Accountability In the Family

Care to read over my shoulder again? I received this email this morning. It poses a question I’ve been asked many times when I talk about the way religion seeks to hold people accountable, and how Father never asked us to do that. I love the way this question was asked and thought others of you might be interested in the answer:

Wayne, you say that Christians are not accountable to each other, but that we are each accountable to God. Could you explain what you mean by that? If you’ve already addressed this in a previous podcast or BodyLife article just give me the reference and you can move on to your million other emails.

To understand where I’m coming from, this is what I think of when I hear accountability:

1) James 5:16 Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other. OK, so its hard to find a group today where this is “Safe” but it is the instructions we are given.

2) 1 Cor. 5 talks about “Putting Out” a brother who is guilty of a heinous sin. If you go to a “Sunday Morning Box” I understand this to mean the leadership asks you not to attend. If you are part of the “Boxer Rebellion” I guess you have to decide with whom to break fellowship. Either way it sounds like accountability of the sinner to the brethren.

3) Matt. 18 Instructs us how to deal with someone who sins against us. This also sounds like an accountability issue.

Can you see where I’m coming from? I must be misunderstanding something. Can you explain it to me?

I there there are two ways to interpret the Scriptures you’ve listed, even while embracing the truth in them.

One can confess, “break fellowship” or deal with sins using accountability components of enforced conformity, which is what I grew up with. Or, one can confess, break fellowship, or deal with sins out of a relational love that is ten times more powerful.

Accountability to me is the right to compel action and always forces those in power to manipulate others to their whim and desire. Scripture never use that term between brothers and sisters in the family, only between each of us and God. He’s the one to whom we give an account. We are called to love each other they way we’ve been loved. Love stands along side others with complete honest and affection and can accomplish all those things without the demand for conformity.

I guess the difference is a brother sitting beside you in the car asking you to slow down if you’re driving recklessly, or to let him out if you won’t stop, and a cop behind with red lights and siren. I’m not saying the later can’t be effective, and I’m grateful in a worldly sense that they are there. But by and large cops don’t transform behavior, they only conform it as long as they are present. As soon as they pull off the freeway, all the cars speed up again.

When Scripture tell us to owe no man nothing but simply to love each other, I think he discounts accountability as a means of fellowship. All the Scriptures you mention can easily and authentically be fulfilled by simply loving others around us. To me that means we treat them with affection, while still being honest with them in ways that convey grace. Even the last Scripture you refer to invites us to treat them as tax collectors or sinners, which were people Jesus hung out with. He was able to love those folks, just not let them live in the pretense of having a faith they did not truly follow. So the end was not to banish them from our hearts, but not let them pretend fellowship while we continue to love them.

Having lived this way now for a number of years, I find far more healthy confession, honesty and confrontation go on with compassion and affection than ever happened with accountability models. Those only offered an illusion of self-made religion, without helping the heart be transformed by the power and love of Christ. And it is his love and revelation that transforms people, not “holding each other accountable” to standards that our flesh cannot fulfill.

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12 Comments
  1. Kevin July 16, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    I know plenty of people who use the term “accountability” and have “accountability partners” and mean it in the sense of relational passenger and not police officer. It seems to be a semantic issue in many cases.

    Of course, there are plenty of abusive “cops” also. Unfortunately we are imprecise in our use language in our culture.

    I meet with a person regularly to pray and share things…in most contexts I would have no problem using the term “accountabilty partner”. Neither of us try to “fix” each other, but just love, encourage, and support each other.

    Is this another issue where the independent and charismatic churches are far more headship / authority / controlling oriented than the more “liberal” denominations in how they understand and practice “accountability”?

    – Kevin

    P.S. Speaking of “accountability groups”, this reminds me of the story of three pastors that got together for an accountability group. The first pastor shared that he had an issue with drinking. He kept a fifth of JD in his night stand and would drink a fourth of it before going to bed each night. The second pastor confessed that he struggled with lust. He secretly induldged in pornography and would fantasize about woman he knew. When the third pastor shared the other two almost fainted. The third pastor admitted that he had a problem with gossip and he couldn’t wait to leave their meeting.

    Moral of the story…find out the other guys sin before confessing yours. 😉

  2. Kevin July 16, 2006 at 10:28 pm

    I know plenty of people who use the term “accountability” and have “accountability partners” and mean it in the sense of relational passenger and not police officer. It seems to be a semantic issue in many cases.

