Honestly, I’ve come to hate the word accountability. Don’t get me wrong. I understand the concept of accountability and the need for it within the Christian community. I am accountable to the people I serve, and believers are accountable to each other, etc. But the way accountability is typically deployed in churches has gotten abusive.
For a long time in the church world it’s been used as a license to browbeat fellow Christians, manipulate leaders, and hold people in bondage to someone else’s standard. Accountability has become a code word for control or police action. It has taken on the form self-righteous sword-swinging that leaves many Christians wounded and disillusioned with the church and with Christ. Far too often accountability is a display of pious judgment wrapped up in false spirituality! It angers me.
A relationship does not have to be adversarial to have true accountability. It can exist among friends and other types of compassionate, caring relationships. In fact, friends do a much better job of maintaining accountability for one another than legal-lords do, because genuine concern exists between friends, unlike with church bullies.
Consider. Jesus said to the twelve, “I no longer call you servants…. Instead I have called you friends” (John 15:15). He spoke these words at a time in ancient culture when the Jewish people lived under Roman rule, but then stepped out of that hierarchical structure to call his followers friends. Jesus could have used words like king, boss, supervisor, or ruler to describe Himself and terms such as subordinates, lower, or minor to describe them, but He didn’t. Although Lordship titles of supremacy are given to Christ throughout scripture, in this instance Jesus intentionally used the word friends to describe His relationship with the twelve because it portrays a model for human relationships that doesn’t lord one person over another.
I’m going to venture a wild guess here: Mutual accountability probably existed among this group of comrades.
Accountability has to do with matters of the heart more than it does with a system of governance. You cannot legislate morality, honesty, or integrity no matter how hard you try. The best from of accountability is found among people who share a high level of trust and affinity with each another.
Then there are the “accountability groups” that are so popular today. Ever hear of those? Usually they are made up of people who have very little in common each other and are led by an individual who feels like he/she is the Potentate. Everyone is herded together and asked questions like:
- Have your read your Bible every day this week?
- Have you prayed every day?
- Have you looked at anything you shouldn’t have looked at?
- Is your thought life pure?
- Have you lusted?
- Have you disobeyed God in anything? What?
- Have you displayed pride this week?
And the list goes on from here…
What’s wrong with this picture? For starters, these kinds of questions are not designed to discover the progress we have made. Rather, they are designed to catch us in some shortcoming from a checklist of required duties. Besides, they sound like a fishing expedition.
The questions also assume that everyone answers them truthfully. The fact is, people lie when they answer accountability questions… adding to their transgressions.
Accountability groups tend to set up rules and conditions for you to live by, which are enforced by legal-lords or controllers. Your accountability partner’s job is to make sure you are following the master plan of expectations. It’s an adversarial system at best, and relationally corrosive at worst. Most of the time it’s both! Either way, it’s very unhealthy.
It would be nice if morality, honesty, and integrity could be achieved by adhering to an accountability group’s legal codes, but in reality accountability often amounts to a relationship where one person holds another person responsible in a hierarchical or abrasive relationship.
Yet, healthy accountability can be found. It is the kind that exists between friends and other caring, responsible relationships. It’s not about “catching someone.” It’s not about keeping tract. It’s not about keeping the rules. Rather, it’s about listening, showing empathy, offering help, and establishing restoration. That’s how we keep one another on the straight and narrow – in caring relationships where the checks and balances are built naturally and organically.
I think that’s a snapshot of what an authentic Christian community should look like.
Good thoughts, Ron. I've thunk 'em myself.
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