Why ‘Christian Accountability’ Fails to Make Disciples.

letting-go-2‘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,”

(Matthew 28:20)  

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

 

12 thoughts on “Why ‘Christian Accountability’ Fails to Make Disciples.

  1. Miguel says:

    Hey Luke, thanks for the 1st time comment and encouragement.

    This blog post was not the one referred to as an “epic fail.” That blog post can be found here:

    http://wp.me/p1JPJU-Bq

    Please tell your folks I said hello, and I think of them often.

  2. Miguel says:

    Comment from Amy in the social realm:

    God gives the increase and ultimately they answer to Him, not us. There is something to be said for maintaining and encouraging and equipping relationships and even for loving confrontation in fellowship. But the minute we take on “making sure” others do what God says (maybe there’s a particular way I’m understanding that?), we run the risk of trying to step in for God and ruling others instead of pointing them to His rule. That’s dangerous territory.

    My experience of “accountability” is opening up to a small group and having people help me come up with a plan and then freaking out and not being seen from again when I can’t live up to a plan. And I’m a person who loves counseling and books about counseling and how people grow. So, after yet another episode where I was vulnerable and immediately freaked out at the plan phase, I asked my counselor what was so wrong with me that the thing I’ve read that’s supposed to be so helpful makes me want to never be seen in public again. And he basically said that my identity was rooted in my performance. So, in all the ways I do well, I’m fine being around people and participating. But whatever I cannot, of my own strength, accomplish consistently, I cannot bear up under appraisal. I can’t do accountability, partly, because I’m too invested in my own account.

    I need constant reassurance of Jesus’ account. It’s not how well I do, but how well He’s done. I can be honest with others because of what Jesus accomplished (justification) and what He’s accomplishing (sanctification). I don’t need people to help me scrutinize me. I focus too much on me to begin with. I need people who will keep pointing me to Jesus. Who keep encouraging me to rest in Who He is and what He is doing. It is only by His power that I will ever be changed. And, yes, I need other people and their love and honest observations on that journey, but others cannot micromanage what God is doing without turning my focus away from Him and to ineffective me. And that pitiful self-focus is my undoing.

  3. Jonathan says:

    C.S. Lewis also wrote, “”I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power.” (Miracles (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, 1947).

    What Lewis appears to have detested was not interference itself, but when it came in the form of the natural. He was fine with the presence of God poking His nose into our business (were he not, his own body or work which was designed to poke into the lives of every reader, he would be a hypocrite). What he did not like was the poking of noses into business sans the real influence of the Holy Spirit.

    So, the issue not whether or not there should be real and formative accountability (without such, the portion of the Great Commission you quoted would have little real meaning). The issue is said accountability powered by the Holy Spirit’s agenda or the devices of sinful man.

    In every accountability group that I have been in, the problem is staying away from the extremes of legalism and license.

    When accountability is attempted by forcing an individual (or group) to pay a penance for failing, again, to win victory over the besetting sin, we have legalism which essentially denies that Christ has already paid the price for sin.

    Yet, when we let the fear of discomfort or the lies from the Evil One (or own flesh) keep us from confronting sin in a real and meaningful way by reducing accountability to a group of listeners, head noders, and huggers only, we raise the surrender flag of license.

    The narrow road between these two is the place we must all fight to maintain in our efforts to disciple. We must be committed to God’s Glory and (then) our good knowing that the latter flows from the former.

    What should shame us is that the best examples of the mechanics for this type of accountability are presented outside of our churches. Every person who wants to join the USMC is not allowed to join because of the very clear and firm entrance standards. Once recruits get moved off that bus and onto the those yellow footprints at Parris Island or San Diego, there are very clear and firm requirements for staying and for progressing through each of the 3 training phases.

    The same is true for a good college or university. In order to pass and move on to excellence, the student is tested in various ways to confirm that not only has the knowledge transferred but that it is applied.

    How much more critical is it that we have this culture in our churches?

  4. Jonathan says:

    I really need to do a better job of proofreading the grammar of what I post. Goodness!

  5. Joey Basta says:

    I think this sums it up …. The Bible is so cut & dry about Rebuke, Correction, Accountability, etc. This scripture is one of those that cut & pierce but is necessary!! I also believe it goes for all sin as it says at the end of Vs.12 (who are sinning) …. It is unheard of in today’s “churches” that the leadership rebukes, corrects or keeps anyone accountable because they don’t want to offend anyone or lose them because their “numbers” will go down. Also NO today believer wants to get or receive rebuke, correction or accountability. Its SAD and the “church” NEEDS to bring this back because their is so much sin in the church!

    1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (NLT)

    9 When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. 10 But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. 11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer[a] yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.

