection. We focus more on our performance and base our standards on good behavior. Messing up is one thing, but admitting our imperfections is quite another. Many of us have seen what happens when a person within the Christian ranks stumbles. We tend to shoot the wounded rather than grapple with the ongoing reality of sin in the camp.
Authentic accountability with each other could be the very thing that re-ignites our passion for Christ and His kingdom. This is certainly true when we find ourselves seeking accountability because of a moral failing. In becoming known to others in Christ, our unity and love for each other could become a significant part of our healing, making it safe and genuinely attractive for non-Christians to explore the reality of Christian fellowship.
Qualities we need
This might not describe you currently, but the person who desires to be accountable to another Christian is one who desires spiritual growth. This person recognizes his need. More than mere behavioral change, he hopes to experience an inner healing that is fostered relationally with another Christ-follower.
There may be some reading this who are not Christian or who have had negative past experiences with Christians. These readers may skip the rest of this article because they “know” the one thing they do not need is more religion. I ask you to continue reading. The difference between Christian-accountability relationships and those based on secular ideas is that the Christian seeks to transform and redeem the entire individual, not simply the harmful behavior.
Would you rather find a way to just stop drinking, smoking, or looking at pornography, or would you prefer your inner being healed of all the pain, isolation and anger that often lies behind such behaviors? If you desire the latter, read on and consider seeking out mature (very important) Christians to walk with you on the road of recovery.
In Christian-accountability relationships, all parties appreciate and attempt to adhere to God’s Word, contributing a teachable spirit and a willingness to change. There must also be a discerning spirit; even a well-intentioned accountability partner can mislead us. Therefore, all things are measured against the Bible and what the Holy Spirit teaches us.
Above all, we recognize that our first accountability is to God. In sharing our needs with another person, we hope that he will be an encourager who points us beyond judgment to the grace of God through Christ.
Qualities needed in an accountability partner
Truth be told, good accountability partners are difficult to find. We need someone of the same gender who sees himself as our peer, unless we are intentionally seeking a mentor. This person should be sensitive and kind, as well as humble and wise. His willingness to confess his own shortcomings will be a measure of your ability to trust him and your safety with him.
Confidentiality is crucial. We need to share with people who know how to keep our confidence and when to confront us about our unhealthy secrecy.
We should seek people who model the traits to which we aspire. Just as a young entrepreneur would model himself after a successful businessman, we need relationships with men who are spiritually qualified to serve. Of course, we don’t want to place these men on pedestals. That wouldn’t be fair to them or helpful to us.
Two dimensions of accountability
A prayer of examen is a time of reflection and personal assessment before God. Here we invite God to examine not only our behaviors, but our thoughts, emotions, and spirits. Our goal for this prayer is that we will be in greater harmony with our Lord.
Characteristics of the Prayer of Examen
- Brings an increased consciousness of God’s presence in our daily lives and how we have responded to Him.
- Leads to an uncovering of those areas in our lives that need cleansing, purifying, and healing.
- Facilitates a remembrance of God’s deeds, both in our lives and throughout history.
- Creates an increase in self-knowledge.
- Allows an inward turning of “the deepest level of the self to God.”
- Includes prayers committed to a journal.
The Prayer of Examen is featured in Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, by Richard Foster. Harper Collins. 1992. Pgs. 27-35
Christian accountability has two dimensions: internal and external. The internal dimension with God is primary. Here, we invite Him to examine our behaviors as well as our motives. We recognize that He knows us better than we know ourselves. Like King David in the Old Testament, we surrender to God our deepest needs, hopes, and dreams, and in surrender find food for our souls.
The external dimension of accountability occurs in community with other Christians. Having examined ourselves before God we offer what we have learned about ourselves to a few, safe individuals, and they in turn, do the same. Here we describe our experiences and invite their feedback. This process allows personal accountability to be a time of encouragement for all.
