There are mixed views about the benefits of accountability groups. On one end you have people with nothing but negative opinions; on the other end accountability is synonymous with salvation. Most people are probably somewhere in the middle, but here are four things to consider:
1. What’s the Purpose?
Accountability groups are usually birthed out of good intentions. A man is aware of the indwelling and pervasive nature of sin and wants to get trusted friends involved to keep him on the straight and narrow. This all sounds good, right?
Wrong! While doing the right thing is obviously better than doing the wrong thing, the problem is not only my actions, it’s my heart. My heart is sick with sin. The sinful acts I commit stem from the roots of a heart that is bent in the wrong direction. Instead of desiring God, it desires other things. Having an accountability group may give me external success from looking at pornography, but it can never change the desires of my heart from lustfully feasting on things that God forbids. My physical actions might be pure, but that doesn’t mean my thought life is.
What I need more than someone to make sure my actions are honorable is for someone to do the hard work of drawing out the desires of my heart and holding a mirror up to them so I can see my need for grace and healing.
2. Is the Aim to Expose Sin or Exalt Jesus?
We’ve all likely experienced this at one time or another and felt violated. Often the conversation in accountability groups is awkward and forced. Pointed questions are asked with little grace for the sole purpose of exposure. Ouch!
No one likes having his sin exposed. Even Adam in the garden hated being exposed. In response to this, God covered Adam with the first animal sacrifice. He also preached the earliest form of the Gospel to Him (Gen. 3:15). Where accountability groups seek to expose sin and make people vulnerable, they will cease to be effective.
First Peter 4:8 tells us that “love covers a multitude of sins,” and Hebrews 12:2 tells me to look to Jesus the founder and perfecter of my faith. I need someone to ensure me of His work in covering my sin and encourage me to fix my eyes back on Him and His completed work.
3. Are We Going Toe-to-Toe or Walking Side-by-Side?
What posture does the group take? Are we simply trying to squeeze confessions out of people? That seems less like camaraderie and more like competition. Have you ever wondered, Were they just trying to make me feel guilty? or Was he just trying to one-up me and confess a sin worse than mine?
The devil is in the business of condemnation, and when Christians join him in this work, they score a point for the wrong team (see Romans 8:1). Rather than belaboring our shortcomings, what we really need are others to walk with us through life. This moves the approach from one of toe-to-toe like a boxing match to one of brothers in arms. It’s warfare language. Going to war with sin is tough work and not easily done alone. When someone falls down on the spiritual battlefield, they don’t need another battle with someone on the same team. They need someone to pick them up and help them refocus.
4. Are We “Holding” Each Other Back or Navigating Life Together?
Often the language of accountability groups sounds combative: “Someone’s going to hold me accountable.” I’d rather be in an arm hold or a headlock. It doesn’t sound like victory. The truth that sin indwells us and comes out in our actions is real. But perhaps it’s worth considering scrapping the language of accountability in favor of something that carries less baggage.
I’m in favor of the language of navigation. Being “held” accountable brings to mind confrontation and stagnation. After all, no one who is held can really move forward. But navigation carries with it progress. If I’m going somewhere I’ve never been before, it’s much easier when I have a friend who’s been there riding shotgun and telling me where to go. I need help navigating the roads of life in a similar way. Who do I know who’s been there? Who can help me navigate through the storms of life while being obedient to God? Who will sit in the co-pilot seat with me (because Jesus should be the pilot — not me!) to check my blind spots? Remember, sin by its very nature is deceptive, and we don’t see with 20/20 vision all the ways it affects us.
Who can help you navigate through a fallen world and encourage you in the Gospel of hope?
Sean Nolan teaches hermeneutics, leads a church youth ministry, is an aspiring church planter and is married to Hannah and father of Knox. He irregularly blogs at Hardcore Grace.
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