The young man, a believer, was having trouble handling the temptation of pornography. During moments of stress or unhappiness he found it incredibly hard not to turn on his phone and click on a few arousing pictures. In the past, he’d had an addiction to it. Maybe this describes you or another of our readers or listeners.
Wanting to grow spiritually in Christ, and seeing what a vicious trap pornography was to him, the young man called a friend. This friend was put on a program which reported any questionable sites the young man might visit. He also installed the best porn blocker he could find. It was a wise move, and one which tipped the balance for him. He’s almost completely victorious in this area now and advancing more consistently in Christlikeness.
What I’ve just described is called “accountability”. It is, in a sense, positive peer pressure. It’s also, from what I can tell, rather rare in Christian circles today. Oh, most of us mention a problem here or there in our Christian life, but who knows about our walk at the deeper levels and the toughest struggles we’re encountering? Is there any real vulnerability? More than that, who knows, and prays, and checks on a regular basis to see how we’re doing?
In our independent Western society, “accountability” sounds uncomfortable; almost cultish. And it can, of course, go too far. But as one reads the New Testament, we sense that Paul was very aware of the spiritual state of his brothers, often praising or encouraging and sometimes criticizing them. He was their coach; a job he took very seriously. That extra boost seemed to help them grow faster as well as protecting them.
As the Body of Christ, we carry a certain responsibility for one another. Hebrews 10:25, for instance, tells us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” James even says, “therefore confess your sins to each other. . .”(James 5[o1] :16).
Are you in any accountable relationships, or is it mostly “Jesus and me”? Are you content with “pray for my sick grandmother” prayer requests shared with others, or are you able to ask someone to pray for more vulnerable issues like bitterness, greed, selfishness, lust and pride?
How can I build healthy spiritual accountability relationships?
1. I build healthy spiritual accountability relationships by wanting them
Are you willing, do you desire, to get that close to another believer? A lot of us don’t want that, or at least don’t want it that much. We doubt it’s necessary and fear its potential cost – the time and risk. Yet the deeper benefits of spiritual advancement are hard to obtain without accountability. Doesn’t that seem worth it?
2. I build healthy spiritual accountability relationships by humbling myself
In a Facebook world, where most people try to look their best, a close accountability relationship seems uncomfortable and sometime embarrassing. It can, and often is uplifting and encouraging – that’s the main overall purpose – to help each other positively grow in Christ. Paul frequently praised people. But the process is also often a messy one. We have strengths, but each of us also have weak and dark parts, some of which we’re not even aware. The goal of accountability is not to make us look our best, but to help us see ourselves realistically. This allows us to grow deeper in Christ.
3. I build healthy spiritual accountability relationships by finding friends who are hungry for Jesus
Let’s be honest – how many fellow believers do you know who are obsessed with knowing Christ? Many of us are decent Christians, but we’ve “forsaken our first love” (Rev. 2:4). As long as we don’t wander too far off of the trail we’re satisfied. We’re coasting spiritually. Find someone who’s more motivated than that. Find a fellow believer who “gets it”, who sees the shallowness and sin of our world, their own room for growth, and longs to be more like Christ. You don’t have to be best buddies with them, but you can still have a solid accountability relationship. Which leads to the next point.
4. I build healthy spiritual accountability relationships by committing to regular interactions with my partner or partners.
Once every six months might help, but not that much. It takes regular time and meetings to really get to know each other, to build trust, and to track the consistency and progress of a fellow believer. This sort of commitment fights against much of what modern society stands for. Most of us see ourselves as too busy to do one more thing. This is where priorities come in.
Busyness, by itself, means little. Are we doing the things that count most as our first priorities or have they been shoved down the list? A godly Christian walk often requires us to give up certain otherwise worthwhile options. We just can’t do it all. Our meetings or interactions needn’t be long, they just need to be qualitative and regular.
5. I build healthy spiritual accountability relationships by praying for those involved
This is a big part of the process. We do more than just talk and walk away. We pray for them regarding what they’ve shared. Not only does this prayer provide them additional support, it reminds us about them; keeping them more regularly in our minds and hearts.
6. I build healthy spiritual accountability relationships by taking chances
This has been implied, but let me make it more clear. While accountability certainly helps reinforce more benign practices (“Did you read your Bible this week? What did you read?”), it’s also meant to carry a bit of risk. We will tell our accountability partners about personal parts of our lives which we may not want most people to know about (nor do they need to). When we do this, it’s not always clear how our partners will respond. They may accept and support us, or they may lecture us, be judgmental, or pull back. Not everyone knows how to handle tough issues. This is why you choose your partners carefully. But even if they don’t always handle our problems well, just expressing them may be good for us, making us more humble, transparent, and vulnerable. It also reminds us to rely ultimately on God for acceptance. On the positive side, though, it’s surprising how many of us are accepting and supportive about others’ problems. We too have our own Achilles heels. And our transparency may give them freedom to be more open.
7. I build healthy spiritual accountability by showing it on different levels
This article makes it sound like all spiritual accountability has to involve deep, risky stuff, but that’s not true. What’s shared depends on whom we’re talking to. I, for instance will share certain parts of my life, good and bad, with the whole congregation. Others I will share only with smaller groups in which trust has been built. Some I will share only with other men. And, a few might be shared only with one or two especially trusted friends. We need to learn what’s appropriate in our accountability. Let’s help each other out and hold each other up.