FallingOver the years, I have been involved in a number of ministries and programs that used some form of accountability component to ensure the participants progressed in a generally positive direction. These well-intentioned efforts were effective for a time, but they were not life sustaining. I did not think much of it at the time. I simply moved on, with some measure of guilt for not being disciplined enough, or serious enough about my faith, etc.

Recently, the accountability approach to Christian growth has come back into my ministry life. In fact, I have been partnering for almost two years with another ministry to deliver a program that leans heavily on accountability. I assumed my discomfort had something to do with me; perhaps my flesh raising its rebellious head. But, as hard as I have tried, I simply have not been able to shake a growing uneasiness regarding the accountability approach to group ministry.

So, I have been asking God for grace to understand this from His perspective. He has answered that prayer. Here is what I have come to understand about accountability, as it should be used in the kingdom of God.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24

This verse was the first step in my understanding the dangers of the accountability approach. As you can see, we are to do everything as to the Lord. But, there is more! We are also to do everything as NOT to men. Said another way, we are to do nothing as unto men. It is the Lord that rewards us, not men.

Therefore, the first danger of the accountability approach is that it subtly substitutes men for the Lord as the benefactor and rewarder of our work.

Are there men to whom we are accountable? Yes, but only those that God has put in authority over us. This may be an elder, pastor, or someone else whom God has led us to submit. Spiritual authority is a much more serious matter in the kingdom of God than most Christians realize – both for those in authority and those under it. It is not something to be done arbitrarily, or without serious conversation with God.

The second danger is perhaps more serious than the first: Direct disobedience to the word of God.

Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’  But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black.  But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. Matthew 5:33-37

Even under the Old Covenant, our oaths (that which has been pledged or promised) were to be made to the Lord only. Jesus gave New Covenant meaning by commanding that our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no”. Accountability programs that include rewards and consequences are crossing a serious boundary. This is true whether the reward/consequence is something physical or simply the praise and criticism of men.

Furthermore, Jesus’ last statement suggests that the accountability approach is from the evil one? I am sure that this is not the intent of any ministry. I suggest, however, that this approach should be revisited with fear and trembling. Speaking of which…

And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! Luke 12:4-5

There is a third danger of the accountability approach that I encourage you to consider: It fosters a fear of man. I recognize that this may not be the case for some. However, many faithful Christians struggle with the fear of disappointing someone and/or appearing to be less than adequate. I confess that I am one such individual. While this is certainly not the intent of the accountability programs I have experienced, why should we be giving the enemies of our souls the opportunity to trap us, when there is a better way?

A Better Way

I believe God has given us a better way to encourage, edify and equip each other in community. In fact, let’s start there:

Encourage: Being used by God to put courage into someone is a powerful, powerful approach to ministry. God told Joshua (eight times, I think) to be strong and of good courage. What we need more than someone holding us accountable is someone that will say, “God has grace for that”; and then sharing His testimony of that grace.

Edify: To build someone up in the truth of God’s word is to activate something that is alive and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). That truth will make them free (John 8:32).

Equip: This word has a two meanings. The most obvious is to provide what is needed for the task. This includes the sharing of resources and going, or facing the challenge, together. From the original Greek, we also understand this to mean “to repair something for its intended use”, like mending a net or repairing a broken bone. God has positioned us as His agents of healing, for individuals and communities.

There are a number of other passages that provide guidance in this approach:

Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. 1Thessalonians 5:11

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Colossians 3:16

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. James 5:16

Most would agree that the most important things we can do for one another is pray. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Personally, I need more of that kind of prayer than I need accountability. Put me in a platoon that will battle for each other in prayer as God intends, and accountability will be absolutely unnecessary.

Let me close by suggesting that, instead of asking the normal accountability questions in your next group meeting, focus on:

  • How can we encourage you?
  • What does the word of God (written and spoken) have to say about that?
  • How can we pray for you?
  • How can we help you?

Pursue this approach to ministry and you will experience the grace of God for the advancement of His kingdom in every area of your life.

Humbly yours and forever His,