An amalgam of dictionary definitions for accountability roughly brings one to the conclusion that accountability is a state of being completely responsible for what one does and to give a satisfactory reason for it to someone either willing or out of obligation (primarily Webster & Cambridge dictionaries). Dictionaries can only go so far. As a Chirstian, accountability carries with it deeper meaning than secular definitions tend to go.
Gorden McDonald says he has had three accountability partners since 1996. My current one has been since 1998. We meet every Wednesday over the noon hour to check up on how each other is doing and spend time together in prayer for each other. When first starting off on the process of accountability, I tried many approaches. There are plenty of ideas floating around as to how to make the concept of accountability work. The concept of a formula for accountability is a nice one, but hardly practical. Some people carry with them accountability cards that have eight, ten or even a dozen questions that get answered each time they get together with their accountability partner. Others just visit with the hope that accountability will happen. What do I think? My conclusion is that if you find something that works for you, it is likely the right one for you.
- Who do you choose as an accountability partner? This is one of the most important decisions in starting into personal accountability relationships. Here is a list of characteristics I have compiled that is in no way exhaustive:
- Same gender. There is something special about this. Choosing your spouse may sound good, but in what I have seen, this is not the best option. Objectivity is often lost when a spouse or even long family friend is part of the equation.
- Mutual respect. If you don’t trust each other, keep looking.
- Safe person. Are you confident that what you are talking about will be kept in confidence?
- Good boundaries. Are boundaries going to be mutually respected? If there is a possibility of a codependent relationship developing you had better keep looking. (Read Boundaries by Drs Cloud and Townsend if you aren’t sure what boundaries are.)
- Available time. If your schedules just don’t line up, you will have to work on either being willing to make a commitment in your schedules, or keep looking.
- Commitment to prayer. Although it is a great thing to discuss things in your life and challenge each other to living a pure life, you can’t overlook the importance that prayer plays in an accountability relationship. If this element would likely not develop in your relationship, keep looking.
- Perfection. If you expect perfection, forget about accountability relationships. You won’t find it here. Accountability relationships will bring out all kinds of imperfections. If you want to be surrounded with perfection, you will find a lot of people unwilling to share on a deep level, but happy to project a false sense of perfection upon you.
2. How often does a person meet with an accountability partner? I find that frequency is less important than regularity. If you meet often, but with irregular intervals, the desire to get together will wane over time. If you meet regularly, no matter the interval, meeting becomes a pattern of living and is more likely to become a habit. How do you determine the interval? As accountability partners, we mutually decided that weekly was preferable. Seeing that we both work in the same office, we just have lunch with each other. This is a natural rhythm that we can both stick to. Others may want to get together once a month, or whatever. Both people need to feel comfortable with what is decided.
3. What length of meeting is best? What do the two of you feel is reasonable? Answer that question, and go with it. There may be times that flexibility is needed. Nothing will kill an accountability relationship faster than rigidity. If there is a need to schedule more or less time than usual, work this out in advance of your meeting so both of you can plan accordingly.
4. When do you stop meeting? If things are going well, there is no reason to stop. A good accountability relationship will be helpful as an ongoing exercise. Just as eating and exercise are beneficial to the body, and prayer and spiritual discipline is important to the soul, so is accountability to the health of our relationships.
5. What should you discuss with your accountability partner? This is important. An accountability relationship is to be mutual – not one-sided. If one person regularly assumes the role of the interrogator, the meeting soon turns into parole officer – ex con appointments. Both parties have to be accountable to each other. There are many things you can discuss. The following is a list of topics that I have found helpful (it is in no way an exhaustive list) :
- Have I maintained purity in my thought life since we last met?
- Have I been consistent in my devotional life?
- Have I invested time in my family or other close relationships in recreation, conversation or spiritual matters?
- Have I encouraged anyone in any way?
- Have any of my actions dishonored God in any way?
- Is there any unconfessed sin in my life?
- Have I lied or misrepresented the truth to anyone?
- Have I used my finances to honour God?
- Do I hold unforgiveness against anyone?
6. Are accountability meetings just reporting times? Definitely not! Reporting is a part of what goes on, but by no means all. As I have indicated before, your relationship must be honest, open and transparent. Through openness, there is permission for confession and forgiveness. Without this aspect, accountability can turn into a “feel good” party where all that is discussed is the superficial activities of life. Accountability is hard work. It is difficult to share one’s sins with another. Accountability puts a face to the forgiveness that God offers us. During accountability sessions each person has the privilege of pronouncing God’s forgiveness to the other. But let there be no mistake here – it is God alone who forgives our sins – not our accountability partner!
7. It is just a whipping session? Definitely not! A healthy relationship not only looks clearly at the areas of our lives that need confession and forgiveness, but also rejoices in the areas where one another is experiencing success. Encouragement is an essential element of accountability. Through affirmation we grow in integrity. This builds resolve that in return strengthens us in resisting sin.
Personal Accountability in a Group Context-
Group accountability is very similar to personal accountability. Rarely will you find a group of people who are all at the same place where they can go as deeply as personal accountability can go. Group accountability is a good springboard to pursue personal accountability. A healthy group can model what accountability can be like. Relying on group accountability alone has a less lasting impact than personal accountability does. Group sessions are a training ground for the more intense one-on-one activity of personal accountability.
Group dynamics will vary widely, making the seven points of personal accountability look quite different. Some of these points will just not work in a group setting. It really depends upon the group and why it has been set up.
Many will confuse a support group for an accountability group. They are not the same, although they may share many common activities. For example, a support group may be strong in the areas of affirmation and prayer, but rarely be a forum for confession. My personal suggestion is that support groups can be of the same or mixed gender, but accountability groups be composed of the same gender.
Accountability groups often function in a dual capacity: accountability and community. A strong accountability group builds up its members in some ways that personal accountability frequently does not do. A group of people can participate in events where each individual is encouraged to participate and share healthy feelings in a group context. Group activities have the capability of growing a sense of community that individual accountability relationships are not always designed to accomplish. Small groups that are not accountability groups also serve in similar ways, but they are not designed to go as deep as accountability groups do.
The body of believers needs all these kinds of relationships. In many ways, we all need multiple types of modes of relating to each other in order to maintain a healthy, balanced life.
This artical has been updated from several articles based on work by