    Of course, there are plenty of abusive “cops” also. Unfortunately we are imprecise in our use language in our culture.

    I meet with a person regularly to pray and share things…in most contexts I would have no problem using the term “accountabilty partner”. Neither of us try to “fix” each other, but just love, encourage, and support each other.

    Is this another issue where the independent and charismatic churches are far more headship / authority / controlling oriented than the more “liberal” denominations in how they understand and practice “accountability”?

    – Kevin

    P.S. Speaking of “accountability groups”, this reminds me of the story of three pastors that got together for an accountability group. The first pastor shared that he had an issue with drinking. He kept a fifth of JD in his night stand and would drink a fourth of it before going to bed each night. The second pastor confessed that he struggled with lust. He secretly induldged in pornography and would fantasize about woman he knew. When the third pastor shared the other two almost fainted. The third pastor admitted that he had a problem with gossip and he couldn’t wait to leave their meeting.

    Moral of the story…find out the other guys sin before confessing yours. 😉

  3. Amy July 17, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    I would love to hear more of this kind of stuff. “Accountability” was a very big deal in my past experience. I have friends and family who struggle over this kind of stuff. I was just reading in Corinthians and kept running up against this kind of stuff. The question in my head was, “Am I looking at it wrong or is it saying what it sounds like it is saying?” More please!

  4. Wayne July 17, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    Kevin,

    I do appreciate the semantics involved in this discussion and your comments. But I still bristle when I hear anything called an ‘accountability group’, because nothing in Scripture defines our life togethe with that term, and most people from my conservative traditions do use it as a behavioral conformity model that simply doesn’t work. I like the way you’re using it, but I doubt most people reading this would ahve that in mind when you talk about having an ‘accountability partner.’ There are many other terms I like better and that would lend itself to the confusion. But that’s just me.

    After all, what greater gift can we offer each other than being brothers or sisters who walk closely, honestly and compassionately with each other?

  5. Amy July 17, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    I would love to hear more of this kind of stuff. “Accountability” was a very big deal in my past experience. I have friends and family who struggle over this kind of stuff. I was just reading in Corinthians and kept running up against this kind of stuff. The question in my head was, “Am I looking at it wrong or is it saying what it sounds like it is saying?” More please!

  6. kent July 17, 2006 at 3:33 pm

    I like what how Wayne describes it here in his response. While reading this I have thought back over the past 17 years of being away from any talk of accountability in these terms. I really have to say that it is something I never ever really think about anymore. I will never forget something a former leader from the traditional thing ( I thank God for him at that moment) said to me some 17-18 years ago. It was in response to another leader who was very heavily envolved in my life at that time. By the way, were accountable to each other. He was the last for me. I was convienced that Father was leading me and my wife out of the thing we were involved in and this leader had let us go for a few weeks but had come back to me to tell me as my spiritual father, God had told him, and I quote” I have let you run out on the leash far enough now. It is time for me to pull you back to safety.” In my mind at that piont I knew what I had to do but being a good sound believer I had to run it by another one of those leaders who were in charge of me. This guy said to me that day, that he had no idea what God was telling me to do. But he had learned enough about how God leads us and cares for us that he trusted more in the Spirit within me to keep me than he believed in the enemy’s ability to deceive me and lead me astray. I have never forgot that advice and he was right. I have never had an accountability partner since then but I am surrounded by people who love and care for me. I am even learning with them that there are boundries we should not cross in trying to take the place of the Spirit in their lives or them in mine.

  7. Wayne July 17, 2006 at 5:38 pm

    Kevin,

    I do appreciate the semantics involved in this discussion and your comments. But I still bristle when I hear anything called an ‘accountability group’, because nothing in Scripture defines our life togethe with that term, and most people from my conservative traditions do use it as a behavioral conformity model that simply doesn’t work. I like the way you’re using it, but I doubt most people reading this would ahve that in mind when you talk about having an ‘accountability partner.’ There are many other terms I like better and that would lend itself to the confusion. But that’s just me.

    After all, what greater gift can we offer each other than being brothers or sisters who walk closely, honestly and compassionately with each other?

