By Eddie Pipkin
I wrote last week about my latest Colorado adventure and how, despite the distinct possibility of failure, my excursion team and I made it to the top of our designated peak. The key word in that last sentence is team, because none of us was likely to attempt such a feat on our own. I mean, we could have – we definitely saw some people hiking solo on that morning; it wasn’t that arduous a challenge – but such solo sightings were rare. Almost everybody was paired up with a partner or traveling in a group. As for our intrepid band, we planned together, pooled our resources, encouraged one another, and held one another accountable for matters of safety. Accountability is a big part of the Christian walk, and not one that is emphasized enough by local churches.
The life of following Christ, as evidenced by the stories of the Gospel and the growth of the early church, is a life that is strengthened by accountability to others. Sometimes this accountability is peer-to-peer. Sometimes this accountability is mentor-to-mentee. Sometimes this accountability is to the greater community of believers. Always this accountability is anchored in fidelity to the words and teachings of Jesus, as well as to the Scriptures to which Jesus himself attributed his own authority.
Discipleship should be rooted in accountability in all of these areas.
Ministry leadership should also be anchored in all of these areas. (More on that later.)
Yet for individual followers of Christ who have joined local church ministries, there is often a gaping lack of understanding about what true Christian accountability is, how it works in a healthy environment, and why it’s important for long-term spiritual growth.
At all the points that we interact with the greater community – and following Christ is clearly a calling that requires us to engage with community – accountability should be a part of the process. When we worship together, study together, serve together, and fellowship together, we should be reinforcing the principles of our faith (with very practical examples of what it looks like to live out that faith, as well as very practical examples of what it looks like to not be faithfully living out the principles of discipleship). Our faith, practiced authentically, has clearly delineated standards of conduct and examples of fruit we should be bearing, and we should all be encouraging one another to live up to them on a daily basis, as have the courage to “speak the truth in love” to one another when we’re struggling to honor those standards.
This was, of course, the impetus that drove John Wesley to launch a revival of a sincere, active faith. Looking around and seeing a Christianity that had forgotten to live out the faith it claimed to profess, he implemented a rigorous “not what we say, but what we do” metric, a profound and influential movement that became Methodism. That method was activated through mutual support and accountability in group settings. Wesley’s societies, classes, and bands all had increasingly challenging sets of accountability questions which formed the core of the work that those groups did together.
Here’s a quick sample of such questions:
- Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
- Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I exaggerate?
- Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?
- Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?
- Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
- Did the Bible live in me today?
- Do I give it time to speak to me every day?
- Am I enjoying prayer?
- When did I last speak to someone about my faith?
- Do I pray about the money I spend?
Those questions are more than 200 years old, but they are still 100% relevant. Yet it is a rare gathering of modern-day Christians who publicly ask (much less answer) such questions of each other. And that’s just a small sample of Wesleyan accountability questions – give it a Google to be potentially overwhelmed with the full slate.
You might reasonably counter that today’s spiritual seekers are not tuned in to that level of highly personal harassment, but this is a generation that wears digital monitors to accumulate detailed data on their fitness, rigorously measures points to be sure they are eating healthily, compares and contrasts every detail of their lives on social media, relentlessly focuses on checking off bucket list / life list challenges, and pays good money to life coaches, professional mentors, personal trainers, and apps designed to help them reach max potential.
I think that we have a two-part problem where accountability as part of the discipleship life is concerned.
- Maybe it’s not that we’re too demanding in offering spiritual growth accountability. Maybe it’s that we’re too wish-washy about what that looks like (and/or too mixed up about which standards of conduct are most important in the accountability process.)
- Younger generations (church skeptics), as well as survivors of those local congregations who were examples of being “mixed up” in priorities, have a bad taste in their mouths about accountability, because, done poorly, it’s a disaster that does damage to individuals and their relationship to the greater church community. These skeptics and survivors have the false image that accountability is equal to non-stop, judgmental confession, an emphasis on how they are inadequate and have been missing the mark. This is NOT what true accountability is designed to be.
Authentic, biblically oriented accountability is designed to be supportive and encouraging. True progress in any endeavor – spiritual growth included – is only possible if we are unflinchingly realistic in our acknowledgement of our starting point (thus the part with the tough questions and honest answers), but that uncomfortable starting point is only the beginning of a process filled with love, assistance, reaffirmation, and constant cheerleading for our success. Love is the key word. Accountability must be based in love to be effective.
I think about my brothers on the mountain and what our shared mission meant to us:
- We set a common goal together, acknowledging the improvements in our own fitness status we would need to make to attain it.
- We checked in regularly with one another to monitor progress, and we actively encouraged one another in our preparatory fitness goals.
- We dispelled anxiety together through shared, detailed planning (anticipating any potential pitfalls). We also identified key safety concerns and spelled out how we would hold one another accountable to ensuring each participant’s safety.
- We celebrated together once the deed was done!
Accountability has such a negative connotation that we sometimes completely forget the reassurance that comes from using it as a tool to help keep one another safe from harm and the peace that comes from using it to reduce the demon of anxiety that haunts our thoughts. We are not meant to face challenges alone. Likewise, we forget the joy that comes with celebration. Our accountability partners, who know the struggles we have faced to mark off achievements large and small, help us celebrate with a shared experience that make those celebrations all the sweeter.
This topic is worthy of at least a second week of exploration, so stay tuned for next week’s blog in which we will continue this discussion, including the idea that I mentioned earlier in this space, that as important as accountability is for individual disciples, it is equally important (if not more so) for those of us who are ministry leaders to be accountable in our leadership – sometimes it’s the difference between humility and megalomania!
See ya next week! Until then, blessings.