My First Accountability Group
I remember my first accountability group well. Unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons! I bet many of you can relate.
The church I attended during the mid-90s had just held a men’s conference and strongly encouraged all of the men to sign up for an accountability group where we could be gut-level honest with its other members. I was selected as a leader and remember wondering to myself how I was going to pull off leading a group of guys toward honesty and transparency without being honest and transparent myself.
I had done a great job meticulously managing my reputation and I wasn’t about to blow it by being honest now.
The church assigned five of the conference attendees to my accountability group, and we met about two weeks later at a local coffee shop.
I knew most of the guys only in passing and our first accountability group meeting was pretty awkward. All of us had deep dark secrets and feared just how honest we were going to be required to be. I spent most of the first meeting covering logistical information about the group: when we would meet, where we would meet, and what material we would be going through.
Then I pulled out the questions.
This Is Accountability?
If you have ever been a part of a men’s accountability group, you know exactly what questions I am referring to. The ones that start with “Have you spent time with God every day this week?” and always end with “Have you been truthful in answering all of these questions?”
Our meeting went from awkward to downright uncomfortable.
Every list of questions I have ever seen that were written to be used in this context deal with intimate matters of the heart. Questions about personal finances, lustful thoughts, integrity, spiritual growth, and our relationship with our spouse.
Asking these personal questions outside the context of an intimate, trusting relationship most often leads to manipulation and legalistic, moral policing of another’s behavior rather than to a deeper walk with Jesus.
Our attempt at accountability felt awkward and contrived.
My accountability group lasted about six months as one-by-one the guys gradually quit coming.
Most men’s accountability groups sprang up out of the Promise Keepers movement of the early 90s. Promise #2 of Promise Keepers is:
A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.
So how did the admonishment to “pursue vital relationships with other men” get dumbed down to meeting with other men and asking a series of probing questions about behavior? Have you ever wondered why women have fellowship groups and men have accountability groups? I’m not sure I have ever even heard of an accountability group for women.
I think the answer lies in the fact that as men, we tend to be very formulaic in our approach to life. We need a way to keep score. When we hear “pursue vital relationships with other men” and have no real experience at connecting at an emotional level with others, the best we can come up with is a list of questions to help keep our behavior in check.
Googling “Christian accountability,” I uncovered hundreds of articles that gave Biblical evidence of the need for men’s accountability. Taking a closer look at the verses that each article referenced, I realized that most of the verses were calling us to fellowship and genuine community, not accountability.
Biblical Accountability Is the Way
So is accountability not important? Of course it is. But true, Biblical accountability is a by-product of genuine, transparent community. It was never intended to be “stand-alone.”
Accountability that is not grace-centered and that is done outside the context of authentic community will always seek to serve the legalistic Pharisee in us all.
We must come together and connect at our weaknesses and not spend time and energy trying to impress others with our strengths.
We must look for opportunities to call each other UP to who we were meant to be in Christ and not call each other OUT for our shortcomings.
My propensity to hide and isolate is in direct proportion to how much I struggle to believe the Gospel. When I’m not believing the Gospel, my focus shifts back to me and my need to pretend I am better than I am [read that again–because it applies to all of us!].
But actively engaging men who know me as I really am and not as I would like to be provides an environment where my secrets are exposed. This is more in line with the “vital relationships” mentioned in Promise Keepers’ second promise. When we do this, God uses community in our lives to bubble up our own sin. The closer and more intimate we are in relation to others, the harder it becomes for us to appear to have it all together.
Which gets at the heart of why most of us don’t have genuine, authentic community—we don’t want to be exposed. The reason we don’t want to be exposed is because at our core, we don’t believe God loves us exactly as we are.
Luke Gilkerson, in his fantastic e-book Your Brain on Porn, emphasizes the vital importance of engaging in authentic community as we seek to successfully avoid pornography and other forms of sexual sin. Luke distinguishes what he calls “responsive accountability” that is motivated by love from the moral policing that often accompanies men’s accountability groups.
So what about you? Are you attempting to do “stand-alone” accountability in your life? How has that worked? In what ways do you shy away from genuine, transparent community and why? If you have a group, have you taken the vital step to also protect yourself when you’re not with your group? I rely on Covenant Eyes, and you should too [sign up today!].
Traylor Lovvorn facilitates a weekly recovery group at his church for men wrestling with addiction to pornography and/or sex. He contributes regularly to LifeWay’s Stand Firm devotional magazine for men. Tray is also the “Chief Ragamuffin” of Route1520, a resourcing ministry for churches looking to combat pornography and sexual temptation and addiction. Listen to our interview with Traylor and his wife Melody on Covenant Eyes Radio