Prayer Accountability in a Christian Home
5 Reasons Why Christian Accountability Fails
The following is an excerpt from our free e-book, Coming Clean: Overcoming Lust Through Biblical Accountability.
In my previous article, I described the four key building blocks that give shape to our accountability relationships. These building blocks are James 5:16 and Hebrews 10:23-25: meeting together, confession of sin, prayer, and encouragement.
(This is structure of a healthy accountability relationship)
Accountability groups and partners are not magic pills. While accountability plays a crucial role in personal growth and holiness, there are many accountability pitfalls.
Here are five ways accountability often goes bad.
Problem #1: When Accountability Partners Are Absent
Accountability relationships need to be fostered through time together. It is hard to hold one another accountable when partners meet infrequently or sporadically (or not at all).
Often both parties are at fault. We might commit to “holding one another accountable,” but this is something vague, elusive, and undefined. Accountability partners need to have a very clear picture in their minds about what accountability really entails: face-to- face, voice-to-voice conversation.
When accountability partners do not meet in some fashion, the accountability relationship has no foundation. This means confession, prayer, and encouragement are erratic and shaky, at best.
Problem #2: When Accountability Groups Are Programmatic
When we read through the one-anothers of the New Testament, one cannot help but see the organic, family dynamic that is meant to exist in the church.
We are called to an earnest love for one another (1 Peter 1:22), brotherly affection (Romans 12:10), single-minded unity (Romans 15:5), eating together (1 Corinthians 11:33), bearing each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and having the same care for each other (1 Corinthians 12:25).
But often our approach to accountability is programmatic. We simply don’t have the quality of friendships that are close and spiritually meaningful, so we search for it in forced and sometimes awkward settings.The church, of course, should offer support groups and discipleship models. “Program” is not a four-letter word. But these programs should aim toward something rich and natural.
If meeting together, prayer, confession, and encouragement are the building blocks of accountability, then many of the other one-anothers in the New Testament are the “atmosphere” of the relationship. This should not be an empty, austere structure, but filled with the air of Christian love and friendship. You may be “doing everything right” but it still feels empty and cold.
Problem #3: When Accountability Partners Are Sincerity-Centered
Confession is the central pillar of accountability, but there are a few ways this pillar can be constructed poorly.
The first way confession of sin can go wrong is when it becomes an end in and of itself. This is when we believe confession is the only point of accountability, something we do to put to rest our uneasy consciences and get something off our chests. These kinds of accountability relationships make “getting the secret out” the whole point.
As therapeutic as this might feel—and it is therapeutic—we need to be careful that in our confession of sin we don’t trivialize sin as something that resolves itself with mere sincerity.
Jonathan Dodson, pastor of Austin City Life church, says that one surefire way to ruin your accountability relationship is by making it “a circle of cheap confession by which you obtain cheap peace for your troubled conscience.”
Christians do not believe that pardon from sin comes from merely being honest about sin. Your sincerity wasn’t nailed to a Roman cross for your sins; Christ was. Peace with God comes only by leaning on what Christ has done for us (Romans 5:1). We often mistake the relief of unleashing our secrets with true peace.
Conversation must not stop at confession. The outermost pillars of the accountability relationship call us to prayer and encouragement. After humble confession, we should encourage one another with the assurance of forgiveness promised in the gospel, and we should approach God’s throne of grace in prayer together.
In this way we not only hold one another accountable for our behavior, but we also hold one another accountable for trusting in the gospel for our complete forgiveness.
Problem #4: When Accountability Partners Are Obedience-Centered
The first way the pillar of confession can be built poorly is when we aim at cheap peace. The second way the pillar of confession can be constructed poorly is when the focus is on moral performance.
Some Christian accountability groups are militant about sin—a healthy attitude in its own right. Members want to see others grow in holiness, so this becomes the focus of the group: questions and answers that deal with obedience.
The problem is, mere rule keeping does not itself get to the heart of sin. This is one of the great lessons Paul teaches again and again. Merely knowing the law only aggravates our lusts (Romans 7:7-12), and following rigid ascetic regulations—don’t touch, don’t taste, don’t handle—is “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23).What we need is a kind of accountability that corrects our natural tendency to focus on ourselves—own own performance or lack of performance—and instead focus on Christ and His obedience in our place.
Don’t turn the pillar of confession into a pedestal—a place where we can prop up the idol of our own obedience. Don’t turn accountability into a narcissistic program of self-improvement.
