Having other people around whom you can trust and get to know more deeply will enable you to know yourself-your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities-more deeply. You will be able to see in the mirror to your inner being and desires and see if they line up to what God has for you. You will become more aware of issues, relationships, and life as life's purpose and God's call are unfolded before you. Because you see life and God's Word more deeply, your behaviors and response to others will also change for the better (Eccl. 4:8-12; Rom. 15:7; Eph. 4:9-13; 1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 10:24; James 5:16).
The pages of the Bible are filled with stories of people leaning on others for growth and personal and spiritual development. Deep connections help great leaders overcome their struggles and see what they cannot see on their own. Most prominently in the Old Testament are Moses and Aaron (Exodus), and David and Jonathan (1 Sam. 18-20). In the New Testament are Paul and Barnabas, and then Paul with Titus, Silas, and Timothy (Acts 11-14; 2 Cor. 2:12). And, of course, our Lord Jesus, while He walked this earth, had His twelve with an extra connection to the inner three, Peter, James, and John.
Thus, we can surmise that accountability is not for just for those who are weak, needy, or for wimps; it is for the strong who want to be stronger and the unconnected who need to be connected. If you think, as a man, this is still just for the weak, consider that greatness and authenticity cannot come about without humility and connection (James 4:7-12; 1 Pet. 5: 1-11)! "Real men" will be accountable to other real men, and real godly women will be connected to other godly women (Prov. 31). There is no way around this vital call! God gives us the call to be deeply connected to one another because we need it. The leaders in the Bible knew this well, Jesus modeled this for us, and the only hindrance is our willingness to comply. Leaders and pastors who are not accountable will eventually fall, and, until then, be very ineffective! God has called you to be the iron that sharpens others' iron, as their iron will sharpen you (Prov. 27:17)!
Accountability is nothing new, although it seems it is by the topics of sermons and books or from some popular movements within the last ten years; however, it was practiced by pious Jewish teachers before Christ. Accountability was insisted on and practiced by Christ, Himself. Just observe how Jesus led the Disciples and how He modeled to the Disciples. This was picked up by the early church; the Reformers all had men in their lives who held them to account, in whom they trusted, took advice from, bounced ideas off of, and who prayed for them.
Calvin was especially a proponent of accountability and insisted all of His leaders be held in account, "believers (who) seriously testify, by honoring mutual righteousness among themselves, that they honor God." It was the system he established that became the model of the "check and balance" system of modern governments, first established in the U.S. in our Constitution. The Methodist movement, founded by John Wesley, was started as an accountability and prayer group. Every effective minister, leader, and growing Christian I have ever met was in some form of an accountability group, including Billy Graham and my mentor, Francis A. Schaeffer. In fact, I have never met an effective Christian, pastor, or leader who was not in an accountability group. For every bad and ineffective leader I have ever met, none of them believed in or practiced accountability! This should communicate to us loudly.
Many Christians think, all I have to do is leave Satan alone and he will leave me alone so I do not need accountability. The response to that is no, he will go after you even more! We will be tempted by Satan and by his influences that seem enticing but will only hurt us. Satan seeks, not to give us what we want, but to steal from us all that which God has given. Thus, if we submit to God, then the devil flees; if we run to Satan and his ways, God is far off from us. We can try with all of our might and effort to have accountability, but unless others are there for us, and unless we are headed toward God, it just will not work! The only thing that can thwart Satan is God. So, be in Him and not in the world (Eph. 6:10; James 4:7-10; Rev. 12:11).
James is saying to first turn to God and surrender to His ways. If not, the ways of Satan and the world will gladly take up that role. We need others in our lives to point out to us the pitfalls before us, as we may not see them ourselves, blinded by desires and wanderlust. We cannot do this solely by our own efforts and strength; we need others, too. Others will see what we refuse to see, or what is blocked by our desires. It is about the insight of others and the power of the Spirit working in us all. It is not the strength of others; rather it is their eyes, words, and assistance, and our allowing God to be our strength. To remove Satan from our lives, we have to fell him-not just ignore him, but run away from him and to God, and allow others to help us in our scurry.
