By now, we’ve all seen the latest round of news that gives the body of Christ a black eye.
I don’t know about you, but when these stories hit the news, I’m at the point where I can only sigh and shake my head.
How am I supposed to respond to (yet another) failure by the faithful?
Should I go on Facebook and join the chorus of people blasting these adulterers and thieves? Should I ignore it and wait for it to fade away? Should I jump out and defend the people who have done these things?
We know everyone is imperfect and we are called to show mercy and love to people who have royally screwed up—because that’s exactly what God has done for us.
But it’s still frustrating.
It’s frustrating because I can’t fix or undo them. It’s frustrating because it makes me look bad as a follower of Jesus—like we’re all frauds of some kind. It’s frustrating because as the Body of Christ, we have brought these scandals on ourselves.
While we can’t fix what has already happened, let’s own this. Let’s say that since these failures are a part of the Body, we have a responsibility to work to bring restoration and redemption where there is brokenness and failure. Let’s talk about things we can do to prevent contributing to a new scandal.
Let’s talk about accountability.
The “accountability” talk can make us nervous. The idea that I’m going to pick someone and tell them all the deep dark secrets of depravity that exist in my soul, and ask them to police me into being a better person—like a human version of Internet filter software—sure isn’t a pleasant thought.
But what if accountability isn’t about more policing in your life? In reality, it’s more like a cheerleader or a coach who helps you to become the best version of yourself.
Paul writes that we should “encourage one another and build one another up” (Thessalonians 5:11).
As followers of Jesus, we are called to have healthier standards in our lives than we would normally choose for ourselves. The job of a person who is keeping you accountable should be more about providing additional perspective to you, not making you feel worse about stuff you already know you need to work on.
It’s not their job to make you a better person. You are responsible for who you are. They are a resource to help you.
Here’s some practical steps to adding more positive, useful accountability into your life, while also providing it to someone else at the same time:
Don’t Pick a Stranger … or a Best Friend
Before you sit down with somebody (or maybe, for you, it’s a small group of people) and explain what you want out of this whole deal, you need to figure out who you want to do this with.
You’re going to need to find somebody you respect, trust and think has genuine faith.
Picking someone you just met this past weekend to help keep you accountable is probably not a great idea. Look around and ask yourself who are the people you would trust with your life if you had to.
While this person should not be a stranger, I’d also suggest that you don’t select someone you are already great friends with. This relationship will need you both to be willing to speak honestly; the fear of jeopardizing an existing friendship could hinder that goal.
Find someone you think you could create this relationship with and spend some time around them. Go out to lunch with them. Invite them over. Do your best to see if you are compatible on a basic level.
By the way, you may have noticed I’m not calling the person an “accountability partner.” There’s a couple reasons for that: First, that term (for me, at least) points toward the policing direction we’re looking to avoid. And second, it’s just weird. And we definitely don’t need more weird terms and phrases in our churches.
Define the Relationship
When you enter into a relationship like this, unless you are paying the other person (counselor, life coach, etc), it needs to be a two-way street.
If one person is doing all the sharing, it will create an imbalance in the relationship. It also makes trust easier when you are both seeing a side of the other person that is not normally visible.
I see this almost like an exchange of house or apartment keys: I’m giving you the right to see all my business, but in exchange, I need to be able to see yours. Two-way vulnerability is necessary to form a truly trust-filled relationship.
Make It a Priority
Put a recurring meeting time on your calendar and defend it well.
You can’t just get together with this person when there’s a disaster. You need to give regular access to your life to this person. Seeing you in both good times and bad is an important part of them being able to provide useful feedback.
Again, this is not your personal spiritual parole officer. This person is going to be your champion. Your own personal Dory. So don’t just show up when you’ve screwed up and you need somebody to call you out. Show up when you’re trying to figure out what great thing God is calling you to be part of and you need somebody to help you figure out how to get there.
In Red Letter Christianity, Shane Claiborne says “people do not expect Christians to be perfect, but they do expect us to be honest.”
Having somebody who we are honest with helps us be honest with ourselves and (hopefully) honest with God.
The best way to stop having these issues exposed in front of the world is to stop letting them grow in the shadows. The more each of us exposes ourselves to the light of truth, the less possibility that we will add to any future great embarrassment of the Church.