For many years I met every Tuesday morning for breakfast with other men in a diner where we had a men’s accountability group.
It was a failure.
We had lots of breakfasts, and little to no accountability. I still maintain a friendship, a quite close one at that, with one of the men from that group, but as for the stated purpose of pursuing purity and integrity together, that Tuesday morning group remains to me a symbol of what is wrong with men’s accountability groups.
And I was to blame.
I was not honest. I hid the reality of my pornography problem.
On those rare occasions when one of us admitted to looking at porn, lusting or masturbating, the confession was met by an awkward silence. Nobody said a word because we had no idea how to really help each other. Moreover, we were all struggling, and an honest moment of admission made us all feel very guilty.
Sadly, I think the group was actually designed to fail. After all, if you are really serious about talking openly about your life and your sin, do you meet in a public place such as a diner—at breakfast time? I became a master of hiding during that time, and the format of the group—a series of closed questions which you could answer “Yes” or “No”—only facilitated my deception.
The best accountability is conversational. Closed questions don’t really get below the surface to help us understand what is driving our sinful behavior. Many accountability groups are either (1) a group of good, well-intentioned men who miss the heart of the matter because they don’t know how to get below the surface, or (2) a group of men who hide their hearts by intentionally not telling the whole story of just how bad they are doing.
If the best accountability is conversational, we need a conversation starter. I have found over the years of being a Covenant Eyes Accountability Partner for various men that the Accountability Reports provide information which can direct the conversation.
And there is plenty to explore, even when a report doesn’t indicate that any porn sites have been visited. In the last two months or so I have spoken with a few men where something from an Accountability Report opened up a conversation.
I have spoken with guys about so-called “gray areas” like reading entertainment news or even regular news when the subject matter was really feeding a craving for lust within them—for example, stories about Tiger Woods.
When I read a report for one of my brothers, it gives me a chance to get below the water line of their lives and investigate, ultimately giving me the opportunity to bring life and freedom to previously hidden places.
It’s the exact opposite of my Tuesday morning diner situation. There, we kept our secrets while giving the appearance of real accountability. Now, by conversing with my brothers rather than simply running through a list of approved “accountability questions,” we actually address what the real issues are.
The other day I received a report for one of my brothers and it looked as though he had visited a site, based on the name listed in the report, which was pornographic. He insisted he had not visited any porn sites that week, so I, checked the site. In truth it was not pornographic; rather it was a site mainly targeted toward women which had articles about relationships.
I breathed a sigh of relief, but rather than simply move on, I asked him about the articles he had read. What resulted was a really good conversation about the loneliness in his heart; about wanting a quality relationship with a woman; and an admission that he sometimes struggles to “stay in the fight.” We were able to talk about feeling empty and being made complete in Christ. He was able see that while technically not lust, his reading of those articles was connected to his efforts to find acceptance, approval, significance and even completion in a woman.
Addressing those deeper longings got us to the root of what has fueled his porn indulgence over the years, as well as his general desire to have a woman in his life as a means of personal security.
It was all below the waterline just waiting to be discovered. That conversation was a moment of real significance, full of the potential for change. It happened because the best accountability is conversational.
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This post is by James Tarring Cordrey. James is an author and communicator bringing healing to men’s hearts which have been ravaged by pornography. His blog is Dangerous. Passionate. Alive. Free.