Objections to Accountability
Accountability may seem to go against our self-sufficient, individualistic mindsets and fear of conviction. Most cultures and individuals like to be "my own person," and thus do "my own thing." Most people do not like being told what to do or how to do it. But, we need godly people in our lives to do just that-with love and care. Thus, we have to learn to overcome our barriers of conviction so we can grow more in Christ and with one another.
Many Christians see accountability as meaningless because conviction is the role of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17; Acts 1:8; 4:31; 10:45; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 3:16-17; Heb. 13:5-6). Yes, they are correct about the conviction part, and wrong to say that it does not matter. Why? Galatians tells us to carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). The meaning refers to moral issues and guarding weakness (Rom. 15:1-3; 1 Cor. 9:21).Take heed, we are also responsible and answerable for our actions in life to God and to other key Christians. Thus, we need to be held to our beliefs and kept in line about what we believe so it does not distract us from God's path for us or discourage others from their own path.
The other typical objection believers give is that we are not under any kind of law, and now we have liberty and Grace, so it does not matter. A prominent Christian leader a few years back asked me, after I had done a workshop on accountability, Why is this important? Can't I just live my Christian life as I please? After all, I have liberty in Christ! I answered him to the best of my ability, but he just would not get it; shortly thereafter, he fell and fell hard. It turned out he did not like accountability because he has been having a long-term affair. He did not want to be convicted! Our liberation is not to protect us from conviction; it is to enjoy our Lord so we can pursue His precepts as we realize our indebtedness to Him.
Liberation simply means Christ has set us free (John 8:32-36; Rom. 6:3-23; Gal. 5:1). Paul was overcome by his liberation in and by Christ (Mark 7:18-19). He stressed that we must behave and be responsible in the correct manner. We many enjoy our freedom, but freedom does not entitle one to do anything one wants, just as living in a "free" county like the U.S. does not, as we cannot steal or murder or not pay taxes. What about free will? Yes, we have "free will;" Calvin spent most of his writings discussing this fact. He taught that we have responsibility, and duty to faith and prayer, three areas that require free will. We are still to allow His work to continue in us; the Holy Spirit will lift our sin and our will out of the way. If you truly give up your will to God, will you be liberated or would you be obligated as a servant/slave with no real life as you would see it? The fact is that you are free in Christ! The question is how will you live your life of freedom?
The liberty of the Christian life is by surrender. It gives us:
1. Freedom from law. (Rom. 3:19; 6:14; -15; Gal. 2:20-21; 3:23-25)
2. Forgiveness, acceptance, and access to His presence. (Rom. 5:1-2)
3. Freedom from having to base our acceptance on our performance. (Rom. 7: 7-11; 10:3)
4. Freedom from sin, and declared cleaned! (John 8:34-36; Rom 3:19; 6: 3-23; 1 Cor.15: 16; Gal. 3:10-20; 4:21-31)
5. Freedom from our own faulty thinking and superstitions. (1 Cor. 6:12-13; 8:7-13; 1 Tim. 4:1-5)
Because of these five reasons, we respond with obedience-not out of obligation (as a slave does), but out of gratitude and love. This new obedience is because of a changed heart and will. We are enabled to respond and continue in our new life by the Holy Spirit. Accountability helps us in our freedom in Christ, because we give up on our self will and focus on His. Like driving a car in a strange unfamiliar area and making Christ a passenger, we, as human beings, spend most of the time arguing, complaining, and debating the destination. Yet, we do not have a clue to where we are going. If we would allow Christ to get into the driver's seat, He would be able to take us where we could never have gone before. In addition, if we sign over the "pink slip" to our Lord Jesus Christ, then He will take us to places that, even in our wildest imaginations, we could never fathom. Then, perhaps the love we are to receive and exhibit will flow ever so much more freely! The bottom line is: accountability is letting Christ drive! Accountability becomes the map to keep us moving on His road to His destination; if we throw away the map, then we go in the wrong direction; we will never get to the destination, and perhaps, even crash. It begins when we stop to ask for directions, His Directions!
