Editor’s Note: The following was adapted from chapter 14 of Sam Black’s book, The Healing Church. See the link below to get your copy of the book!
Covenant Eyes serves many churches, missionary organizations, and other groups, and using accountability software on all devices can be very beneficial—but only when individuals are encouraged to have safe and personal friends or mentors receive their Covenant Eyes activity feed.
Accountability gets a bad rap. The term is commonly used in business, law enforcement, or politics as an event that happens after failure, an exacting of consequences as in, “He will be held accountable for his actions.” Years ago, I ordered at least a dozen of the best-selling secular and Christian books on accountability, and they failed to help or even describe my authentic relationships. If I saw an article in a Christian magazine, I would snatch it up only to be disappointed.
Hierarchal Accountability Is Ineffective.
I’ve grown to prefer the term ally relationship. You trust allies. They have your back. When under attack, an ally comes to your aid. They bind your spiritual wounds when you’re bleeding and feed you gospel-centered nourishment when you’re starving and thirsty. Because they have your best interests in mind, they guide and correct, extol and encourage, admonish and exhort. An ally doesn’t control your life, and that means they can’t do the work for you, but they often hold you up, which is helpful when you’re broken. Within our Christian experience, the Holy Spirit in them works through the Holy Spirit in you.
An ally relationship is fragile as glass and hard as nails. It requires vulnerability to expose our deepest scars as well as the harms we have committed. Our sin is laid bare, its ugliest parts showing, and with anyone else, we would anticipate rejection, knowing just how much we deserve disdain. But within these safe relationships, we experience the Father’s love.
You Can’t Force Accountability On Someone Else
Sometimes, people enter accountability discussions because they’ve been pressured to do so, but their hearts aren’t in it. Men, especially, are taught to be self-sufficient. They don’t want to talk about how they feel or their hidden desires, let alone talk about the last time they used porn. Often, people use phrases to evade accountability, such as, “I’m sort of a private person,” or “I’m accountable to God.”
A man or woman who doesn’t see anything wrong with their pornography use will avoid accountability relationships. If they identify as a Christian, they may simply lie about their pornography use, and they might even be confrontational about porn discussions. “Never attempt to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and annoys the pig,” Robert Heinlein wrote.
3 Things That Make An Ally Relationship Work
Before a fruitful ally relationship can begin, men and women have to understand their brokenness and their need for relationships. Sometimes, they come to grips with that brokenness on their own or with supportive instruction. At other times, it is a result of consequences, such as a loss of a job or those imposed by a spouse.
Regardless, there has to be a desire, even if it is a desire to mend a wounded marriage or relationship. An ally relationship is like love; you can’t force it into someone’s life. Having an ally requires a desire for true and honest repentance. An unrepentant heart has no room for an ally.
You Gotta Own It
The biggest mistake of many accountability efforts is that too much of it rides on the accountability partner or accountability group. Accountability relationships often start with good intentions. A person may say to his friend, “I give you permission to ask me at any time how I am doing.” Often, this isn’t specific, and it’s a recipe for failure. If the accountability partner didn’t ask the right question, no confession is given. If they didn’t call or text that week, they let it slide. If the pair or group didn’t meet last week, then there is no reason to bring up last week’s sins and slips this week.
There is a common guiding phrase in recovery circles: “You own your own recovery.” In other words, I can only work on the problems that I own. It’s not the job of my allies to seek me out—although, that is extremely helpful. It’s my job to call those who have agreed to hear my sin and my struggles or just to check in. My allies should know my goals, weaknesses, and biggest potential pitfalls. They won’t know unless I tell them.
In the end, it is not your ally’s job to change your life or reach your goals for you. You must completely own your mistakes, your messes, your weaknesses, your habits, and your character. Many end up looking to accountability partners as scapegoats. “I didn’t see any change in my life because my accountability partners fell through.” Wrong. I am the one who fell through. I must be willing to take ownership of my sins. Only then can others help, guide, exhort, and pray with me.
Within recovery circles, it’s not uncommon for a mentor to walk away from a mentee after a period of evasiveness and inaction. If the person seeking recovery isn’t broken enough to do the work, then the ally relationship isn’t worth the effort. When relational accountability is divorced from personal responsibility, then little progress can be made.
We should provide no pause for confession to each other because the Bible requires us to be doers of the Word and not just hearers (James 1:22). Christians fighting for freedom from a stronghold shouldn’t wait for sin to happen. They should pre-plan their ally discussions.
“In Christianity, most often (if ever) we confess our sin reactively. That is, after the sin has already been committed,” John Elmore writes in Freedom Starts Today. “Reactive confession is good, biblical, and right, but at the same time, the sin has already happened. If you want to overcome addictive behavior, waiting until the behavior has occurred yet again can leave you feeling stuck in a defeating cycle. But what if you both confessed sin and decided to go on the offensive (the theological term is repent, or turning from sin by turning toward God)? We do this by making a proactive decision by God’s strength not to do/use/say/go/act upon ‘xyz’ over the next 24 hours. Then, let another person know about your commitment, and plan to follow up with them 24 hours later and let them know you abstained.”
The value of pre-committing to a goal and confession with someone else cannot be understated. Temptations will come, but when they do, we remember our commitment to check in the next day. Being reminded of our commitments prompts opportunities for prayer, to set up guardrails, and to reach out to a brother in Christ (for men) or a sister in Christ (for women).
Freedom is a journey, and its path is worth walking every single day.
You Need a “Eureka!” Moment
Finding a eureka moment of decision comes with a stark realization and clarity of purpose. Recovery from porn needs a eureka moment, a splash of cold water, a wake-up call, a line drawn in the sand. Thought, knowledge, and understanding are needed to understand porn is a problem and that escape is paramount.
This “aha” moment may come amid a crisis. When a person’s secret love affair with porn is discovered by loved ones, it can cause heartbreak, disappointment, and anger. In 56 percent of divorce cases, pornography is listed as a major contributing factor to the split.115 The knowledge that one’s marriage can be part of such a dismal statistic can be highly motivating and can spark a new point of clarity.
For others, they may simply recognize how far they have sunk into their secret life. They review the lies they tell, the time they lose, and how hopeless they feel, and then understand they are no longer in control over this area of their life. A man may discover his porn use has resulted in erectile dysfunction when having sex with his spouse. A person may discover that porn is destroying marital intimacy both in and out of the bedroom. The porn user may recognize how porn is harming society. Porn hurts the people who consume it and the people they love, but it also hurts the people who are trapped in the pornography industry, including the women and children who are trafficked.
Meanwhile, Christian (and other religious) tenants denounce pornography and the abuse to which it contributes. To adhere to one’s faith and draw from its principles can be a major motivator and asset to recovery. Moments of clarity about pornography are everywhere. Finding one or several to cling to is a first step to escaping porn and must be shared with an ally.
Though she writes to food addicts in The Hunger Fix, Dr. Pam Peeke calls this moment of clarity an EpiphaME, personalizing the word epiphany. She says that people will recognize when their EpiphaME has occurred because they will stop making excuses to others and themselves. They will start a 180-degree attitude change toward recovery. To help people get a sense of their current attitude, she encourages them to write down every excuse that comes to them for twenty-four hours. “When that excuse maker is gone, you’re home,” she writes. “That dopamine receptor is yours—you own it [ . . . ] Feed your soul, not your addictive beast.”