Accountability: The missing ingredient in church

When last did someone ask you the hard accountability question of ‘how goes it with your soul?’ My...

When last did someone ask you the hard accountability question of ‘how goes it with your soul?’ My guess is that it has been a while and even if a close friend did ask us this deep question, many of us would struggle to answer truthfully! One of our modern realities is that we believe we don’t have to answer to anyone for how we live our lives. This has spilled over into our Christian faith. We have pushed for independence and freedom so fiercely that we believe that becoming the captain of our own ship will bring us all the success we need.

But has this really worked for us in our churches and in our personal faith?

Have we wrestled with these words to the early church?

“Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:13

A Growing Frustration

When a young priest named John Wesley realised that his Christian experience was frustratingly inconsistent, he invited a group of friends to hold him accountable in his faith. What was happening below the surface of his Christian veneer, troubled Wesley so much that he felt he couldn’t continue with the status quo any longer. He believed that each Christ-follower was either growing in the grace of Christ or somehow declining. So he resolved to put some measures in place to uphold his commitment to Jesus. In essence he was implying that:

Fellowship without accountability is not helpful for our spiritual journey – accountability is the essential ingredient in all Christian growth!

Our Modern Church Context Lacks Accountability

In reality, we see the same thing happening in our modern church contexts. Christians gather Sunday by Sunday, and at a fleeting glance all may seem to be well, but many of us sense something is missing? A handful of our weekend gatherings may involve deep conversations around issues of faith, but sadly most often our times of worship lack opportunities to share beneath the veneer of spirituality.

As a Pastor, I would defensively suggest that our small groups should be the place where we ‘go deeper’ and hold each other accountable to our journey of faith, but these opportunities can easily morph into times of wonderful fellowship, with very little accountability. We may gather with all the best intentions, but still miss the chance to ask each other ‘how goes it with your soul?’

What Is Hidden Below The Surface?

The illustration of an iceberg is a helpful picture for the topic of accountability. Usually, we only get to see about 10% of a massive iceberg floating on the surface of the ocean – the remaining 90% is hidden beneath the waves. The same could be true of our personal lives.

Most of the world and church only get to see a small fraction of our lives, yet the real ‘us’ lies beneath the surface. We hide many things, either for self-preservation, or fear, or even embarrassment. However, the hidden parts of our lives are the engine room of our thoughts, motives, decisions and actions. And if there is no one to ask us the hard questions, who is going to warn us of the potential dangers lurking in our way?

As Patrick Morley writes,

“Everyday people fail morally, spiritually, relationally, and financially – not because they don’t want to succeed, but because they have blind spots and weak spots, which they believe they can handle on their own.”

But in truth, we can’t handle it on our own. As much as we try to convince ourselves of our sincerity, we all have blind spots. Our hearts may be reluctant to see these issues hidden in the shadows, but they are there. Jeremiah noted that “the heart is deceitful above all else” (Jeremiah 17:9) and David asked “…who can discern their own errors?” (Psalm 19:12)

Helping One Another

Paul recognises that “each of us will be accountable to God” (Romans 14:12). I believe we need to make a choice to be intentionally vulnerable and to invite others to hold us accountable.

When the writer of Hebrews encouraged the church to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24) I believe he was speaking about accountability.

If our goal is to become more Christ-like and to impact our communities for Christ, we need more than just ‘fellowship’ to achieve this.

The apostle Paul advocated for accountability when he wrote “if someone is caught in sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently, but watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted?” (Galatians 6:1). Surely, he was suggesting a depth of accountability that was more than just sitting in the same church building together, week after week. He realised that following Jesus was a difficult thing to do, and that we would make mistakes, but we need to hold each other to a higher standard.

We All Need Accountability

When author and pastor Gordon Macdonald confessed that he had fallen into sin, many people in his church community were shocked, and left asking ‘how did this happen?’ ‘We thought he had his life all together!’ Although he never excused his actions, Gordon admitted that ministry had become a lonely place and that he had no-one to hold him accountable in his Christian walk. Perhaps, people made the false assumption that professional clergy don’t need people to hold them accountable. In truth, every Christian needs someone to hold us accountable.

The Slow Decay

In my experience, Christians very seldom leap into sin in a ‘sudden jump.’ It usually happens because of a slow decay; degree by degree we lose our focus and dependence on Christ, until eventually the façade cracks and we fall hard, and then others are left picking up the broken pieces. Inviting someone to help us examine our thoughts, motives and inner world will be scary, but I believe it is a necessity. Patrick Morley writes,

“We each need someone to help us navigate around the submerged dangers of an unexamined life.”

In the 1950’s Dr William Sangster authored a short pamphlet called the ‘Spiritual Check-up’ which became a wonderful starting point for times of accountability. In his opening remarks Sangster wrote:

“It is good for Christians to have an occasional spiritual check-up and it will cost nothing but honesty.”

When we need a medical check-up, we choose to go to a doctor who can objectively check to see that we are physically healthy and help us to stay that way. The gift of spiritual accountability is based on the same principle – we allow someone else into the depths of our hearts, to probe and keep us as spiritually healthy as possible.

Finding A Christian Accountability Partner

If you feel that your faith has become a little stagnant and you are concerned about your spiritual growth, I urge you to read more around the topic of accountability and then to find a Christian accountability-partner who is willing to begin this journey with you.

I am convinced that our most valuable growth comes in asking ourselves the hard questions of faith.

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Author: Delme Linscott
Delme is a 40 something father, husband, pastor and writer. When he is not busy in the local church he can be found running, surfing or drinking lots of coffee.
Published: 19 July 2022
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