We Need More Community, not Accountability
DECEMBER 10, 2019
I remember it well. My first “accountability group”.
The church I attended during the mid-90s had just held a men’s conference and all of the men were strongly encouraged to sign-up for a group where we could be gut-level honest with the other members of the group. 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 going to mess it up by being honest now.
The church assigned five of the conference attendees to my 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 meeting was pretty awkward. No doubt 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.
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 group lasted about six months and gradually the guys 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? Why do women have fellowship groups and men have accountability groups? Have you ever even heard of an accountability group for women?
I think the answer lies in the fact that men tend to be very formulaic in our approach to life. When we hear “pursue vital relationships with other men” and have no real experience at connecting at the heart level with others, it is no wonder that the best we can do is come up with 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 were referenced, however, I realized that most of the verses were calling us to fellowship and genuine community, not accountability.
So is accountability not important? Of course it is. But true accountability is a by-product of genuine, transparent community and was never intended to be “stand-alone”.
Accountability that is not grace-centered and that is done outside the context of genuine, 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 so much time and energy trying to impress others with our strengths. I would submit that for me, my desire to hide behind the mask and not be transparent is in direct proportion to how much I am not believing the Gospel. When I’m not believing the Gospel, I need to believe I’m better than I actually am and do a very good job of constructing all kinds of systems that can lead me to that conclusion.
Because God loves us as we are, we can courageously share our stories and boldly step into the stories of others. This is more in line with the “vital relationships” that Promise Keepers mention in their 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…we think we can do “Lone Ranger Christianity”. 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.
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?