  8. kent July 17, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    I like what how Wayne describes it here in his response. While reading this I have thought back over the past 17 years of being away from any talk of accountability in these terms. I really have to say that it is something I never ever really think about anymore. I will never forget something a former leader from the traditional thing ( I thank God for him at that moment) said to me some 17-18 years ago. It was in response to another leader who was very heavily envolved in my life at that time. By the way, were accountable to each other. He was the last for me. I was convienced that Father was leading me and my wife out of the thing we were involved in and this leader had let us go for a few weeks but had come back to me to tell me as my spiritual father, God had told him, and I quote” I have let you run out on the leash far enough now. It is time for me to pull you back to safety.” In my mind at that piont I knew what I had to do but being a good sound believer I had to run it by another one of those leaders who were in charge of me. This guy said to me that day, that he had no idea what God was telling me to do. But he had learned enough about how God leads us and cares for us that he trusted more in the Spirit within me to keep me than he believed in the enemy’s ability to deceive me and lead me astray. I have never forgot that advice and he was right. I have never had an accountability partner since then but I am surrounded by people who love and care for me. I am even learning with them that there are boundries we should not cross in trying to take the place of the Spirit in their lives or them in mine.

  9. Kevin July 17, 2006 at 7:19 pm

    Wayne,

    I think the Promise Keepers movement made the “accountability group” the “in” thing at the time and we’re dealing with the leftovers of that. From reading others’ comments I wonder if a lot of the issue comes when there are “elders / leaders” or clergy in the group with laity.

    Even during the PK movement when I was involved in these types of groups it was always with peers (in the IC sense) and we all struggled with many of the same things. Nobody ever tried to force anyone into account. About the closest thing to that is when one of us would tell another…”hey I’m struggling with such and such…please pray for me and next time you see me ask me about it.”

    I am thankful that Father protected me from a lot of the baggage that others seemed to have experienced with these types of things.

    It’s funny but we almost feel like we have to be bilingual now. We can speak “churchese” and English. We use words like church, accountability group, and others when we speak to people in a certain context and know they will understand what we mean…and with others if we have to be much more careful if we are sensing the Lord is trying to say something specifically. (We is Hilary and I.)

    Blessings,

    Kevin

  10. Kevin July 17, 2006 at 10:19 pm

    Wayne,

    I think the Promise Keepers movement made the “accountability group” the “in” thing at the time and we’re dealing with the leftovers of that. From reading others’ comments I wonder if a lot of the issue comes when there are “elders / leaders” or clergy in the group with laity.

    Even during the PK movement when I was involved in these types of groups it was always with peers (in the IC sense) and we all struggled with many of the same things. Nobody ever tried to force anyone into account. About the closest thing to that is when one of us would tell another…”hey I’m struggling with such and such…please pray for me and next time you see me ask me about it.”

    I am thankful that Father protected me from a lot of the baggage that others seemed to have experienced with these types of things.

    It’s funny but we almost feel like we have to be bilingual now. We can speak “churchese” and English. We use words like church, accountability group, and others when we speak to people in a certain context and know they will understand what we mean…and with others if we have to be much more careful if we are sensing the Lord is trying to say something specifically. (We is Hilary and I.)

    Blessings,

    Kevin

  11. Peter July 19, 2006 at 6:16 am

    Wayne,

    Thank-you for your explanation. I see from your answers that we aren’t to discount these three points of scripture but live them out differently. What you describe by example does look like the way Jesus treated people when He walked amoung us. It makes sense to say we are to do the same. The only problem for me is that I’ve always been a bit of a recluse and relationship doesn’t come easy for me in any form. That’s why I have always looked at scripture like a formula to be implemented instead of a dialog between people who are to be respected and loved. I realize I didn’t know how. Ah yes — I know — that too is in His hand and will be dealt with in His time. There’s a lot of freedom in knowing that and in knowing Him. Thank-you.

  12. Peter July 19, 2006 at 9:16 am

    Wayne,

    Thank-you for your explanation. I see from your answers that we aren’t to discount these three points of scripture but live them out differently. What you describe by example does look like the way Jesus treated people when He walked amoung us. It makes sense to say we are to do the same. The only problem for me is that I’ve always been a bit of a recluse and relationship doesn’t come easy for me in any form. That’s why I have always looked at scripture like a formula to be implemented instead of a dialog between people who are to be respected and loved. I realize I didn’t know how. Ah yes — I know — that too is in His hand and will be dealt with in His time. There’s a lot of freedom in knowing that and in knowing Him. Thank-you.

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