Accountability relationships this either center our thoughts on a few benchmarks of success that we might happen to be reaching, or force us into hiding because we don’t want to admit how much we are failing to hit the mark.
Problem #5: When Accountability Partners Forget the Gospel
Whether you slide toward being sincerity-centered or obedience-centered, both tendencies have ignored that the gospel is the capstone of accountability.
When we make our groups all about sincere confession with no expectation of change, we trivialize the very sins that were nailed to Jesus on the cross.
When we confess the same sins week after week, say a quick prayer, and go home, we merely highlight the cheap peace we feel from refreshing honesty, and we forget to comfort each other with a testimony of God’s grace of forgiveness.
We forget to challenge each other to fight sin in light of the motivations God provides in His Word.
When we make our groups all about obedience, we only reinforce our tendency to center our identity on our performance. This either drives us to rigid moralism or hiding the evil that lurks in us from others and ourselves.
Either way, these kinds of accountability relationships only reinforce legalism and self-absorption.
This robs us of the joy of building our identity on Christ’s obedience, and we lose an opportunity to speak about the grace of God that trains us to be godly.
This is why the gospel is the capstone of good accountability. Our confessions, prayers, and encouragement should all be done under the canopy of what the gospel promises God’s children.
- Confess your sins in light of the gospel. One aspect of repentance is agreeing with what God says about your sin, labeling your sin as truly sinful, as an affront to His holiness, something that cost Christ his life. Confess your sins to God and others knowing He is faithful and just to forgive you and cleanse you (1 John 1:9).
- Pray together in light of the gospel. The gospel promises both grace to cover our sins (Romans 5:1-2) and grace to empower our obedience (Titus 2:11-14). Approach Christ together asking for this grace (Hebrews 4:16).
- Encourage one another in light of the gospel. Knowing that true internal change happens in our lives as we set our minds and affections on things above—the complete redemption that is coming to us (Colossians 3:1-4)—we should help one another do this. Mining the Scriptures together, we can teach and admonish one another in wisdom (v.16). We can strive together to have more of a foretaste of the holiness we are promised in the age to come.
We need responsive, gospel-driven accountability. As good accountability partners, we need to not only hear an account of our friends’ sins, but give an account of God’s grace—a grace that not only saves us from the guilt of sin, but also from the grip of sin.
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Why I Don’t Believe in Christian Accountability
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I am deeply committed to all of us living a life of radical integrity and grace.
Through People of the Second Chance, I get to work with leaders on personal sustainability and living a life with no regrets. And though I champion the ideas of transparency, authenticity and brutal honesty, I don’t believe in Christian accountability.
The whole concept makes me cringe, and I don’t think I’m alone in this assessment. It’s horribly broken, ineffective and doing a lot of people a disservice. In many ways, Christian accountability is facilitating a pathway to our lives being chopped up by character assassins.
So here are a few reasons why I don’t believe in Christian accountability and why a new discussion needs to happen around maintaining our integrity.
1. Lack of Grace
The primary reason Christian accountability doesn’t work is because we are more interested in justice and fixing a problem. I’ve seen too many times great men and women get chewed up by this process. When we fail, what we need most is grace and a second chance, not a lecture.
We have all probably experienced or seen a harsh response to our struggles or failures. But there is a big problem when we respond with justice and not grace. You see, human beings are wired up for self-protection and survival.
When we see others being hurt, rejected or punished for their sin, we correctly conclude that it is better to hide, conceal and fake it in the future. It basically comes down to this: I don’t want to get hurt, so I’m not telling.
When we lack grace, accountability breaks down.
2. Bad Environments
Let me be frank. If I were having an illicit affair with a woman, I’m not going to confess it to four guys at a Denny’s breakfast. And yet, too often, Christian accountability is carried out in these types of environments.
We meet in small groups in a weekly environment with a few of our friends. Ultimately, there is a lid on how transparent these conversations can be, and too often, we believe that if we are meeting weekly then we are “accountable.
My best conversations about my brokenness and struggles have come in non-typical environments. Places where I am completely relaxed, at ease, and feel removed from my daily life.I have seen leaders every year go away for a week and meet with a coach or therapist and have this time be very effective. They dump a ton of junk, begin working strategies in their life and start dealing with significant character issues. To be frank, I would rather have us have one week of brutal honesty than 52 weeks of semi-honesty at Denny’s.
My point is simple. Find an environment that is going to allow you to open up and examine your current process.
