Accountability is a word used in many church settings, coined to describe the relationship one church member can have with another, wherein at least one of the persons share a significant portion of their thought-life with the other, trusting them to steward them in the right direction, to provide a listening ear or simply to act as a sounding board on life’s highway.
Until recently, I personally have never had such a person in my life, believing the relationship to be too risky, leaving me vulnerable and at the whim of the other person’s discretion. Just because they are in a church, why does that give them the license to know everything about me? What if they tell others about my failings?
Feelings of anxiety and confusion would announce themselves whenever a church friend suggested that I try and make ‘accountability’ important in my life. I didn’t want them judging me, and deep down I believed they might totally reject me if they knew just how far from God I sometimes was, both in thought and deed. Time and time again the same friend would make it known to me that it was a very biblical concept, that he himself was accountable to the Pastor’s in his church, and that I should act in a similar way. Everything from the relationships he had with people outside the church to the girl he would eventually marry were topics for conversation with those persons he had opened himself up to for spiritual benefit.
For others more bold in your relationships, it might be a no-brainer; in fact, you might find it very easy to have numerous compatriots in the church that you discuss your inner-life with, trusting that they will feed you scripture and keep you grounded in faith.
I asked my colleague Adam to share his thoughts on why accountability partners are so important from a biblical perspective, and you might be surprised at what he has to say. I certainly was.
1. The devil loves secrets in the church
One of the main tactics the enemy uses to keep the church divided today is by deceiving its members into keeping things secret. For example, a couple who have problems in their marriage might feel unable to speak up about it for the simple reason that, “it's nobody's business.” This kind of thinking is completely unbiblical. The local church is supposed to be at the very core of the Christian life. Historically the church had all things in common (Acts 4:32 AV) and there was no room for secrets. That means they were always accountable to one another.
2. People can feel very isolated or condemned if they can’t relate to someone and talk about their problems
I’ve heard of story of a young man who grew up in the church and belonged to a devoted Christian family. He loved God and believed The Bible. He was even active in church service and evangelism. On the surface at least, he appeared to have it all together.
But behind closed doors he was harbouring a deep secret. He had a massive struggle with pornography. After a while, this struggle became an addiction and it began to consume his life. Before long, he started to experience inner turmoil and conflict over his addiction. Things were starting to spiral out of control and he began to recognise his need for help.
“But what will people think?” he thought to himself.
“Surely no-one in the church will understand.”
“I can’t speak to the leadership team. They will kick me out or judge me. None of them will have these problems…”
The young man felt very isolated, guilty and hypocritical. This gave way to the enemy's accusations and condemnation. As mentioned before, the devil loves secrets in the church and by convincing this young man that his problem was his to bear alone, he had him exactly where he wanted him.
Eventually, the young man decided to bite the bullet and meet with his church leaders. As you can imagine, he was absolutely terrified. He laid it all out on the table before immediately dropping his head down in shame. Their reaction surprised him.
“We’re very glad you’ve told us this,” they said. “We want you to know that you’re not alone and we want to help you.”
The young man felt a massive weight had just been lifted off his shoulders and it all started by telling someone. After the first encounter he continued to meet regularly with his leadership team about the issue which helped him get back in control.
3. It gives more incentive to stay away from harmful behaviours or content
Having people around you that you can trust with your problems is very important. We’ve given the example of marriage problems and pornography so far, but maybe you struggle with something else. It could be depression, alcoholism, drug use or anger management.
Whatever issue you’re dealing with, it's a tremendous help to be able to share the burden with someone else. And having an accountability partner in your church is one of the best ways to do this. As with the young man's case mentioned above, it's a tremendous blessing to have others around you who are aware of your problem and want to help. Over time, their continued encouragement and support can help you manage, or overcome the problem entirely!
4. Does the Bible say anything about accountability partners?
While the Bible doesn’t specifically speak about having an accountability partner, there are plenty of verses which show the New Testament church had all things in common. This certainly doesn’t exclude their problems. Perhaps the clearest verse we have is in James 5:16. It says, 'Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.'
In the immediate context, the verse is speaking about those who are sick in the church. But there is a clear application here for those who are struggling with sin. If The Bible says we should confess our sins to each other than that is what we need to do. Having an accountability partner (or partners) is a great way of implementing this exhortation in our lives.
Here are some other verses to consider which show that church accountability is important:
'Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.' Proverbs 27:17 (ESV)
'Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.' Proverbs 18:18 (ESV)
'Can two walk together, except they be agreed?' Amos 3:3 (AV)
5. Should accountability partners should be of the same sex?
While many of us would readily acknowledge that we need accountability partners, some would object to who we are “accountable to” in the church. For example, it would be entirely inappropriate for a young man who struggles with pornography to disclose this information to a female. Obviously, a struggle of this nature would be much better dealt with by other males who can not only relate to his struggle but may also be able to offer sound wisdom and advice based on their own experiences. It would also give him the confidence to open up in a way that he simply would not be able to in front of the rest of the church.
So there you have it. Accountability might be crucial in keeping you from turning inwards and becoming isolated, opening you up to harmful behaviours or fostering bitterness when you might otherwise be encouraged to express yourself and share your burden with someone that does truly care about you. The church of old was a place where these relationships were the norm, and your very life was kept in balance by the sound advice of a Godly friend. Perhaps your church, or the company that you keep, doesn’t immediately suggest a person you can share your struggles, your hopes, your dreams with. But keep looking, for, as Adam says, there is great power in ‘confessing your sins’ with one another. And if you are really up against it with some powerful internal battle that no one knows about, and that you are too ashamed of to discuss with anyone, then pray and watch God move on your behalf. He will bring into your life a person that will sharpen your resolve in all the right ways. After all, no one is that strong on their own.
Harry Hughes is Senior Digital Editor at Premier
Adam Brennan is a Digital Producer at Premier