Four Tips on Developing an Accountability Relationship

The following is a guest post from Cynthia Mann, counselor on staff at The Summit Church in Durham, NC.

Accountability partners . . . we either love ’em or wonder where they went.

What makes for a good accountability relationship?

Basically, it’s our ability to be focused and motivated in helping one another get to the bottom of sinful habits. And this is directly related to how deliberate we are in becoming true community to one another. Sure, quick accountability can be set up with a total stranger (and often is at any number of 12-step groups or recovery programs), but these relationships don’t succeed if a deeper, closer relationship is not established. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 describes us as one body because of our participation in the body of Christ. I don’t know about you, but I am at all times aware of what is going on in my body. When there is something wrong with a part of me, I know it.

Why then do we so often live in ignorance of hurt, disease, or brokenness in each other, even at times in accountability relationships? The easiest answer is that we don’t truly know each other. We are polite strangers who make blitz incursions into the most private parts of each others’ lives and then quickly depart. This kind of relationship quickly becomes tiresome for the person being held accountable and should feel uncomfortable for their partners. Unfortunately, we are far too comfortable with this level of relationship, feeling justified in our quick judgments and often confused when relationships (and people) fail. And although we often justify our shallow relationships by feeling like it’s too hard to get to know people, here’s a few suggestions on how to do just that:

1. Get their story:

Start with the day they were born, if possible. While working overseas, I moved in with another young lady I barely knew. In a hilarious cross-cultural mishap, we were left alone for hours, unable to move, even to turn on a light or go to the bathroom (we were getting henna on our hands and feet). What was left? We told each other our life stories. To this day, there are very few people who know me so completely as she. In those few hours we went from awkward strangers to almost sisters. It was relationship building on steroids.

“I’m a guy,” you say, “and we don’t do that!” Um, I beg to differ! Every week in our Celebrate Recovery meeting we have to drag the guys out of the meeting when time is up. They love talking . . . the reality is, when we’re finally at a point where we are desperate to find healing, we are also desperate to talk.

2. Call them . . . regularly . . . especially when you say you will:

Ok guys, again, I know you’re not necessarily phone chatterers, but the purpose of this is connection, not necessarily communication (although that too is welcomed). You’re just checking in, not just to ask questions, but plainly just to say hello.

3. Spend time together:

Get to know this person you’re supposed to hold accountable. One of the major drawbacks of even using a word like “accountability” is that it can so easily become about the rules, and not about the person, and certainly not about their life—past, present, and future. The goal of accountability is not to be able to check off another week of “success,” it’s to see a brother or sister in Christ grow in their knowledge of God . . . to see a strengthening of the body. How can you know what is going on in their lives if all you’re interested in is whether they’ll say “yes” or “no” to the only question you ever ask them?

4. Remember, your goal is transparency, not perfection:

Transparency implies that I can be completely honest because I know that in return I will receive encouragement and grace. Transparency is about reconciliation through confession and vulnerability, not about measuring up. Paul is being transparent in Romans 7-8. He knows what he’s supposed to do, can’t do it, and feels like a wretch. Fortunately, Paul also shows us a response: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is the only answer that encourages people to righteousness.

Note: Paul is still fully aware of the weight and hopelessness of his sin. It is as important for us to acknowledge the deep insult that our sin causes God as it is to celebrate the freedom of the Cross. One is insignificant without the other. Grace without truth and repentance is nothing more than permissiveness.

In accountability relationships, the true blessing comes from fulfilling God’s calling for us to be ministers of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21 says,

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

You might have noticed a theme here . . . each of these points, from an initial conversation to being a minister of reconciliation requires time. It’s a true and unavoidable fact. In order to have a good accountability relationship, you have to invest time. For that reason, it is very important to prayerfully consider any accountability relationship before you commit to it. However, when you do commit to it, you will find the returns are greater than the sacrifice.