Like everything else in the Christian life, our experience with accountability matures over time. Going to God first can be challenging. Our impatience may want an immediate or audible answer that God will not provide. Waiting on God, however, grows our faith in Him. Then, having experienced intimacy and a healing examination before Him, we are prepared to go to a few trusted Christians and seek the external accountability that will encourage us stay the course.
The selection of our accountability partners is critical. The Bible teaches that “bad company corrupts good character.” Consistent with The Iceberg, we need true friends who will encourage us to remain:
Behaviorally focused – They don’t tempt us with immoral activities.
Cognitively clean – They don’t pollute our minds with ungodly thoughts.
Emotionally relevant – They encourage us to be open and truthful.
Spiritually renewed – They consistently invest themselves in our personal relationship with God.
Strength in numbers
If the accountability process becomes too cumbersome or time consuming, it will die a natural death. With this in mind, I encourage people to invite three others to participate in the accountability relationship. If you can’t identify three mature people initially, start with one or two. If you don’t even have one in mind, describe your needs to a pastor and see if he can recommend someone to you.
Good-naturedly I have said, “I can lie to one. I can confuse two, but with a third man the three of them are sure to catch up with me.” There is “safety in a multitude of counselors,”1 but if the group gets too large, we’ll not likely open up to others.
The game plan
The three-person accountability team has a built-in advantage. During the first three weeks of each month, we can meet individually with each person. In the fourth week of the month, all three can meet as a team. Insights and concerns gained throughout the month can be shared openly, as well as prayers of thanksgiving for how God is working in our lives.
These meetings need to be simple and in a location where private thoughts can be shared. Meeting over breakfast or lunch may not be the best option as food for the stomach can compete with food for the soul.
Ongoing accountability is important, but it can really injure us if something goes wrong. Therefore, we need to know how to troubleshoot these special relationships.
No relationship can bear the strain of a judgmental attitude. An accountability partner is not spiritually superior. If he is into religious legalism, this, too, can destroy trust and a willingness to be known.
Christian men can easily slip into a dynamic of a spiritual father-son relationship; women, likewise, as spiritual mothers and daughters. We need to remember, however, that a new accountability relationship is fragile. Therefore, we want to be cautious about adding the parent-child dimension to an accountability relationship – especially if we’re carrying unresolved wounds from family relationships. It is sufficient to simply celebrate that we are brothers or sisters in faith.
Christian accountability is a gift we give ourselves and a sacrifice of time and pride offered to God. It is intended to be a means of discipleship where we humble ourselves before God and others. Our transparency and respect for those who serve us builds the community for which we hunger.
Realistically, accountability before God and others already exists, whether or not we are faithful practitioners of Christian accountability. The consistent practice of accountability is necessary because we need new input and teaching to overcome our blind spots that hinder spiritual development and relationships.
Accountability requires a support network of a few safe individuals. We must prepare ourselves, however, for these folks to come and go. God has assigned us to each other for a season, but He remains at our side throughout every season of life.
1. What about my wife? Can she be my accountability partner?
The spouses of partners who struggle with sexual sin and addiction are severely stressed, and should not serve as their partner’s primary accountability relationship. Often, based on their discovery, they struggle with invasive or compulsive images of their spouses acting out, and additional information will only harm them further. Equally important, the addict has only one spouse and her role must be safeguarded. Accountability partners can be found elsewhere. Both spouses and the accountability partners need to understand that the partners stand in proxy for the spouse during times of disclosure, serving the marriage as well as both husband and wife.
2. What if I struggle with same-gender attraction? How can I safeguard the accountability process and myself?
The accountability process can be safeguarded by meeting with two or more partners simultaneously. Or, if meetings will occur with individual accountability partners, all involved need to practice the circle of accountability that exists within the group. These meetings, of course, need to be in public settings.
3. What if my accountability partner breaks my confidence?
Broken confidences should be confronted in a timely manner, with the wisdom found in Matthew 18:15-17.
4. Should I expect my accountability partner to not share what he has learned about me with his wife?
Many Christians feel that married couples should never have secrets between them, while others make allowances for some things. There is strength and merit in each approach. What matters is that you and your accountability partners have discussed which approach the group will employ.