When most people hear the word “accountability,” they immediately become uncomfortable. The thought of making oneself totally open, honest, and vulnerable with another person doesn’t sound appealing to most of us. It’s easy for people to stay in their comfort zone and avoid confronting difficult issues and weaknesses in their lives. Many Christians miss out on the significant spiritual growth and development that can result from accountability.
So what exactly is accountability? An accountability relationship should be one in which two or more believers prompt each other to grow closer to the Lord through questioning, challenging, admonishing, confessing, and encouraging. The purpose of this relationship should be to help each other grow spiritually. Generally when we think of accountability we think only of the negative. Usually believers think of this as sharing their sins with others. While this is part of accountability, there is more to it. Accountability should incorporate not only the confession of sins, but also the sharing of burdens, testimony of God’s work, and prayer. It should be an uplifting time of worship and fellowship that helps those involved grow closer to each other and the Lord.
Why should Christians subject themselves to this type of relationship? James 5:16 says to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Ephesians chapter 4 talks about unity in the body of Christ. In this chapter Paul talks about the importance of Christians encouraging and holding each other up. We need each other so that we may not stumble. No Christian can do it alone. Not only is it important to be involved in a local church, but also finding someone with whom you can have accountability is essential in our spiritual walk. Without encouragement and support from other Christians we become weak. Satan looks to weaken our relationships with other believers because he knows that strong Christian relationships make strong Christians.
What should an accountability relationship look like? Obviously it is imperative that your accountability relationship be with someone who is also a Christian. The purpose of the relationship is to help each other grow in the Lord by confronting weakness, providing encouragement, and confessing sin. It is important for the accountability partners to be compatible. They should share the same values and similar beliefs about sin. Also, it is not appropriate to have a partner who is extremely weak in the same area as you. For example, if you have struggled with alcoholism, it would most likely only make matters worse to be confessing your sin and revealing the temptations you are facing to someone who has also struggled with alcoholism. Your confession may weaken them and cause them to be tempted. Also, the individual would most likely not be able to provide you with wise counsel in this area. Having an accountability partner from the opposite sex can also be dangerous. Accountability is a very deep and emotional encounter and one that can be hindered, or even destroyed, by inappropriate feelings for the opposite sex that may result from sharing such deep and personal information. This may work for married couples, but most experts recommend finding a partner of the same gender, even for married individuals. Your accountability partner needs to be someone with whom you feel comfortable enough to be completely honest with. The individual also needs to be a person who you can trust to ask you directly about how you are doing with fighting against temptation.
Most people engaged in accountability may find it helpful to have a specific time and day scheduled to meet each week, with the understanding that they will contact each other if they need to speak sooner. Accountability sessions should be structured. Partners should come prepared to confess their sins, as well as confront their partner in a loving manner about how they have done in their areas of temptation. Honesty is the most important aspect of accountability. It may be difficult to be honest, but if each partner is familiar with the other’s weaknesses they can prompt honesty by asking direct questions. The accountability session shouldn’t be all about negative things. There should be a time of encouragement and prayer. Remember that the purpose of accountability is to build each other up. The point isn’t to condemn each other for failing, but to encourage each other to submit to God’s will by relying on His grace for strength.
For most of my Christian life I have not had an accountability partner. I told myself that I could do it on my own. I was afraid of opening up to another person. I made excuses so that I didnt have to obey God’s Word. In my heart I knew that accountability was something that I should do, but I allowed myself to avoid it because I knew that it would be uncomfortable and difficult. Recently I began meeting with my father for accountability and I have been so encouraged by what the Lord has done in my life through our time together. I was nervous about initiating it, but I have found that the Lord has taken away that discomfort and that He has begun to make me feel enthused about having an accountability partner. Meeting with my dad makes me feel supported in my faith. I know that I can share anything with my partner and know that he won’t judge me, but that he will lovingly confront me if needed. When I stumble I know that I have a brother who loves me and wants to see me grow close to the Lord.
I was encouraged to seek an accountability partner after reading Joshua Harriss book Not Even a Hint. This is an excellent book for those who are struggling with sexual impurity (and all people for that matter). I was especially excited about chapter 8 of this book, which describes, in detail, our need for accountability. It lays out a good model for how accountability should be done, and it also talks about some things that should be avoided. I would encourage you to read this entire book, and follow the guidelines that Joshua Harris has written about in chapter 8.
I hope that you will have a desire for accountability. You may be thinking that you don’t know anyone who you could be accountable to, but don’t give up hope. The Lord doesn’t ask us to do something without providing a way. He will be faithful to you. Ask the Lord to show you who He has for you. It may develop into one of the best relationships you ever have.
Originally published March 8, 2004