Accountability is a discipline fraught with spiritual landmines. In fact, most of us would prefer to avoid it altogether. For clarity’s sake, by accountability I’m talking about speaking truth to someone to correct behavior or thinking. The problem with our avoidance strategy is that, like a jettisoned boomerang, neglected accountability opportunities usually come right around and ping us in the back of the head, often with consequences worse than before. Furthermore, we’ve all even been part of communities where accountability is absent and witnessed the slow decay that comes from increasingly diminishing quality of relationship. James 5:19-20 reminds us that accountability “saves” people and “covers over a multitude of sins.” Perhaps most importantly, accountability is ultimately an expression of genuine grace, unlike that less costly but ever-so-popular artifice called tolerance. Whereas as tolerance says, “I’ll leave you alone, even if you are killing yourself,” accountability says, “I’m so in love with you I’m willing to risk our relationship in order to help you.” We cannot follow Jesus in community without accountability.So how do we carry out accountability? In this post I’d like to make a few (not exhaustive) suggestions aimed at increasing our comfort level with this critical discipline.Advice for those on the receiving end:
- Remember that all people struggle with self-deception; you are not alone. Even King David, who had to be one of the most well-adjusted humans on the planet, needed a Nathan to call him on his lack of integrity.
- Always fight against oversensitivity. I once worked with a college athlete the year after he graduated. Because of his athletic context, he was used to large doses of critique and accountability. He thrived on it. Applying this mindset to the church setting he grew rapidly. I have also worked with “more seasoned” types who have spent years being acknowledged as “at the top” of their game. How awkward it was to watch them try to duck and dodge legitimate critique of their work.
- View yourself as God’s beloved project. If we are confident in God’s love instead of our level of spiritual attainment, criticism is much easier to handle. In fact, we welcome the opportunity to learn and grow.
Advice for those called to be on the giving side:
- Assess the receiver’s maturity level before bringing truth. Some truths are too much for the moment. At the same time, I’ve learned that I tend to underestimate what people can handle.
- Assess the quality of your relationship. In our culture, accountability is pretty unwelcome where there is little relationship. But it is VERY welcome where strong relationships are developed (more than I used to imagine).
- Assess the timing. Are there other people listening in, adding unnecessary pressure? Is there adequate time to air out the issues? Is there humility and peace on your part indicating the presence of the Spirit?
- Pace yourself. It is tempting to let out everything when the floodgates are finally opened. This can overwhelm. See point 1.
- Keep the long view in mind. Your receiver may stop carrying your picture in his or her wallet once you deliver your message. That feels bad right now, but in the long run, it may not be. Oftentimes people will return after a cooling off period to thank you for your input.
When you look at what it takes to speak truth into someone’s life, you realize that no formula can safeguard the process. This is why God has called people to “shepherd” other people. It takes a person to sense the leading of the Spirit, to pray and wait and then move at the right time. Is God calling you to be that person?