We are not to allow our liberation and freedom in Grace to cause people to stumble by our actions or inactions. Our faith and actions are monitored closely by God as well as by other people, and we must realize that our actions are more influential than our words. We will either lift people up or bring them down! Hypocrisy is perhaps the most deadly threat to new or weak Christians who fall victim to it, and is a heinous sin against Christ and His children by those who cause it! We, as a body of Christ, must seek to show right actions to one another, to be cautious, and to act with charity, humility, and self-denial within our Christian liberty.We are still called to be responsible in the correct manner. We may enjoy our freedom, but freedom does not entitle us to do anything we want.A true Christian will never destroy another person's faith so he can have his own way! Our freedom must not bring dishonor, division, or disrepute to the church.
The first two objections are from theological standpoints, but what most of us struggle with is emotional-our fears and cultural hesitations. Connecting with others and exposing our feelings may be much easier for most women; but, for men, this is sometimes a seemingly impenetrable barrier. It can be a scary business to share your feelings and be open and introspective, as people may betray us, belittle us, or ignore or step on our heart. And to tell you the truth, yes, that can happen. It has happed to me several times, as close accountability partners have betrayed confidences and spread rumors. However, the benefits have far outweighed the few times I have been wronged.
Women tend to be better at opening up than men, especially generations born before 1965. We were brought up to think that a man is to show no emotion or share feelings-the John Wayne type. This makes a good movie character but is not good biblical character. So, we become fearful of sharing our lives with our spouse, coworkers, or even a trusted friend. These fears debilitate relational connections and the support we need in life and in ministry as well as hamper trust (Rom. 8:15). Another factor that ties in with this is shame. We feel embarrassed or that we are the only one going though this. We may feel they will reject me when they get to know me. Or, we feel no one will understand or they will think less of me. The fact is, as growing Christians in Christ, when we get to know one another, we get to know ourselves as well; love supercedes judgment and care overpowers fear. This leads to forgiveness and openness. If we let our shame and fear rule our emotions and ability to be held accountable, we will not be able to share or receive godly instruction. Thus, sin will rain upon us. When we start to realize that the love and care we send and receive is far better than the isolation we build, it will allow us to grow more in maturity and faith because we will be open and honest. As a result, all of our relationships and our ministry will vastly improve.
We need to realize we are already accepted by Christ. He no longer condemns us, as, there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus… nothing can separate me from the love of God (Rom. 8). Thus, to be in a Christian accountability group, you are in a group with sinners who all have been wounded, all who fear, all who are saved by grace, and who all are together exercising the faith. We are all in the same boat here. We learn of one another's battles which helps us with ours, and ours helps with theirs. Insights are gained and shared, and the transformation from fear to maturity commences. Together, we are not to be ashamed of who we are in Christ, living out our faith with passion and conviction. The real shame is a Christian who does not seek help from God and others. Being accountable will promote healing and growth in all aspects of your life!
Remember, people will hurt you, because people who hurt are usually hurting themselves and they do not know how to relate (which an accountability group can help with). What can we do to overcome this obstacle? Be vulnerable, yet discerning. Only allow people whom you already know and trust to be a part of your support group, and advance slowly. Start off with a few of the simple questions and prayer; as you get to know one another, you will build the trust. (I did not do this with the people who betrayed me!) When we feel safe, we are more apt to share; this goes for both men and women. When we feel safe, we better receive essential positive feedback, listen to constructive criticism, and have a longer and deeper prayer time.
Being a disciple of Christ and making disciples requires devotion, nurturing, commitment to the Word, and worship. Most mature Christians would agree on these basics, but other things required include discipline, the ability to be studious, and to be accountable. Our basis and starting point is God's character. Peter tells us "we are to be holy because God is holy." (1 Peter 1:16), and the way we can respond to this call is by being accountable in our personal lives as believers and as a church. So, we need to realize that one of our calls is to participate in conflict management so the wickedness of our nature does not get out of hand and so our relationships and opportunities do not fail. God's Word gives us the guidelines and focus for proper confrontation and the management of problems so we can be more effective in His service.
© 1994, revised 2005, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org