Accountability: Burden or Blessing?

Accountability---Burden-or-Blessing-blogI once had a conversation with Craig Gross about the word “accountability,” mainly because he wrote a book with Adam Palmer on the subject a few years ago called Open. It was about the benefits of vulnerability and placing yourself in relationship with people who could speak the truth to you when you needed to hear it the most.

During this conversation, I shared the results of a quick, unscientific poll, where I asked several people, all Christians, what came to mind (and what they felt) as soon as they heard the word “accountability.” Most of the answers were something akin to, “It means you give someone permission to condemn you or tell you when you screw up.

None of the people I asked had much to say that was positive about their experience of the word, and though I realize it was a pretty small sample group, the point they made was a legitimate one. “Accountability” as it has been used (and abused) in the Christian Church seems to be more of a problem word than anything else – but we still insist on using it, especially as it pertains to porn/sex addiction. Why?

Craig’s answer was simple: he said that the word had been “hijacked.”

I agree – the term had been co-opted by some sort of religious element in the church and was usually experienced as some sort of license to condemn. But Craig felt a need to redeem the word – which is a difficult task because of how fast culture shifts. But if we are to redeem that word, we have to start in this space of porn/sex addiction – the place where accountability is needed most.

We all know that the best element of this idea is this: a trusted friend comes to you when they see you struggle. They do this bearing unconditional love, vulnerability, and honesty without judgment. They respect your sovereignty, but also honor the trust you’ve placed in them and their perspective, so they aren’t afraid to bring it. We all know that this type of relationship is a sacred thing, and is usually built over many years of walking in the trenches together. It can’t be manufactured artificially. The great philosopher Martin Buber called this the I-Thou relationship – the type of relationship where a presence exists between two people that is inhabited by what Buber called the “Eternal Thou.” My reading of Buber puts the resurrected Christ in that space. Where grace abounds between two people, we see redemption and new creation.

Buber also talked about the other kind of, and more common, relationship being an I-It relationship. Buber said we “It” each other all the time, meaning the other person is never actually met; they instead become an object merely existing to confirm the assumptions and beliefs you already hold. When we exist in an I-It relationship, we are simply having conversations with ourselves, with a subconscious goal to remain unchanged. This type of relationship is characterized by the presence of condemnation and judgment. It is the type of “accountability” that most people fear. It feels like the opposite of love.

This is why, for accountability to work as an effective tool of transformation, it must be more about releasing someone than holding them to the fire. If a friend asks me for accountability and I receive that as some sort of mandate to drive him to a certain reading of scripture or some sort of moral conception of “purity” at all costs, then I have entered into an I-It relationship with my friend. I’m determined to make my friend an extension of myself and my own need to be in control.

But if I’m willing to sit in the tension of struggle, listen to my friend without judgment, and speak life from a spirit that transcends simple moral check-boxes – it is then that love is allowed to do what love does: illuminate the soul. No one in the world can deny the true experience of love when it is encountered. (Tweet This!) And for accountability to be a blessing and not a burden, it must be undertaken with this type of presence. It is then that the “Eternal Thou” dwells in the space between us.

It is not our jobs to carry each other’s baggage or to shame each other into grunting out some sort of new wave of self-control. It is our job to be present and be the embodiment of the truth that nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can separate us from the love of God. (Tweet This!)


If you have struggled with toxic accountability in the past and would like to know more about what life-giving, healthy accountability looks like sign up for a free video preview of our new course Open – What Happens When You Get Real, Get Honest, and Get Accountable.

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The 2 Questions You Need to Ask about your Accountability Group

X3-the-2-question-v2-2My first experience with an accountability group was over 20 years ago in my middle-school youth group. Three of us guys would get together with the youth pastor for a weekly “check-in.” Typically, my end of the conversation would go something like this:

I had a decent week. Maybe I looked down that girl’s shirt a little longer than I should have, but it was really nothing. I’m fine. It’s all good. Let’s go play Nintendo.”

