Shame and our understanding of others’ perceptions of us play a great deal into our actions, motivations, and overall behavior. For Christians, this should be a far less powerful motivator given that we believe we are saved and already covered with righteousness and purity, able to live a life of love through the savior who redeemed us from death. This should enable us to be free of guilt, shame, and fear of others’ approval or lack thereof. Unfortunately, we are also far too human and religious to embrace this outlook as we should.
Christian accountability can and should help us cultivate a better mindset. Perhaps a definition is appropriate. When I refer to accountability in the sense of the church, I am referring to the partnership of believers to disclose honestly with one another about life, with the understanding that one party–or each party–will exhort the other(s) toward righteousness. Note that I did not say that this was a transaction of simply avoiding sin. No, good accountable fellowship should carry with it a focus on our status as pure, righteous, and good, creating a place where honesty can occur without shame and guilt and fear. While no perfect church can exist in a fallen world, a good church should be one which practices the regular acknowledgment of sin, the constant reminder of our frailty before God and among other persons, and a deep rooted desire not to be “better than others” but to be “a blessing to others” by becoming more like Christ in character and action. Accountability can accomplish this in two very simple but obvious ways.
First, when we create an environment of trust, forgiveness, and honesty–much like we have with God in prayer–we exemplify Christ to one another through mercy, exhortation, and encouragement. The admonition of Paul in Colossians to speak to one another in “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, giving thanks in [our] hearts to God” should be real and vibrant in relationships of accountability more than any other. As we “confess [our] sins to one another”, we should acknowledge forgiveness from the Lord and, like Christ, encourage one another to “go and sin no more.” This is how depth in Christian relationships occurs.
Second, accountability truly benefits the body beyond those who are involved, for when individuals become accountable to one another, their lives improve and their interactions with others and relationships with others outside of the “small group ” also improve. Human beings do not live in a vacuum, nor are they islands. We are deeply communal, inherently relational beings, and when core relationships improve and our self improves as a result, the effect is felt by those around us. By becoming more open and honest with others and, of course, ourselves, we are better positioned to bless others through our own confessions, words of encouragement, and other, varied means of honest fellowship.
And just so we’re clear: I do not believe that a Sunday school is a place of accountability other than for attendance to Sunday school; true accountability happens when individuals invest in one another’s lives and admonish each other toward a more Christlike heart, not religious trappings. Accountability has nothing to do with appearing more holy more virtuous or more self-aware; accountability is a process by which the heart actually becomes all of those things by being broken and mended through authentic interaction and connection.
As not to be entirely hypocritical, I will confess my own lack of forming a strong “accountability group” outside of college. During my time at a Christian university, small groups were a norm. The university provided their own models, but I found that four-to-six persons of the same gender who cared for one another could do this on their own, albeit with mixed results (one such small group in which I was involved should be the source of my writing somewhere down the line, I just have not figured out a place in which to describe it). Since that time my accountability has looked very different and more weblike tapestry of various persons sharpening one another than a regularly meeting group of like-minded individuals. For example, my present accountability system works as follows: I am accountable to one friend and one pastor on very specific issues, and two other friends are independently accountable to me for similar issues. As far as we are all concerned, certain topics are always on the table: they must be spoken about honestly, must be treated carefully, and must always be directed towards a more Christlike existence. This is good for all of us. As the one to whom individuals are accountable, I always need to ensure that my heart is in the right place, that my ears are willing to listen, and that my voice is willing to speak truth, albeit sometimes difficult truth. On the flipside, those to whom I am accountable must cultivate the same attributes in themselves, and I have to be more open and more honest and more vulnerable than I might be comfortable. I kind of feel like the best way to describe it is a win-win-win, even if the first win and the third win have nothing to do with one another, and each also having ripple effects in other directions. It’s not the ideal model, to be sure, but it is a working model until I can become more invested in a regular group dynamic. As I continue to find an anchored church here in Delaware, my hope is that my accountability becomes more vibrant and full (and localized). I hope that wherever you are in life, wherever you’re located, accountability is a reality in some form for you as well.
Many of these thoughts are the result of reflections after reading Open, by Craig Gross, which will be released tomorrow. I believe the book is useful for any individual seeking to deepen his or her walk through community and how that is manifested within small groups. Thomas Nelson, the book’s publisher, has been kind enough to offer me 2 free copies to give away on the blog this week.
Here’s how it works: Tweet/post with a link to the site Get Open site or the Open’s Amazon page and the message “Accountability = Being Open” before Saturday, August 3rd. You do not need to link to my site, just the book’s site, and then hit me back at [email protected] with a notice of your linking/post. Though you are encouraged to post about the book as much as you like, only one entry per person/twitter account will be accepted.
That’s it. You will be entered into the running for a free copy, mailed to you!
Two participants will be selected on Sunday, August 4 and notified by e-mail.