The word “accountability” stirs up lots of different feelings in people, not all positive. If you have been around any kind of Christian group, particularly a men’s group, you’ve heard about accountability. We think, “I just need to be accountable to someone so I can kick this porn habit.” Or we hear, “If you would just find an accountability partner, you will find victory over whatever it is you are struggling with.” I have heard some version of these sentences more times than I can count.
And I have tried the prescribed medication of accountability. I have met with groups of men and one on one to be accountable to one another. What most often happens is it becomes an exercise in reporting how we have been “bad” or fallen into sin to one another. This can be somewhat helpful for a season, but something seems to be lacking after a while.
At first, it can be really healing and sometimes very emotional and intense. To talk about the things that we have been so bound up in secrecy and shame over feels really good and right. Confession and repentance are beautiful and holy. Over time, a number of things happen that take us away from that intense beginning.
We have a short-term goal for accountability.
If we are honest, what most of us really want is a short season of accountability, where we can get our act together and then go back to being strong, independent people who don’t need accountability anymore. This is problematic, because we are designed for ongoing relationship that goes deep and includes our struggles and temptations. Sometimes, almost as soon as we start sharing honestly, we are planning our exit back to independence (and a repeat of the same problems).
Addiction leads us to pull away
If we are dealing with an addiction, that doesn’t just go away because we confessed it to someone. In fact, being vulnerable brings us closer to feeling what our hearts most desire… to be known, loved and accepted. Our addictions are what we use to protect ourselves from feeling those very things, because we have been rejected and hurt. Feeling “connected” feels good but also terrifying. We want to run when we need to press in.
We don’t have a clear vision for more than confession and repentance.
That initial rush of “coming clean” feels so good and so right. We talk about our impure thoughts or behaviors that are sinful and bring us shame. Over time, we are left wanting more. We start to realize that our behaviors are right at the surface of something more going on underneath. This is a whole other level of vulnerability, talking about heart’s desires and longings. And what do I talk about if I’ve had a good week? Is it okay to be okay?
In his book Surfing for God, Michael Cusick has a few things to say about accountability, or rather accessibility (Are we allowing our hearts to be accessed?). He describes three types of accountability, two that are common and one that is less so.
“With the cop accountability strategy, I believe that by sharing my sin with someone, I will have greater incentive to choose what is right. It’s about avoidance of shame. This form of accountability is a gospel of sin management that is all too common and fraught with problems.”1
While this may be a starting place for many seeking freedom, the major problem with cop accountability is that it does not address the heart. It only addresses the behaviors we choose to divulge. If addiction is part of the problem, then so is deception. Addicts have spent so much time convincing themselves and others that there isn’t a problem that the deception is difficult to drop. When the heart and internal motivations are not addressed, then the behaviors and deception continue.
“Finally, the man who lives under the cop accountability approach will fail in one of two ways. He will suffer from a chronic send of failing to measure up, which only serves to reinforce shameful core beliefs. Or he will succumb to pride (similar to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day) resulting from his mastery of sin.” 2
“Our accountability partner plays the role of instructor, trainer, and coach, who helps us manage our lives so we can keep moving forward.”3
While this sounds great and is definitely an improvement over cop accountability, here we can get wrapped up in a “works” mentality of doing good and being good based on our own efforts. It is exhausting.
“This approach implies that if we give it enough effort, time, and attention, we can earn a victory over sin and make our lives work. This “try harder” emphasis concerns itself less with sin management and more about the relentless effort to be good. It is a gospel of inspiration.”4
“In the cardiologist approach we move from accountability to accessibility. We expose our hiddenness, but more than that, we acknowledge our brokenness. Instead of trying to manage our sin, or be inspired to obey, we recognize our need for transformation. We begin to allow God, and a few others, to walk into the messiness of our lives, and we learn that we are more than the sum of our brokenness.”5
When I read this last quote from Cusick, my heart said, “Yes! That is what I want and need.” But this is also the most difficult way forward. There isn’t a “to do” list to check off. Another conference or another book or another counselor isn’t the solution (although they can be great tools). The problem is when we try and make the tools into the solution. They are supposed to help us along our way, not to become “the way”.
I encourage you (and me) to seek out people who want to walk into the messiness of your life. God and other people need to be given access to our hearts. We must expose or sin, and yet be willing to share our deepest pain and desire as well. We are more than our sin, so let’s discover who we are together.
1Michael John Cusick, Surfing for God: Discovering the Divine Desire Beneath Sexual Struggle (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012), 183.
Executive DirectorIn the spring of 1995, the conflict Roger felt between his faith and his sexuality, as well as an addiction to pornography, led him to WGA. His personal journey has provided him unique insights into sexuality and the pain of adversity, which he shares through his testimony, facilitation of small groups, writing and public speaking. Roger began working with WGA in October of 1996 as the Assistant office Manager. Since that time, he has worn many hats and served in several different positions, including Assistant Program Director and Operations Director. In April of 2007, Roger assumed the position of Executive Director. Roger attended West Texas A&M University, where he studied Music Business. Much of his training has been “on the job,” where he was mentored by the ministry’s Founder, Mary Heathman, and the Program Director, Scott Kingry. He holds a BA from West Texas A&M University. Roger, his wife Jill, and their daughter Julia and son William, attend Celebration Community Church where Jill serves as Associate Pastor.
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