Accountability. Doesn’t that word make you just cringe? What is it about accountability that we fear? Is it because of confession? That is, if we actually admit our transgressive thoughts or actions? Is it because we really have no idea what it means? Or what about because someone, possibly someone assigned by an authority figure, is keeping score in our lives of our wrongdoings and wrongthinkings? Essentially accountability is about the Law. Yes, it’s precisely about keeping score.
We are given so many biblical examples of accountability “partners”. David and Jonathan. Paul and Barnabas. Cain and Abel. Yeah, according to the Bible, Cain and Abel were the world’s first accountability partners. And, as the story goes, one killed the other and defied God when he asked Him, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
In short, yes. Yes, you are.
The problem with accountability isn’t the concept of encouraging one another in our walks with Christ. That’s what should be done. The problem is what it looks like: two committed Christians meeting on a regular basis to confess (or lie) to each other about what sinful activities and thoughts they’ve been engaging since the last time they met. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like being called to the principal’s office – something we’ve all either experienced or heard about.
What I propose is this model instead. It’s called friendship. Yes. It’s that simple. And not in a “let’s go out and get hammered together” kind of friendship. See, Cain and Abel would probably have lived a heck of a lot longer if they were actually friends, rather than keeping score between them. Unlike accountability, friendship is about grace. It says, “I know you’re weak here, let me walk with you through it.” The same way Jesus walks through it with us.
David and Jonathan were not simply accountability partners. They were friends – perhaps Scripture’s best example of friendships in the Canon. Friendship breeds accountability, naturally.
While not a local bunch to me, I have a group of friends from around the country who reach out to one another in the joys and pains in life. In fact, just back in February, we gathered at a men’s retreat in order to support one of our own who was responsible for setting up the whole event. It was a reunion of sorts.
The speaker there presented grace through stories, including those of his friendships. The friends that reunited with me there offered this when I asked them about accountability:
“Accountability leans toward Law; friendship leans toward Grace.”
“Accountability seems to lean more toward sin management in my experience.” (a pastor)
“Accountability leads to hiding.”
“Friendship – Someone walking beside you through life Accountability – Someone walking behind you with a bayonet.”
“Real, effective accountability is earned by true friendship. It is honed by iron on iron, tempered by trust. Without trust, accountability is a modern Evangelical farce. Nothing more than tattletales with permission.”
“Accountability,” as my friend, John Lynch, would say, “is in the Room of Good Intentions. Friendship is in the Room of Grace.” (John and his friends wrote a book called The Cure)
I think that the accountability model (even if it was a good idea) is a bad one. The question should not be “what have you done or thought this week that was sinful?” Rather, it should be preemptive. With such love and grace (friendship?) to give room for a man or woman to go to the friend and say, “I really want to … drink too much, cheat on my spouse, etc…” I work with addicts and they say a relapse (sin?) happens way before the actual act of using again. That’s one reason that they benefit from sponsors in their recovery.
So, would you rather have a friend to walk with you, or an accountability partner to keep tabs on your struggle? Me? I’d rather have friends walk through a struggle with me than beating me up on the other side.