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7 Marks of Enduring Accountability Relationships

Last Updated: June 19, 2018

Brad Hambrick
Brad Hambrick

Brad Hambrick serves as the Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in  Durham, NC. He also serves as Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a council member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, has authored several books including God’s Attributes: Rest for Life’s Struggles, and served as general editor for the Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused (churchcares.com) project.

Too often we relegate accountability to the “wouldn’t it be nice” status. It goes on the same list as having a budget and exercising–things we know we should be doing, but never quite find time to start.

Let’s begin by establishing that accountability is not just for life-dominating struggles. When we relegate accountability to crisis-status, we never feel like our life is that “that bad” until things really are “that bad.”

accountability

Then we live with regret. How did we let things deteriorate this far? Answer: we had a “that bad” standard for accountability.

Accountability is part of God’s definition of “healthy.” People who do not have relationships in which they are honest about their struggles (we all have them), seeking accountability and encouragement, are people who are becoming “unhealthy.” Nobody wanders in the direction of healthy. God-honoring lives require intentionality.

7 Marks of Enduring Accountability Relationships

The seven points below are meant to guide you in the kind of relationships that facilitate this component of healthy relationships. Your church’s small group ministry will most likely be where you find these relationships. Several references will be made to the advantage of having accountability through these kinds of weekly discipleship groups.

1. Voluntary: Accountability is not something you have (a noun); it is something you do (an active tense verb). You must disclose in order to benefit from the relationship. If you rely on the other person to “ask the magic question” or “just know” what is wrong or “call at the right time,” you sabotage the opportunity for accountability.

2. Trusted: You trust the other person(s), admire their character, and believe them to have good judgment. Many of us react negatively to the idea of accountability because we have not gotten to know people well enough to build the trust that facilitates this kind of relationship. Small groups provide the time and space necessary for trust to grow.

3. Mutual: One-sided relationships tend to be short-lived. A good accountability relationship consists not of a helper and helpee, but two helpers and two helpees. In a small group, you will hear the weaknesses and struggles of others as you share your own. You will help carry their burdens as they help carry your burdens (Gal. 6:1-2).

4. Scheduled: Accountability that is not scheduled tends to fade, even when we have the best of intentions. This is why small groups that meet on a weekly basis are an ideal place for accountability to occur. Everyone knows when to meet and has a shared expectation for how the accountability conversations will begin.

5. Relational: Spiritual growth is a lifestyle not an event. This means that we invite accountability to be a part of our regular conversations not just something that we do at a weekly meeting. It should mean that there are times when we are doing accountability and don’t realize it.

  • Caring for people and wanting to know how they’re doing with things they asked you to pray for is a form of accountability.
  • Hanging out together, casually hearing about life challenges, and offering advice or encouragement is a form of accountability.
  • Getting lunch and remembering to ask about an area of struggle is a form of accountability

6. Comprehensive: Accountability that exclusively fixates on one subject tends to become repetitive and fade. It also tends to reduce “success” to trusting God in a single area of life.

7. Encouraging: Too often the word “accountability” carries the connotation of “sin hunt.” When that is the case accountability is only perceived to be “working” when it is negative (i.e., it catches the particular sin in question). However, accountability that lasts should celebrate growth in character as fervently as it works on slips in character.

Establishing Quality Accountability Relationships

The key questions to ask yourself now are:

  • Who are the people in my life with whom I do or could have this kind of relationship?
  • Which of these characteristics are strongest in our relationship?
  • Which of these characteristics would require intentionality or fortify a weakness?
  • Am I willing to take the next step to begin or improve my accountability relationships?

Related Covenant Eyes article: 

  • Comments on: 7 Marks of Enduring Accountability Relationships
    1. Ellen on

      Dear Brad,

      I was in a marriage (recently divorced) where my husband disclosed he had been watching child pornography for over a year and progressed to molesting my granddaughter. He was arrested on July 3, 2016 and sits in jail awaiting sentencing. I continue to be grandmother to my granddaughter(s) and feel I have forgiven him. But, I went ahead with the divorce because of the shame attached to these crimes and that I feel I Might lose my daughter and son in law if I stayed married to him. I am a classic case of co-dependency. However, I am AWARE! I was a victim advocate in the criminal justice system for 30 years and had just retired when this came out. I feel he has many more psychological reasons for committing these crimes than even he can remember! I “caught” him masturbating to adult pornography in 2011. He refused counseling so I began to go on my own. I left him at that time for 5 months and when we reunited, I began the conseling after his refusal. The past year, I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong with him! I didn’t directly ask him if he had “relapsed”. I am in the midst of recovery myself now. We moved last year and I guess maybe i thought that had been a “trigger” for him, I don’t know. My question is: he now wants with all his soul to reunite and I’m questioning the divorce.

      I’ve read numerous books on Betrayal and being a social worker myself understand it would take many years of counseling for marriage to work.I want a marriage (this was my and his second marriage) where my partner is devoted to God. I’ve talked with him from the jail and it sounds like he is devoting himself to God in there. He is ready to take whatever punishment is handed down from the judge so it may be many years before he and I could ever get into counseling together. What attracted me to him in the beginning (15 years ago) was his Christian upbringing and outlook on life. He had come from a very large family where Christianity was a daily discussion, he had a long career in the Navy, working on jets and auditing. In some ways I’m glad its over, but his family won’t give up on me and him. This is causing me to pause. So, to end this, was it right or wrong? In God’s eyes. I’m doing several bible studies and beginning a Celebrate Recovery Program in this area. I need some help.

      Reply
      • Kay Bruner on

        Ellen,

        Your ex will be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life. This is not over, and it will never be over.

        Be aware that pedophiles reoffend at an alarming rate, and can have HUNDREDS of victims over the course of a lifetime. Do you potentially want to be the “cover” for that?

        It will never be over for the granddaughter that your ex raped. NEVER.

        Think about what it would mean to your grandchildren if you chose to live with their rapist.

        Think about what it would mean for you to live with a registered sex offender: you cannot and should not have children in your home.

        His family probably doesn’t want to face up to the reality of what their family member did. I’m sure it would be helpful to them if you remarried him so they could continue to think “it’s over.”

        Bible studies and Celebrate Recovery are a good start for you, but you need to see a therapist who can help you think about healthy boundaries for yourself and for the children in your life.

        Peace to you,
        Kay

      • Andrew on

        Dear Brad,

        I am writing in regards to the article I read “7 Marks of Enduring Accountability Relationships.” I was wondering if you could perhaps point me to an article or some information regarding accountability relationships that are not healthy. I have a concern regarding an accountability partner and I. He has become accountable to me in several areas of personal purity. I am glad to be used of the Lord in his life as someone to stand by him as he walks out of this sin, and am happy for him. However, I am a bit concerned. However, I am worried that he is becoming codependent. While I do enjoy the accountability friendship that we have, I certainly don’t want him to become codependent. What are some signs that a relationship like this is unhealthy?

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