From Accountability to Discipleship

Accountability is one of the foundational principles of Covenant Eyes. Our software is a tool that allows people to take another step in vulnerability and honesty.

What Christian men and women often think about when they hear “accountability” is a small group sitting in a circle discussing their failures and addictions.  They may picture a late night phone call to another struggling brother to confess the latest blunder.  For those who need to get their sins into the open, this type of accountability can be therapeutic.

Peer accountability and support groups can be helpful, but many times these situations end up being “the blind leading the blind.” Confession of failure is expected in these settings, but lasting change is often not expected. I’m not talking about the quality accountability that helps people get to the root of their temptations or addictions and uses the Word of God to transform thinking.  I’m talking about the kind of minimal “accountability” that serves more as a way to ease one’s conscience, like a band-aid over a cancerous lump.

Accountability in the Context of Discipleship

Steve Gallagher writes,

“It may surprise the reader to find out that the word ‘accountability’ is not mentioned once in the Bible.  The concept is in Scripture, but not in the weak way in which it is currently used today.  Instead, the biblical concept is that of being discipled.  I am not referring to more information about Christianity.  Listening to good sermons and reading interesting books can be helpful, but what the immature Christian needs most is for a mature saint to take him under his wing, so to speak, and bring godly instruction into his life.” (At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry)

Being “discipled” is a powerful concept, and a misunderstood concept today. In Jesus’ day the rabbis would take talmidim (Hebrew for “disciples”) under their wing. These disciples followed their spiritual leader and teacher everywhere he went. Their objective was not to simply be good students of his teaching, but to become mirrors of his life.  A student merely wants to know what the teacher knows. A disciple wants to BE who his teacher IS.

Jesus invested most of His ministry building character into a small group of men.  They were unlike the crowds.  The crowds could walk away merely thinking of what Jesus said; the disciples came face-to-face with the truth of Jesus’ words and were expected to live differently.

Do We Disciple Others?

Often, the reason why discipleship doesn’t happen in today’s church is because there are too few Christlike models who take young men and women under their wing the same way Jesus did. We are called to make disciples of the nations (Matthew 28:18-20), yet there are too few disciplers. We are not called to make others into Scriptures-scholars (although the Bible is indispensable in discipleship). We are not called to make sermon-listeners. We are not called to make church volunteers and laborers. We are called to make disciples.

This means we are meant to have spiritual mentors in our midst who can say along with Paul, Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  Do you know anyone today who can say this with the confidence of Paul? Make no mistake: Paul was sinful. He had his problems. But we see here his Hebrew understanding of discipleship coming out—we are meant to follow living, breathing, mature, albeit flawed, examples of Jesus if we are to become like Jesus. This is what the church is designed for.

Discipleship for the Sexually Broken

What solution does the Bible offer to those caught in sexual sin, to the overwhelmed and trapped? Galatians 6:1-2 gives the answer: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. . . . Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

For those caught in the grip of sin, more than accountability is needed.  We need those whom Paul called the “spiritual” to take on the ministry of restoration. This term, “restore” (katartizo), was a medical term for setting a broken bone. In our sinful, fractured selves, the work of a spiritual person is to set right broken thoughts and beliefs with the tenderness and wisdom of a spiritual doctor.

The same word translated “restore” is the root for the term used in in Ephesians 4, “And He [Christ] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to EQUIP the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ . . .” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Christ has given His church Christian leaders and mentors as gifts, the true spiritual elders and shepherd of the church, to restore the broken, and thus equip them to live as the body of Christ.

And who are the “spiritualmentioned in Galatians 6:1? Those who have a track record of walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), who have lasting fruit of Christlike character (5:22-23), who have eagerly waited on the Lord for righteousness to bloom in their life and have found Him faithful (5:5). They are spiritual leaders who hear from God regularly, obey His voice, and effectively model intimacy with God. They are the true elders and leaders who are experienced in healing the hurts caused by sin (James 5:13-16). They may not hold the status of “elder” at a church (many do not), but they are a true mentor in the faith.

[see Part 2: “From Discipleship to Family“]