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I truly believe it is time to reinvent and rethink this very important component of our lives. Over the years, Christian accountability has deformed into a very ugly, uninspiring and broken system.
First off, I want to change the word from “accountability” to “advocacy.” If we are going to redefine a process and introduce a new concept, I think it needs a new word. The word I use in this context with fellow friends and leaders is advocacy. The term can be described as active support, intercession, or pleading and arguing in favor of someone.
So let’s take a look at what advocacy means.
Radical Grace Is the Foundation
Radical grace is the core engine for any healthy relationship. You can not have true transparency or confession without it. I encourage people to make verbal commitments to each other and clearly state that they will stand by one another through the best AND the worst.
Most people live with the fear of rejection and allow this fear to dictate how honest they will be with others. In advocacy, we are constantly demonstrating that this relationship is a safe place. Through our response to one another’s failures, our own deep confession and reminding each other that we are in this for the long haul, we implement radical grace.
Advocacy focuses on the “yes,” not the “no.” Too often, typical Christian accountability revolves around long lists of what NOT to do. We spend way too much time discussing and managing the sin.
Often, we lock onto the most minor unhealthy behaviors and think that’s going to prepare us for success in life.
Unfortunately, we operate on the faulty assumption that working on the symptoms will address the core problem. Bad idea!!!
Advocacy spurs us on to the “yes.” It revolves around the crazy good things that we should be engaging in. It pushes us to live a life of positive risks, creativity, adventure and significance. We rally around each other in this and focus our relationships around this theme.I truly believe a large amount of moral blowouts flow from boredom and dissatisfaction. We become depressed and unsatisfied with our life, career and marriage, and then we enter into dangerous territory. Why? Because we are not focusing on the “Yes!”
I know that in my own life, I become vulnerable when I have lost a sense of mission and purpose. Having an advocate in our life is important in reminding us of our calling.
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Unfortunately, the results speak for themselves. If Christian accountability were a company, it would need a serious bailout. It’s simply inadequate, and the results are sub par, at best.
The breaking down of our marriages, financial impropriety, egomaniacal and narcissistic behavior, sexual misconduct, and the bending of every rule we come across are simply signs of a failed system. Last week, I read a post from a pastor who had received emails from 33 other pastors who confessed to him of being involved in an affair.
If I wanted to, I could spend the next decade of my life convincing you how wonderful I am and how I have it all together. (Luckily, I have no desire to do that.) It bothers me that I’m clever enough to package Mike Foster in such a way that I could make you all believe what a swell guy I am and how I have it all together.
The problem with Christian accountability is that you and I can game the system. I know how to beat it, and if you stick around the church long enough, you will figure it out, too. And that’s a problem. We’re the alcoholic that knows where the hidden key to the liquor cabinet is.
Gaming the system is not hard. We know the right words. We know the right things to talk about. We know how to frame things up to effectively keep everyone off course on who we truly are. I can do it, and so can you. And that’s a big problem.
So that’s why I’m not a fan of Christian accountability and truly believe it is busted. But please don’t lose hope. I have something I want to offer up as a replacement to this flawed system of maintaining our integrity.
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When people fail or become involved in some scandal, too often we immediately consider the ramifications on the organization or company. I’ve talked to many Christians who are very concerned about when a pastor falls of how this impacts the cause of Christ.
Unfortunately, we place more concern on the damage to the brand of Christianity or the church instead of the fallen individual. I’ve seen horrific and hurtful things happen to people in the name of protecting the organization instead of the fallen person. Quite frankly, that sucks!!!
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Christianity’s brand is failures and wrecked lives. Churches are places with messy people who do stupid things.I’ve certainly made my contribution to this effort with my mistakes. In advocacy, the importance is placed on the individual. It is about people, especially those who are most broken.
The organization, church or company should take a back seat.
Christian accountability often is accomplished in small groups that are too general or with just one person leading, which puts too much responsibility on one individual.
Advocacy embraces having multiple layers of transparency and connection. I have about 10 people who are involved in spurring me on to a life of integrity. They can actively speak into my life, and I will listen and make the necessary tweaks.
However, I have about four people whom I have a deeper connection with and discuss harder things with. I also have more structure with this group. This is what I consider to be the core.
But even beyond the core, I have one friend that has full access. We take complete responsibility for each others’ integrity, purity and sustainability. I refer to this person as my “first call.
” When the crap hits the fan, I call him first.
Each layer moves into a greater level of commitment and advocacy, and each layer has an important role.