‘The great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis wrote that the word he detested most was “interference.”‘ Interference occurs when someone sticks his nose in your business. However, that’s precisely what discipleship is all about. If you want to grow in a meaningful way, you not only must tolerate another person’s intimate knowledge of you, you must also willingly invite that person into your life. Even more startling, you’ll grow to love and depend on the “interference.” *
If you’re like me, this quote will tweak you just a bit. Partly because genuine privacy is becoming sparse, and partly because, lets face it, we don’t like to be told what to do. Accountability is touted as the key to effective discipleship, but I have to wonder if the common understanding of it is even biblical, let alone helpful.
Ever heard this?
“I teach, you watch. I teach, you help. You do, I help. You do, I watch.”
It’s the last part that, I think, speaks most to accountability as known by the Church. While there is, in my opinion, a sliding scale of accountability in the progression above, one segment depends on the right execution of the preceding step. At what point do we move from watching to to permitted interference?
Jesus said to “teach them to obey all things I have commanded you,”
He didn’t say “and stick around to make sure they do them.” or Did He?
Let me share my experiences of accountability. When I’ve had an “accountability partner,” it has usually been a like minded person who, for the most part, has a genuine desire to see me grow in the Lord. We would get together over a meal or coffee, exchange platitudes, and get to the purpose of our meeting, the confession of our sins and struggles to one another. The assumption is that this brief time of transparency and openness will motivate us to “do better” next week. We would pray, read scripture, and encourage one another. The next week however, and the weeks after, I began to notice that the same struggles and the same sins were being confessed over and over again. My accountability partner had become my discipleship handicapper. While he didn’t outrightly condone my sins and struggles, he rarely called me out on them either. We were like folks who go to confessional, get our sins absolved, and continue on the same track as before. Instead of accountability, we were creating an environment of excusability.
Have you experienced this?
Some dear friends of mine and well respected ministry colleagues have developed a system called “Life Transformation Groups.” The activities of these very small groups focus on scripture reading/discussion, prayer, and accountability. At each gathering, A set of very probing questions is asked by others so that a mutual assessment can be taken on how well we are following Christ. I have seen these groups used in such a way to impact entire communities.
Accountability can also take on a more institutional form where entire churches or communities monitor the behavior of others and “enforce” compliance. While this may appear outwardly effective, I think this tends towards creating religious adherents and not disciples of Jesus. What do you think?
Overall, I think the idea of accountability is captured well by the author of Hebrews when he says; “
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25). If only accountability were more like this instead of some religious performance to assuage our consciences. Being considerate, spurring others on toward love and good deeds, ‘meeting together,’ encouraging one another, and seeing together what lies ahead. The Body of Christ is interconnected, and we have a duty to each other to build each other up.
Of course, James also implies accountability when he says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
What other biblical texts speak to you about accountability?
I have seen the concept of accountability or “accountability partners” function well, and I have seen it be a detriment to discipleship. I have some ideas as to why sometimes accountability is fruitful and why sometimes it is not, but I wanted to ask you, the reader, a few questions:
- What, in your opinion, is a biblical definition of accountability? Which biblical references would you use to support it?
- Why do think accountability works in some cases and not in others?
- Are we, biblically speaking, to be accountable to one another?
*Bill Hull. The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ (Kindle Locations 182-185). Kindle Edition