The Beauty of Accountability
What can seem unpleasant in a given moment can produce a multitude of blessings.
The Final Chapter of Bonhoeffer’s Life Together is titled ‘Confession and Communion.’ Right out the gate Bonhoeffer quotes James 5:16 which states “confess your faults to one another.” This immediately got me thinking about the concept of accountability. Accountability is defined as the fact or condition of being accountable; being held responsible for one’s own actions.
Today, April 20, 2021, the term accountability carries a lot of weight. It has been thrown around a bit as Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis Police Department officer was convicted on three different charges in the death of George Floyd in May 2020. When one hears the word accountability, they think of one being punished for commiting a crime against the public, another person, or against property. But in the faith community, there is another type of accountability. This type of accountability requires a great amount of trust from both parties involved.
Accountability in this sense can take shape in a number of ways. Often times we think about sexual sin when speaking of accountability. This is often the most common example used. For example, one who struggles with such sin might enter into an accountability relationship with a friend or other trusted peer or elder. Such a peer or elder might check in on the person periodically do see how they are doing. If trust exists in the relationship, the person will be honest. This involves, as James puts it, confessing your faults one to another. You seek to break free from sexual sin when entering into this type of relationship.
Accountability relationships are not necessarily always about sin. They can be great for keeping business leaders accountable to the people they lead. One notable example is Joel Manby, who has previously served in high ranking roles for a number for companies, including SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, and Herschend Family Entertainment (think Dollywood). During his time in college, he entered into an accountability relationship with a few close friends, related to their conduct in business. They have remained in touch over the years, even having annual golf outings. He makes mention of this in his book, ‘Love Works.’ It is a great book about the practice of servant leadership in the world of secular business.
Another example is in my own life. I have a close friend keeping me accountable to keep up with my schoolwork. Sometimes I experience burnout and need someone to remind me I still have stuff to accomplish, and I need to make sure I am planning accordingly. We establish a set of goals every week, and it is my responsibility to report every evening how the day went and how my weekly goals are looking. I receive positive and negative feedback based on what I have to report. Though negative feedback in this situation is unpleasant (typically involves giving up streaming and social media), it often breeds many blessings, including increased energy, better productivity, and better sleep.
While admitting one’s faults to another, no matter how close the relationship, is difficult, it also releases pressure. It takes weight off the shoulders. What you confess is no longer eating you alive, it is no longer a weapon for the enemy. The enemy preys on your pride, forcing you to feel ashamed of your faults. Confession breeds humility, a force far more powerful against the enemy. Confession and humility also breed trust, another powerful force against the enemy.
Accountability, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant also breeds growth. Another common source of accountability is pornography. It is something that many men of faith struggle with at one point in their life or another. The purpose of an accountability relationship in this case begins with the confession of the struggle, thus taking power away from the enemy to breed shame. Confession is the first step into overcoming the challenge and the addiction. Some counseling professionals have said that addiction to pornography is more powerful than that of nicotine. One would enter into such an agreement with the goal of overcoming and beating the addiction.
Accountability in this sense is something we should strive for in the criminal justice system. The purpose of accountability isn’t simply to punish, it is to restore, and to grow. I have had several classes with Dr. Churchville, and for one of them, prior to COVID, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a drug court session. This is a criminal justice reform I would love to see everywhere, where people who commit crimes to sustain addictions are able to go through a program that focuses on beating the addiction and rebuilding one’s life. This is something we as the faith community should speak up about. Unfortunately, many of us have a bloodlust for punishment rather than for restoration.
At the end of the day, accountability, while rarely pleasant, is an important part of the daily life for the Christian man or woman. Confession should be a regular part of this, both to follow what James tells us, but also to breed humility. When we confess our faults and sins to one another, the power that the enemy has to use those against us is gone. It can no longer bring us shame.