‘The great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote that the word he detested most was ‘interference.’ “Interference occurs when someone sticks his nose in your business. However, that’s precisely what discipleship is all about. If you want to grow in a meaningful way, you not only must tolerate another person’s intimate knowledge of you, you must also willingly invite that person into your life. Even more startling, you’ll grow to love and depend on the “interference.” *
If you’re like me, this quote might tweak you just a bit. In part, because genuine privacy is becoming elusive, and in part if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t like to be told what to do. Accountability is touted as the key to effective discipleship, but I have to wonder if that’s true because accountability partners and groups don’t seem to be making any more disciples than those without.
Have you ever heard this?
“I teach, you watch. I teach, you help. You do, I help. You do, I watch.”
It’s the last part that, I think, that speaks most to genuine accountability. While there is, in my opinion, a sliding scale of accountability in the progression above and perhaps even a lot of overlap, one segment generally leads to another. At what point in the discipling process does one move from the assumption that you have the right to ‘teach’ another (interference), to letting them go and doing likewise within their spheres of influence?
Jesus said to “teach them to obey all things I have commanded you,”
He didn’t say “and stick around to make sure they do them.”
Let me share my experiences of accountability. When I’ve had “accountability partners,” they have usually been a like minded people who, for the most part, have a genuine desire to see me grow in the Lord. We would get together over a meal or coffee, exchange platitudes, and get to the purpose of our meeting, the confession of our sins and struggles to one another. The assumption is that this brief time of transparency and openness will motivate us to “do better” next week. We would pray, read scripture, and encourage one another. The next week however, and the weeks after, I began to notice that the same struggles and the same sins were being confessed over and over again. My ‘accountability partners’ had become my handicappers. While they didn’t outrightly condone my sins and struggles, they rarely called me out on them either. We were like folks who go to confessional, get our sins absolved, and continue on the same track as before. Instead of accountability, we were creating an environment of excusability. As Jonathan Dodson once said,
“One surefire way to ruin your accountability relationship is by making it ‘a circle of cheap confession’ by which you obtain cheap peace for your troubled conscience.”
Have you experienced this?
Some dear friends of mine and well respected ministry colleagues have developed a system called “Life Transformation Groups.” The activities of these very small groups focus on scripture reading/discussion, prayer, and accountability. At each gathering, A set of very probing questions is asked by others so that a mutual assessment can be taken on how well we are following Christ. I have seen these groups used in such a way to impact entire communities.
Accountability can also take on a more institutional form where entire churches or communities monitor the behavior of others and “enforce” compliance. While this may appear outwardly effective, I think this tends towards creating religious adherents and not disciples of Jesus. What do you think?
Overall, I think the idea of accountability is captured well by the author of Hebrews when he says; “
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25).
If only accountability were more like this instead of some religious performance to assuage our consciences. Being considerate, spurring others on toward love and good deeds, ‘meeting together,’ encouraging one another, and preparing one another for what lies ahead is hard and messy work. It is virtually impossible to ‘avoid conflict’ and advance in accountability simultaneously. The Body of Christ, by nature, is interconnected, and we have a duty build one another up.
Finally, and really the driving point behind this post, I’d like to suggest that true accountability should be measured more by the ones we are serving rather than how well the ones ‘leading’ us gauge our obedience.
What other biblical texts speak to you about accountability?
I have seen the concept of accountability or “accountability partners” function well, and I have seen it be a detriment to discipleship. I have some ideas as to why sometimes accountability is fruitful and why sometimes it is not, but I wanted to ask you, the reader, a few questions:
- What, in your opinion, is a biblical definition of accountability? Which biblical references would you use to support it?
- Why do think accountability works in some cases and not in others?
- Are we, biblically speaking, to be accountable to one another?
*Bill Hull. The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ (Kindle Locations 182-185). Kindle Edition