When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get... Accountability

Accountability is something we talk a lot about at TEAMeffort. Our office staff and summer staff are regularly involved in keeping others accountable and having others keep them accountable. We believe this is a crucial component of the Christian life because it helps us grow to be more like Jesus.

Maybe you’re familiar with this concept and maybe you aren’t, so let’s cover a few of the key reasons we believe Christians need accountability. 

  1. Although the actual word accountability isn’t used in Scripture, the themes of it are throughout the whole Bible. We can assimilate all that information and define it as Leadership Ministries Inc. does: “One Christian submitting to the Christ-centered admonition of another Christian in one or more areas of life.” They go on to include, “True accountability is an element of a mature, long-standing and growing relationship with both God and fellow Christ-followers.”
  1. God doesn’t intend us to live the Christian life alone. His will for us is to be meaningfully connected to people in a local church. The phrase “one another” is used around 60 times in the New Testament exhorting us to “love one another,” “instruct one another,” and “live in harmony with one another” to name a few. After God, our greatest priority is to each other.
  2. The Bible builds a case to convince us of how necessary and beneficial it is for us to be meaningfully connected to each other.
  • We should Value Accountability like we value a sharp knife.  “Iron sharpens iron, so friends keep each other sharp.” (Proverbs 27:17) Few things are more useless, and frankly dangerous, than a dull knife. Our relationships are lacking and not functioning at full capacity if they’re missing accountability.

  • We should Value Mutual Accountability by giving it and receiving it. It takes humility and wisdom to sharpen and receive the sharpening. How is your balance? Are you often the one challenging others with ways they can grow but reluctant to hear ways you need to be sharpened/grow? We all need to see the wrong we might be doing and we all need to show the gentleness, wisdom, and grace found in Jesus. “Brothers and sisters, someone in your group might do something wrong. You who are following the Spirit should go to the one who is sinning. Help make that person right again, and do it in a gentle way. But be careful, because you might be tempted to sin too.” (Galatians 6:1)

  • We should Value Mutually Bearing and Sharing each other’s burdens. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) When the Bible refers to bearing one another’s burdens, it isn’t primarily referencing a trial they need support through, although that may be part of it. The passage is primarily about bearing the burden of their sin. We are helping them make it to heaven, across that finish line, through prayer (James 5:16 - “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.”) and support to show we are there to help them when they fall.

In 2019, Kenyan runner, Simon Cheprot was about to win an international marathon but saw his friend and fellow competitor collapse. He turned around, picked him up, and carried him over the finish line, forfeiting the win. Simon knew caring for and even carrying his friend was more important than winning. This is a perfect example of what we should be doing for each other as we run the long, tiring, and sometimes treacherous road to heaven - bear others’ burdens and know that we need them to do the same for us.

  • We should Value Mutually Encouraging each other freely and frequently. “So encourage each other and help each other grow stronger in faith, just as you are already doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

This kind of biblical encouragement isn’t flattery, but rather freely and frequently telling them evidences of grace you see in their lives.  This could include the ways you see God at work, helping them fight to obey, to use their giftedness, and/or spotting a way they seem especially equipped to serve.

Doesn’t it make such a difference in the struggle to know others are cheering you on and wanting what is best for you? This is why people line the track in races, cheering for the cyclists or runners to keep going, keep pushing, and not give up. This is also why teams often win games when they have home court advantage. They hear their people encouraging them and it motivates them to dig deeper than they would be able to on their own.

Do you notice the theme of mutual(ly) in the points above? It takes the whole body of Christ giving and receiving accountability from each other. We were created to need each other and be stronger together by press into all that we can experience in the body and avoiding the temptations and dangers of trying to navigate the Christian life alone.

So what can accountability look like practically lived out? While there is no formula or right way to do it, we have found this paradigm helpful. 

  1. Be honest. Name what you’re struggling with (don’t sugar coat it) to a mature and trusted Christian of the same gender.

  1. Be specific. Share the specific issue without leaving anything in the dark. Tell how that issue is affecting your behavior, thoughts, feelings, etc. and what action steps you need from them or specific questions you need to be asked.

  1. Be willing. Allow your accountability partner to push you in cutting things out, calling you out, and celebrating with you. Let go of your defensiveness that wants to minimize sin and make excuses for it. Have an open heart to what God wants you to hear through his Word and other Christians. This other set of eyes on the situation might be helpful in seeing things you may not be able to see because you are too entrenched in the struggle.

One last vital part of the role of accountability in our Christian lives, is that we need other Christians to hold us accountable to prepare us for the day when God will call us into account. I’ll conclude with a personal testimony of how God demonstrated this in my life.

I often picture what the events described in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 will be like. 

“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” 

I know that I alone will be responsible for any work that doesn’t survive and is burned. But the work that does survive? That’s a different story. I receive a reward for that? Really? I surely will have to pass off that reward to Jesus, first, for any good he has helped me do. But then there’s also the others he has used in my life who have helped me build in quality.

There are many who have helped and are helping me build!

One friend stands out above some of the others. Elizabeth and I, some years back, independently of each other, read Shopping for Time. A few months later, we were talking about the book and the topic of the “5 AM Club” came up. The 5 AM Club was a group of women who would text or call each other at 5 AM to make sure they were up and ready to spend time with God in his Word. We both were burdened with not letting the busy season of life God had us in crowd out our time with him. Before the conversation was over, we committed to text each other wake-up texts early in the mornings (not 5 AM, but still early!) so we could spend focused time in the Word and prayer. All praise to Jesus, that accountability happened for years!

The fruit that prioritizing my time with Jesus has borne in my life keeps producing a harvest! My husband describes spiritual growth in terms of what it’s like to see a child again who you haven’t seen for a few years. The child’s physical growth would be very obvious over time, but day in and day out, if one was watching the child, the growth would barely be detectable. 

I love that illustration because it reminds me that spiritual growth will happen over time and actually is happening now. I might not always see it. In fact, I often am only confronted with how short I fall. But day in and day out as Elizabeth and I kept each other accountable, establishing the habit of sitting at Jesus’ feet and feeding on his Word, change was happening in this sinful heart of mine! That change helped (and is still helping) me to build on the foundation of Jesus Christ. On the day when I stand accountable before him, there just might be some work that is not consumed. What a thought! And on that day, I surely will bow my unworthy self low to the ground and thank him for people like Elizabeth, whose accountability helped me stand before him to give account.