June 13, 2021

Accountability

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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?
  4. Pace yourself.  It is tempting to let out everything when the floodgates are finally opened.  This can overwhelm.  See point 1.
  5. 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?

3 thoughts on “Accountability

  1. Thanks, Andrew for this encouragement to move out of my “safe zone” and follow Jesus’ consistent of example of “speaking the truth in love”. The three ingredients required for this kind of living to produce fruit that makes a difference in this world are these:

    1) love — you didn’t specifically mention it in your offering above, but i’m certain you’d agree that even if we follow your advice to the “T”, if we do it motivated by anything other than love, we can very easily sound “like a clanging gong or a noisy symbol.” Our hearts have to be motivated with compassion and humility. It’s what can give us a voice that reminds people a Voice they were made to hear, whether they know it or not.

    2) being real — if i am willing to continually take the risk of being authentic with others by telling the truth both to myself and others — even in small things, admitting mistakes and being slower in my judgments….I will be much more open to letting go of my attachment to being right and looking good all the time. It also gives me an amazing source of insight and freedom by committing myself to being truthful. Do you realize how much stronger and effective I become when I trust YOU to love me and share what YOU see in my life? Even if you sometimes make mistakes in the process? The depth and level of our relationship, as it grows more honest and intimate, generates power and boldness that can literally shake up the lives in a world around us that is literally starved for the authentic.

    3) grace — ah, that friggen’ beautiful, mysterious thing that we are offered that can step into that space that happens when we really begin paying attention to what others are saying. Listening with hearts that ache to hear the truth rather than what “tickles our ears.” I believe that as we allow the spirit of Jesus to permeate the details of our lives, we gain access to the deepest fountains of His grace. We’re able to forgive and be forgiven in richer ways. We invite constructive criticism rather than run from it. We repent, less out of guilt and more out of love. We learn to speak with sensitivity, clarity and humility when exhoriting a struggling brother…all because of that incredible cloak of grace.

    I love how you gave both perspectives above, because every one of us, as we commit to deeper relationships with each other will find ourselves in need of being reminded of what it’s like to see a “speck in our brother’s eye” or “find a plank in our own.”

    In Ruiz’ amazing little book “The Four Agreements”, he outlines much of what you shared with us so well.
    1) Be impeccable with your word.
    2) Don’t take anything personally.
    3) Don’t make assumptions.
    4) Always do your best.

    If we truly wish to be people that TOGETHER impact our corner of the world, we have to be willing to be less sensitive, more vulnerable, more truthful and above all, more loving. Your encouragement to us to do that is remarkable. Thanks again.

    sT

  2. Steve- Love your additions. I was struck by your idea that we become so much stronger when we trust others to love us and share what they see. It reminds me of how great artists, musicians, inventors, etc., often have a group of peers who are all working on the same thing, sharing ideas, critiquing each other (in love). Their remarkable growth is partly attributable to this group. Same holds true in learning to follow Christ. Thanks!

    Andrew

  3. Very good post, this. Speaking from experience, accountability can be a tough balance between the “therapist” who simply listens to his partner, and the hardened police officer, always hammering home the point of sin and repentance.

    As I was reading your article, I was reminded of a recent interview I heard with with Daniel M. Bell, author of “Just war as Christian Discipleship.” He argues in his book that a “just” war can only be waged by a just people, who seek not to destroy their enemy, but to love their enemy by overcoming their evil. (That really doesn’t do the book justice, but I’ll stop there…)

    So often in Scripture, you can find of imagery of war describing the battles that Christians or Jews fought against their own sin, and in the case of accountability, another believer helps you purge yourself of that sin. The idea of just war that Bell espouses seems to me quite similar, especially in that a just war is waged by a “just” or “righteous” people for the purpose of discipleing, justifying, or simply quitting the evil of their enemy. Could you describe a military campaign against the Hutus during the Rwandan genocide as a “just” act of discipleship, one where a just people is demanding repentance from the Hutu majority for their sin against the Tutsi minority?

    Just a thought. There’s lots of tremendous scholarship going on these days, most of which I’ve never heard about but which I find to be brilliant.

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