Accountability Isn't a Magic Word: Loving Each Other Toward Holiness

I came home from work to a roommate sitting in the dark on our living room couch, tub of ice-cream and spoon in hand. News that her boyfriend had been dating two other girls reached her ears that afternoon. Obviously this news ALONE was devastating, not to mention the regret she was feeling from letting the relationship progress too far physically. The culmination of all her emotions felt crippling. 

I listened and offered whatever comfort you can receive in such a situation. In this moment, she turned to me and asked, "Will you hold me accountable? I want to be his friend, but I can't be in a relationship with him. He's not good for me. He pressures me to make decisions I regret. I don't know how to stand up to him."

I said, "Yes."

A few weeks later, I woke up early and stumbled into the kitchen to make my breakfast. I heard a lot of rustling around in her room and then saw her previous boyfriend climb out of her window and sprint across our yard to his car. My mind was too groggy to figure out what exactly to say to her, so I showered and left for work. All day, I was sick to my stomach. Should I say something? Yes, right Lord? But, what? How will she react? Will she blow me off, call me self-righteous, or hate me forever?

In this moment, I realized holding a friend accountable doesn't feel very loving.  

She didn't show up that night until I was in bed, but we ran into each other the next morning in the kitchen. As she stirred her cereal, I asked, "Did your ex stay over last night? I saw him leaving. Are you okay? How are you feeling?" The next few words were the only ones she spoke to me for the rest of the year, "Yes he did and I don't appreciate you judging me." I guess that was the end of our accountability relationship.

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." James 2:26

I've noticed the word accountability sounds like a good plan to many Christians until the word is followed up by action. It seems like Christians tack the word on to a pesky unconquerable sin hoping the word itself holds a secret power. It's as if asking someone to hold us accountable will magically give us self-control. What I've noticed in my own life is, if I'm not willing to change or listen to the person I've asked for help, I cannot be helped. 

Accountability is not magic. If both parties of the commitment don't understand that it takes deep love to make accountability work, it is simply a shallow word tacked onto a meaningless agreement. So, because I want you to be able to move forward in your faith, I want to give you some tools to help your accountability relationships function smoother. This process is never easy, but it doesn't have to fail. 

1. What is Your Heart's Desire?

Accountability is a process where we give someone permission to help us become more like Christ. It is not a relationship we use to confess our sins, feel relief, and continue in our destructive patterns. People commonly label this accountability, but it is not. Before you seek an accountability partner, ask yourself what you want from that person. True accountability has to be mutual. If it's not, the "accountability" person ends up becoming the "bad guy" for being judgmental, unloving and ruining a friendship while the person seeking accountability is still stuck in their sin. Do you want someone to help you overcome, or someone to commiserate with you?

  • A heart that wants accountability sounds like this: "I am a sinner, and I can't overcome my sin on my own. Sometimes I don't even see where I am sinning, so I need you to help me. When you see something going wrong in my life, will you be brave enough to approach me? And if you're brave enough to approach me, I'll be brave enough to listen and figure out a plan of overcoming with you."
  • A heart that isn't ready for accountability sounds like this: "I can't take the guilt of this sin any longer. I need someone who is safe to unload on. I need someone who will listen to me, forgive me and make me feel better."

2. What is Your Process?

If your heart is ready, if you want to let someone push you forward in your faith, you have to come up with a process. You have to set guidelines of understanding so each of you knows what to say and how to say it. I don't know about you, but one of my biggest struggles is receiving correction. I can do it, but I need warning and I need it to come from someone I trust. (I hope this is normal.) So, I want to give you three relational process guidelines.

  • Accountability requires mutual courage. It only works when we give a friend authority to speak into our lives. When someone is brave enough to bring up a concern, we have to be brave enough to listen. This doesn't mean we have to completely agree with them, but it does mean we submissively listen and humbly pray about what they're saying. If we are defiant, the partnership has no power, is ineffective, and will eventually rip our friendship apart. 
    • Proverbs 27:17, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."
  • Accountability requires mutual humility. It only works between two sinners. This may seem obvious because we are all sinners, but sometimes it's easier to become judgmental and arrogant than to offer truth-filled grace. We are all sinners. We struggle with different sins to different degrees. Some of us wear our sins on the outside, while others' sin is hidden and hard to find. So, we have to be careful not to become the "Pharisee" in the relationship, pretending to have it all together when we don't.
    • Romans 3:23, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
  • Accountability requires mutual respect. It only works when when our goal is edification. I cannot stress how important it is to remember our friends (no matter how super-spiritual they seem) were saved because Jesus LOVED them. Although God disciplines us, He is not harsh with us. His goal is not punishment, but reconciliation. When we speak to one another, our goal is to reconcile our friend to God. Ask your accountability partner how they would like to be approached if you need to address an issue.
    • Proverbs 15:1, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."

Discuss what words seem abrasive and harsh with them. Avoid using accusatory phrases like: "You always... You never... You just did..." People have a hard time receiving when a finger is in their face. Questions are much more helpful: "Are you having a hard time with... Is there any way I can help you with.... Have you ever considered..."

Whew!! This was a hard blog to write, but I believe we all need it! We are not perfect, but we should always be striving to become more like Jesus, and we can't do it alone. And since our world is getting harder and harsher, we will need each others' help more and more. We need to love each other well in accountability so the church can thrive. I hope this helps you move closer to the Lord and each other.

Praying you move forward in your faith until next time!

© 2017 by Sharie King.  All rights reserved.