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).
Too 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, http://www.swordofthekingdom.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Permission was granted to ACT3 Network to repost this blog without changes.
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“What men call “being accountable” the scriptures call encouraging one another in love.”—Thank you John for the post.
James H Kim liked this on Facebook.
Thought provoking to say the least. I appreciate seasoned pastors weighing in honestly on this subject. I have monitored a situation for several years that is very disappointing at best. Accountability is at the root of what I have witnessed. My question, how do you deal biblically with a rouge pastor, who displays behavior that is contrary to the heart of love reality? Thank you for your post!
I stand with you in seeking unity among the brethren. So much conversation in the Body tears down rather than builds up. There is a place for honesty and confrontation but must be guided by love. Paul confronted Peter but it was a critical issue. Love covers a multitude of sins. If we would just act more like Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, unity would result.
Thanks to both John and Stephen for an article I will need to read a couple of more times to absorb fully but is spot on. Regarding the percentages I don’t know how many are Christian, but the great day will probably show us how many were stunted by bad experiences where Christian love was disfunctional as well as how many were and were not Christian. Thanks for the thoughtful and I believe wise article.
this is really well stated…and a much needed corrective to abusive relationships founded more on control and manipulation than grace and truth. thanks John and Stephen!
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Very thought-provoking. Like you, Dr. Armstrong, I would hesitate to put a percentage on how many people within any church are truly saved. Only the Lord knows those who are his (2 Timothy 2:19). However, if we know a brother or sister who professes Christ and yet is living in unrepentant sin, I believe we have a responsibility to gently approach them (Galatians 6:1, James 5:20). Before doing so, we should examine our own hearts and ask the Lord for wisdom to speak the truth in love. I agree that official “accountability programs” are unhelpful at best and can be very dangerous. On the Day of Judgment, we will all be accountable to God Himself (Romans 14:10-12, Hebrews 4:13). With this in mind, we should “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).
Holly, I completely agree with your line of thinking and the practice it should lead us to embrace. We can even reach a point where church discipline becomes necessary yet even then we cannot say, “This person is not a believer.” As a pastor I practiced church discipline and believe in it. I saw more than one repentant person recovered and several who came to saving faith as a result of the act of loving care and call to repentance.
Well written and much needed article John. Some in my arena have suggested a need for something similar to Dr. Crosby’s observation, a “56-page “accountability” manual of behavioral rules and expectations for “discipleship candidates.”
This is an expression of the Law, not an expression of the gospel, in my mind. Such things will only do more harm. And I am against creating such schemes. They actually do more to foster harmful activity because people find the loop-holes and feel justified as long as they aren’t breaking the rules. That isn’t gospel faith as I know it. It would be better to just become a Jew in this case.
The best accountability in my opinion is open. honest friendship built around trust and mutual dialogue. People who refuse to engage in open dialogue are the most harmful in my experience. We must walk in the light as Christ-followers, and part of that is not just God’s light but the light of each other’s honest words.
Sorry for the long soapbox, but this hits near and dear to me. I’m so weary of people in religious power who don’t realize there is a big difference between “covering over” and “covering up”.
The soapbox is welcome.
I also contend that dialogue is essential for accountability, and for unity. Silence kills trust, stifles joy, strains friendship, allows love to wither away and encourages suspicion to foster. Christianity without dialogue is merely a form of godliness that lacks power.
Brian Karcher liked this on Facebook.
I am saddened by the examples you gave. I sense that God is establishing a standard of lavish abundance of life in individuals that will spread as people lay down their rules and in faith run to surrender and drink in the lavish abundance of the Holy Spirit and feasting with the Spirit on His word. Anything not overflowing with this is in need of replenishing. The light of the kingdom grows in this environment of surrender to God’s plan of purity and being the conduit that overflows with his lavish presence. He custom designs the lifeline we need and it is really simply, obedience with faith and expectation of his goodness.
An interesting article. I have long been uncomfortable with the notion of “accountability” to a group or a person at church. We are accountable to God not to some group with their own issues and limitations.
Thanks, John, for this post. I have experienced “accountability” practiced in church that amounts to legalisms, guilt-tripping, coercion, top down directives and spiritual abuse. The problem may be that such accountability is implemented from the top, rather than genuinely sought by the one being discipled or mentored.
Yet I would personally regard accountability as being important for each Christian. I have told the men in church whom I have known for more than a decade that I am accountable to them, and I give them permission to speak to me and call me out if ever they consider that I have said, done, or made decisions that they found troubling. Personally, I find such accountability necessary and helpful for me. I would do the same for them, as long as they are willing and open to it.