In retrospect, I can see now what we were calling an accountability group was really nothing more than a handful of guys going through a pre-planned script so we could check another item off our spiritual to-do list for the week.

We wanted to get through the boring accountability part as quickly as possible and then move on to what we we’re really there for: MarioKart.

I have a feeling my middle-school experience probably wasn’t that far off from what many of you picture when you hear the term “accountability group.” And if I’m correct in that assumption, then it’s probably safe to say most of you aren’t all that passionate about the thought of being in accountability group at all.

To be honest, I wouldn’t be excited about a group like that either.

But what if that’s not actually what an accountability group is supposed to look like?

What if there’s a deeper, more meaningful, and significantly more beneficial model of accountability available to us?

I believe there is, and it’s found in the teachings of Jesus.

Instead of a mindless routine, your group can become a life-giving time of healing and connection, but in order to experience this type of group, you will need to consider the following questions:

1.  Does my accountability group encourage me to live in the light?

If we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

In my early encounters with accountability, I was never comfortable enough with the other guys to truly be honest about my struggles. I would tell them just enough to sound like I was being open and honest, but in reality I was hiding what went on in the darkest corners of my internal reality.

I had things I’d vowed to never bring into the light, as did the other guys in the group as well.

Sure, we all liked hanging out together, but none of us actually trusted each other enough to bring our junk into the light (Tweet This!) where it could be dealt with. We were all secretly afraid that if the other guys found out what we really did when no one was looking, they would reject us.

What we didn’t realize though, was sin behaves much like a cockroach—it thrives while it’s hiding in the dark. But once you expose it to the light, it runs away. In the same way, if you bring your sin into the light, it will lose its power over you.

2.  Does my accountability group encourage me to confess my sins?

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results (James 5:16).

If “walking in the light” is the practice of exposing the hidden areas of your life to the community and council of trusted friends, “confession” is the practice of refusing to allow those areas to become hidden again.

For example, let’s say you’ve been struggling with pornography for many years. Like many who struggle, you’ve kept it hidden from everyone. Being honest about the scope of your struggle would be bringing it into the light, and the continual act of talking about and praying over your daily struggles would be confession.

x3groups-30 days-$1-select-groupsOne important thing to recognize though, is that confessing your sin is even more beneficial when you do it proactively. (Tweet This!) In other words, you can confess your sin before you commit it. This is one of the key distinguishers between a healthy accountability group and a lifeless one.

Rather than waiting to confess your sin until your next meeting when you “check-in” about the past week, pick up your phone and text a group member while you’re sitting in front of your computer and thinking about clicking on a link. Just a simple text such as I’m thinking about clicking on something I shouldn’t. Check in with me later to make sure I’m okay… will bring that sin into the light and break it’s power over you while it’s still only a temptation.

The other benefit of this proactive confession is when you check in at your next group meeting, you’ll be able to share how walking in the light led to a victory rather than only sharing defeats. Your modeling of biblical accountability will not only help you in your own journey to freedom, but it will encourage the others in the group as well.

I often wonder how things would have been different in my life if I’d found a safe place to experience biblical accountability at a younger age. Perhaps I wouldn’t have spent so many years hiding the shame of my addiction and isolating myself from one of the greatest resources God has given us for healing.

What I do know though, is it’s never too late to start being honest. (Tweet This!) Find an accountability group that offers you the opportunity to bring your sin into the light, confess your struggles, and pray for one another so that you may be healed.

Opening up that first time will take a tremendous amount of courage, but let me assure you once you do so, “checking-in” with your true accountability partners will become one of the best parts of your week.


Having trouble finding the type of accountability group Steven talks about? A group where you can be as honest and open as you want to be? Join an X3group today and find out what it’s like to live in the freedom of grace and truth. There are groups for men, women , and spouses meeting daily throughout the week.

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