Thursday, April 07, 2011

Gone On The Account[ability]

Something that seems to be popular in churches today is the idea of "accountability." As far as I can tell, the idea is that people "open up" to someone they can "trust," confessing their faults either voluntarily or when asked by one's "accountability partner." The word on the street is that this helps keep you on the right track.

10 years after being first exposed to this idea, I have to say one thing: huh?

I guess one example of this was when a friend who went to the same church we did (the same one that introduced to me the concept of "accountability" being a good thing) asked me, "where are you serving now?" The idea was that I needed to be "serving God" somewhere in that church.

Hold the phone!

Consider This: we are accountable to God, first and foremost!
Anybody who doesn't realize that needs to discuss some things with their "accountability partner" and/or pastor. Yes, we are to encourage one another. Too many "accountability partners," though, take a heavy-handed "tough love" approach. That's just fine IF that's what you need.

For somebody like me, it doesn't work. Usually I'm already so wrapped up in guilt over the slightest thing, I don't need somebody to come down hard on me. It would be like trying to heal a man's crippled legs by beating them so hard with a stick that you cause further injury. (Never mind that at least one false teacher in the news a couple of years ago did just that.)

In his book, 52 Lies Heard in Church Every Sunday (And Why the Truth is So Much Better), Steve McVey puts it quite nicely. He says:

The common idea of an accountability partner is a cheap counterfeit of an authentic relationship based on trust and encouragement, and it actually gets in the way of our developing that kind of relationship. We do need each other. God has built us so that we are not meant to live out our lives alone. … [T]he accountability partner movement comes across more like the secret police. It's simply Pharisaism in modern dress.

Harsh? Yep. True? Too often so. In the example I gave above, my well-meaning friend didn't know that I was one of about 8 people writing a daily devotional that got posted on our church's web site. When the devotional team first met, we agreed that only our initials would appear below our devotionals. This would allow people to know who "transcribed" what the Spirit gave us without "risking" being prideful over what was written. (That in itself may have been heavy-handed for some, but it seemed right to the group at the time.) I also did several other things outside the church, including this blog (though not as frequently as I try to do now).

In my past being "accountable" for something meant little more than you took the blame when something went wrong, and got told how you should've done it better when nothing went wrong. There was nothing positive about "accountability" or its close cousin, "responsibility." (How "responsibility" led me to a power-dive away from any hope in Christ needs to be another blog post that, honestly, I'm still discovering.) There was no trust or hope in being "held accountable" for something, only guilt and shame.

Those of us with that negative background probably aren't helped by an "accountability partner."

McVey points out something that I need to echo here. Some people, even those with a negative view of accountability, do need accountability partners! People who have a hard time overcoming an addiction, say to online pornography or offline alcohol, may need somebody to help distract them & steer them away from such things. People who don't realize that "God is watching" may think they can get away with stuff. For them, an accountability relationship might be a good thing until they are set free from that addiction. That accountability relationship, though, needs to help them overcome that addcition, though, not merely keep them out of trouble!

The "proof" text of accountability relationships tends to be Ecclesiastes 4:12 and its reference to a "cord of three strands." Context, however, shows that Solomon merely notes that a man left alone, perhaps by following vanity to the point that he has driven off his family & friends, is significantly weaker than one with family and/or friends. We do need each other.

That doesn't mean, though, we need a personal "police officer" around 24/7 to make sure we do the right thing.

This touches on an issue of personal responsibility and "getting out of punishment," but I'll leave that for another post.

Has "accountability" truly worked out for you? Has lack of "accountability" caused a failure? Do you find "accountability" to be a blessing or a curse?
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