In college, I would head for my dorm room after class with every intention of hunkering down to read the required pages, finish my assignments, and go to bed early so I could face the next day with a full eight hours of sleep.
On the way to my room, I would poke my head into the dorm lounge, say “hi,” and stop to listen to a conversation between a few of my friends. Inevitably, I would join in, and find myself still sitting there hours later, my books still waiting for me and the thought of sleep a pipedream.
The next day as I dragged myself wearily to class, I would resolve to not let this happen again. It took a very intentional effort to avoid social distractions and get my work done.
Post-COVID-19, many of us face the opposite situation: the quarantine and social distancing have conditioned us for isolation. We have reorganized our lives to eliminate social interaction. We have grown accustomed to working from home and avoiding contact with the outside world. It may take effort just to connect with people and find time to socialize.
Unlike the old college days, I now find myself going days or weeks on end buried in work and solitary hobbies, disconnected from friends and family.
I stop and ask myself: How am I going to have accountability conversations if I’m not having any conversations period? The answer is simple: I’m not.
Hebrews 10:24-25 give some insight into the solution. These verses tell us that intentional effort and proactive steps are needed to make meaningful accountability relationships happen:
“We should consider how to spur one another on to love and good deeds, not neglecting meeting together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.”
The word “consider” used in Hebrews 10:24 means “to think up and down,” “to carefully perceive.” Even in ancient times, it took thoughtful consideration to engage in meaningful relationships. Nowadays, even relatively superficial social interaction can take effort. Accountability relationships that dig past the surface will not happen without trying.
When I was living in the dorm room, I had to make up rules for myself. “I won’t stop by the lounge to talk until I’ve finished my reading.” If accountability is going to happen, we need to be similarly intentional that we are engaging in personal relationships. It may begin as simply as, “I won’t let this week pass without calling up a friend on the phone.” It takes intentional effort to reverse the trend of social isolation.
We can acknowledge that Zoom meetings, phone calls, or text messages aren’t the ideal media for accountability conversations. But we should still consider how to take advantage of these tools to bring us into closer relationship proximity.
2. Spur One Another on
Once we have considered how to make this happen, what is the actual substance of the accountability relationship?
The word “spur on” (or “stir up” as some translations put it), is an interesting choice by the writer of Hebrews. It means to “provoke” or “agitate.” It can refer to an intense disagreement or interpersonal conflict. But here, the idea is to “push past superficial interaction.” It means there will be friction because you are going to be dealing with real heart issues, real struggles, real encouragement.
Remember how I said my early accountability conversations with my dad were awkward and uncomfortable? That’s part of the friction. I don’t want to pretend that accountability is always easy, or the conversations always come naturally. It can feel weird, especially when we must rely on technology to connect remotely.
A friend and I were once reaching out to a man from our church. The man was going through some serious relationship problems and had angrily withdrawn himself from the congregation. We stopped by his office at lunch one day, to say “hi” and reestablish a friendly connection.
“This is awkward!” I protested.
My friend smiled and said, “Embrace the awkward,” he said. We went on to have a great conversation.
Since then, I’ve often thought about this advice with regard to my accountability relationships. Bringing accountability to bear on your digital life means deeply personal conversations—conversations that can “provoke” and “agitate.” These are essential conversations to have in a world that is pulling us apart and creating wider and wider gaps between what we do online and offline. Embrace the awkwardness.
The Covenant Eyes accountability reports are designed to facilitate these conversations. They not only show your allies what you have looked at on your devices, but they also create an avenue for meaningful discussions to help you spur one another on.
3. Love and Good Deeds
What is the point of the “spurring on”? The actual goal of these interactions is clear: “love and good deeds.” In accountability relationships, the purpose is to motivate and encourage one another to live as we have been instructed by God.
“Love and good deeds” covers a lot of ground. It could mean being a better spouse or parent. It could mean caring for elderly folks in your church or neighborhood and finding other ways to reach out to those isolated by the pandemic. It could also mean kicking the porn habit getting out of the cycle of shame and isolation. In short, “love and good deeds” mean replacing destructive and sinful behaviors with positive and good behaviors.
4. Do Not Neglect
Hebrews 10:24 says, “Don’t neglect meeting together.” While quarantine and social distancing may prevent in-person meetings, there are still plenty of ways to connect with one another. Sadly, many Christians today aren’t used to these opportunities. Barna reports that during quarantine, there’s been an overall lack of engagement among churchgoers: “Just three in 10 churchgoers have had contact with a church leader in the last month…
Additionally, only 15 percent of practicing Christians (and just 3% of non-practicing Christians) have joined a prayer meeting online in the past four weeks, and even lower numbers met with a small group or Bible study (12% practicing vs. 3% non-practicing).” This doesn’t bode well for accountability relationships.
Given the problem of “Zoom fatigue” and the importance of in-person interactions, it’s not surprising. However, the Bible encourages us to take advantage of the means that we have, even while we acknowledge they fall short of the ideal.
Paul grappled with the limitations of remote communication too, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong” (Romans 1:11). If Paul longed for in-person fellowship even though he writing Scripture, it’s understandable that we would too! But that’s no reason to neglect the avenues of communication we’ve been given, even as we look to overcome barriers to physical proximity. That is what proactive and intentional accountability is about.
5. Encouraging One Another
Post-COVID-19, we face a pandemic of loneliness and isolation. Porn claims to offer a reprieve, but it’s only a fantasy. The real antidote is the same as ever: accountability. It changes everything.
We should understand that accountability is bigger than simply fighting porn. Accountability is bigger than a computer program that watches your screen. It’s bigger than Zoom meetings or text messages. It’s bigger than a couple of guys meeting for coffee and asking each other about lust.
These are just tools to equip people for accountability relationships—to navigate the various circumstances of life that threaten to pull us apart.
Accountability itself is a small piece of heavenly fellowship. It’s about being with other Christians and inching closer together in proximity to Jesus. It may be awkward and challenging at times, but we need encouragement. That’s why Hebrews 10:25 tells us to keep encouraging one another.
The apostles probably felt some of the same awkwardness and discomfort that we do. They recognized that even our in-person fellowship falls short of the heavenly ideal. Accountability is the antidote to isolation, but it’s not the perfect experience of fellowship that our hearts desire. Nonetheless, it is a God-given foretaste of communion with Jesus. That’s why verse 25 ends, “And all the more as you see the day approaching.” It reminds us that something better is coming.
For Christians, accountability is more than an antidote for isolation and loneliness in this life; it’s an imperfect rehearsal of the perfect fellowship we’re going to experience in the physical presence of Jesus.