    12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. 13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.”[b]

  6. Tom Schultz says:

    I think of accountability as being called to give account specifically to others who will not automatically say “yes.” While I suppose this could entail a weekly meeting of two “equals” who hold each other to their walk with Christ in all the (private and gory) details, accountability seems most important in the case of leaders who are so excited over their “discovering” new doctrines or practices they go overboard. Or it can be blatant error. If there is an authority structure (or way of thinking) that makes information flow only one direction, then there is no feedback that can modify excesses. Still remember the (second hand) account of a church leader who “got a word from the Lord” that he was to divorce his wife and go off with the organist. Wow–that was a dramatic leading, and there was no one to hold him accountable before the church completely collapsed.

  7. Marshall says:

    accountability, a synonym for “responsibility”, in a love-hate word relationship with legacy church and parachurch groups?

    Are we responsible to one another in Christ? Yes, for my brother or sister to have everything I can offer up that Love approves — toward their benefit. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, I serve to hold a portion in his guard and to treasure him/her as if one of my own.

  8. Jim Wright says:

    Accountability is fine, and needed. But when it focuses on complying with external standards, without a change in my core way of thinking, seeing, believing and reacting, then it’s just one more religious system.

    In our network of fellowships, we are devoted to the Biblical process of repentance, rooted in confession and forgiveness. We have tried to re-capture the lost art of ministering to each other in those Biblical ordinances, and are seeing great fruit.

    Here’s a link (Miguel, it’s ok if you want to delete this if providing a link is not appropriate) that explains some of what we’ve been learning:

    http://crossroadjunction.com/2009/02/13/god-shows-up/

    Bottom line: I can disciple you in the old paradigm of fixing yourself through your own will power, or trying to fix you with my own willpower and solutions. Or I can walk with you to those places in your life where Jesus is waiting to meet you as you expose your core issues and let Him then change your core reality. That, we have found, is true repentance.

    Only the Lord can change how we think, perceive, and react based on our core beliefs (about ourselves, life in general, past events, etc.). And once the Lord changes those core beliefs, we then naturally act and react differently.

    Unless repentance is based on the Lord, rather than our own attempts to fix ourselves or each other, discipleship is just another man-made attempt to get right with God and it will fail – like all other religious systems.

    • Miguel says:

      Jim,

      It’s totally appropriate to drop a link. In fact, I’ve yet to filter any comment on this blog.

      I will comment on this post later today after some others have had a chance to read it.

  9. Justin Long says:

    Accountability is absolutely required for discipleship to work. However, accountability doesn’t just end with keeping us out of bad behaviors. It’s also required to make sure we do the good behaviors – like making other disciples. Without accountability (=encouragement at times), there is no early-stage reproducibility and multiplication.

    • Miguel says:

      Justin,

      I have read your comment over and over again. There is an undertone that I’m just not comfortable with here, but at the same time unsure of.

      Is accountability really keeping us out of bad behavior and making sure we do the good behaviors?

      While Jesus lived, walked, ate, and journeyed with His disciples for 3 years, we don’t see that as being the normal trend after Jesus ascended.

      It seems that we see people “making disciples,” and then continuing on. Checking back in on them at later times. Acts 14:21 etc.

      I am not against accountability as long as we define it and practice it biblically.

      • Justin Long says:

        I was writing rather quickly from my phone. Sorry I wasn’t clear.

        (1) I want to be careful about my definitions. I don’t think I want to limit myself completely down. I don’t have a strong Biblical definition at this point. “Accountability” defined means, in essence, “the ability to give an account” or “the ability to explain.” In fact, looking at the words themselves, we see “the ability [skill, capacity] to give a measurable [count] explanation of one’s actions.”

        (2) The primary point I wanted to make is: it seems to me when we think of “accountability” we often think of it in terms of “prevention” – keeping us from doing the wrong things. The confession mode. But we also need to think of accountability in terms of challenging us to do the right things. Someone who asks me: “Who did you tell the story to?”

        (3) It seems to me there are at least three different discipling relationships (which incorporate accountability). First, there is the MAWL model of church planting – for example, Paul going to an area, making disciples, and moving on. Second, there is the “pastoral” mode of church planting (as I think of it) – the multigenerational local church: Paul’s disciples, making more disciples (either from children born into the church or from converts). Third, there are the discipling relationships within the apostolic band Paul had – this is similar to Jesus’ relationship with his disciples, as they moved from place to place.

        Obviously, over time, the most common kind over time will be the local church mode – when the church has saturated the local place and all future converts are born into the church. In this model, “I” am in the local church, and I disciple people within the church, and never move more than 10 miles from my location… Because far more people remain where they are born than move away.

        There are probably a variety of reasons why some accountability relationships don’t work. For example, some I can think of right off hand
        (a) we aren’t fully honest with each other
        (b) we don’t allow someone to truly interfere with or challenge us
        (c) we give the appearance of listening to critique when we don’t do anything about it
        (d) we have a mutual pity-fest (“Oh, I know, it’s hard. Maybe we’ll do better next week.”)
        (e) we just gloss over things and don’t go deep; we’re afraid to ask pointed questions

        Biblically speaking, yes, I believe we are to be accountable to each other and for each other. James 5, Hebrews 3, Hebrews 10.

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