Being Accountable?

John ArmstrongDiscipleship, Freedom, Leadership, Personal, The Christian Minister/Ministry, The Church

Today’s blog is written by guest writer Dr. Stephen R. Crosby. Stephen is the president of a ministry called “Sword of the Kingdom.” You can see his various blogs and learn about him at Sword of the Kingdom. I post this blog for several reasons. First, Stephen is an insightful writer from the background of charismatic and Pentecostal experience who “sees” some things more clearly than other writers I’ve “met” online. Second, this article speaks powerfully to a concern I have as I coach and mentor various independent evangelical movements, leaders and churches. This issue of “accountability” is not limited to one type of church form. Third, there are times that you think about writing something yourself and then you read someone who has said it far better than you could have and you just say, “My friends need to read this article, not something I would write at this point.” This is the case with today’s extremely important blog. 

I hope that many of you will respond to this blog and comment on it here. I also hope many of you will bookmark Stephen Crosby’s site. You will find he often writes really good articles that address concerns common to conservative, evangelical churches and movements. 

Perhaps the only difference I have with Stephen occurs his second footnote regarding the percentage of people who are “born again” inside the church. I would have said the same thing many years ago but I now believe we should exercise caution in making sweeping generalizations. (The parable does suggest that the number of those who are non-productive is high!) The Lord of the harvest, as Stephen would agree, determines those who are his and percentages and guesses by you and me can lead us to have a continually suspicious response to Christians in general. This is why I wrote the chapter “Who Are the Real Christians” in my book, Your Church Is Too Small (Zondervan 2010). 

45ad899294a77e799b07c5a4ab1f323cToo many “accountability programs”–a thoroughly unbiblical concept, see the definition below (1)– betray an underlying mentality of criminality rather than sonship. It is all about being required, as a condition of “membership,” or “discipleship,” “leadership,” or “promotion to position,” to report-in,  on a regular basis, to the equivalent of a spiritual parole officer. This is to make sure you have not misbehaved since the last report in–to measure/”assess” you on how well you have “handled your sin” the previous week. If you have misbehaved, you must show/prove adequate repentance for your sin to your “overseeing authority figure,” (pastor, cell group leader, accountability partner, etc.)  or you will be subject to potential “church discipline,” ranging from mild to severe.

A criminal will never be transparent with a cop. He will just lie to protect himself, because the cop has the authority to punish without affection. But a son with a father can be transparent, because a son is secure (or should be) in his father’s love, and his  father is never surprised by his son’s nakedness–he has seen it before . . . many times. He is not interested in punishing without affection. A father’s chastisement is for development unto purpose, not punishment for underperforming to the “standard of God’s Word.”

I have known many young people who were part of high accountability, discipleship/mentorship type programs. Years after they were no longer in those programs, they confessed to me privately that they just lied their way through the whole program. They knew what was “expected” by “leadership,” they knew the “game they had to play” to get promoted to leadership opportunities, and they just played it.  They gave the leaders what they wanted. Others confessed to me that they just performed to the expected behavioral standards as long as they were formally in the program. When they were no longer in the “program” they simply went back to doing what they wanted to do.

I know of a very well-known “Evangelical” ministry that has a 56-page “accountability” manual of behavioral rules and expectations for “discipleship candidates.” This is complete with a self-curse at the end which the candidate must sign, imploring God’s severe judgments to fall on the candidate should he or she ever violate one of the requirements!

I know of another young people’s “discipleship” program that had a list of over seventy requirements of discipleship/accountability. The irony in this situation was one of the “requirements” was to make sure to honor sabbath rest! Good grief, you would be so exhausted from trying to be “accountable” to the other items that you would collapse from mental and spiritual exhaustion!

I know of another situation where the “church” had a 40-page, 8.5″x 11″ double sided manual on the “roles and duties of a pastor’s wife,” (How many scriptures are there on that topic? NONE!) that was the “accountability” standard for that group. Not surprisingly, I dealt with women from that group who were having complete personality/nervous breakdowns under the weight of such bondage.

These things are COMMON, and they are the fruit of preaching and teaching “accountability” when love, safety, and trust are absent.

You cannot accomplish with well-intended “behavioral supervision” careful “sin management” and efficient “discipleship program administration” for what is absent in heart bonding and love. When love is real and present, you do not need accountability programs because love compels transparency with those who have proven themselves to be “spiritually safe” people. When we are safe and welcome in each other’s hearts, there is no need to police behavior like holiness hall monitors in a high school. Love welcomes. Love invites. Love is all you need.

“Accountability” is the poor man’s substitute for when you are “too busy” to invest relationally in people, trying to accomplish with the force of command authority, positional authority, delegated authority (care groups, etc.) program administration, and a thin veneer of “caring” for you, by helping you “manage your sin,” for what should be the logical overflow of abounding love between hearts knit together in love.

If there is a problem with ungodly behavior with individuals in a community, what is needed is not “discipleship” or “accountability” programs. What is needed is a self-reflective assessment of:

A) Are people really converted? I am convinced 75% of those in “church” who say they are, are not. (2) You cannot expect godly, transformed behavior out of unconverted people. Godly behavior out of uncoverted people is like trying to herd cats. It is not in the nature of the cat to be herded, and without a genuine, new creation nature, the best that will happen is sin management based on human will power, which is itself . . . sin.

B) Why is love and family affection is so absent in our relationships? Because God’s love has transformative power. Discipleship is based on hearts knit together in love. Take away that, and you are left with something very ugly and abusive, regardless of how many Bible proof texts we may use to justify our efforts.

So the next time someone asks you if you are “accountable,” smile broadly and tell them “no.” If folks can get over the shock, it might open up a very profitable conversation.


1. Accountable–dictionary definition: required or expected to justify actions or decisions; subject to giving an account; a record of debit and credit entries to cover transactions involving a particular item or a particular person or concern.

There is nothing in scripture to indicate this kind of relationship between believers, or between “believers” and their “leaders.”  What men call “being accountable” the scriptures call encouraging one another in love. We are not reporting in to spiritual bookkeepers, wardens, or parole officers. We are walking this thing together in love.

2. Before he passed, Dr. D. James Kennedy said 75% of the folks in churches are not born again. He is hardly a “negative, extreme,  and reactionary” voice. My experience matches his, and matches the parable of the seeds and the sower. Only one in four seeds sown bore genuine kingdom fruit.

Copyright 2013,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact Permission was granted to ACT3 Network to repost this blog without changes.