When I was younger I attended an "accountability group" for a while. It was made of several unmarried men in their early twenties who wanted to stay accountable to each other for things men struggle with. That's a softball way to say we were supposed to stop each other from watching porn, having sex, getting drunk, or doing anything else that seemed sinful.
It didn't work at all. Sure, it all sounded great, but it quickly became apparent that mere accountability wouldn't compensate for what we lacked in character and maturity. Each week, we would meet for an hour or so and confess our bad thoughts and deeds. Every week, some of us would do good and some not so good. But for one young guy, every week was an epic fail. He had developed an addition to porn at a very young age, as well as some drug addictions, so he was just a real mess.
As the year went on, several of the guys got more and more frustrated with him. They would accuse him of not even trying or not loving God enough to change. Each time he would tearfully apologize, but he seemed unable to overcome. It all came to a head one day when I was asked to come to the group an hour early so we could discuss something. When I showed up, the only guy not invited to that secret meeting was our struggling friend. During our discussion, I realized we had been brought in before him so we could all agree to ask him to leave our accountability group. The reasons seemed logical. They threw around scriptures about knowing people by their fruits and such. I listened and agreed that he really didn't fit. After all, if he wasn't going to even try then he shouldn't be with those of us who are trying to become better Christians. When he arrived, we broke the news to him. He was upset, but overall, very understanding. He left that day and never came back to the group. At least, I think that's what happened. I never went back either. Of course, my reasons were different.
You see, I never went back because, unlike him, I had never been truthful to those guys anyway. I was sleeping with my girlfriend and wouldn't tell them because they knew her, her dad, family and all her friends. I justified it because I loved her and we were going to get married … and we did. Even for those who did admit failing in an area, there wasn't anything we could do or say that really left an impact. Should we lecture them, tell them to pray harder or just slap them? No, we all just listened and said to "keep trying."
You won't do better next time.
After that whole experience, I really hated hearing the word "accountability" thrown around in church leadership situations. Many times, it was used by the older leaders to control younger staff by letting them know who was in charge or how they could be punished if their obedience or behavior displeased those to whom they were accountable. Accountability began to be used as a tool to manipulate people into being quiet and not questioning things we did not really agree with or understand. Mostly, the phrase I heard was "accountable to …" It really is funny how much it is used considering it is only in the Bible a few times. Honestly, I began to have less respect for that word when I saw how it was put into use.
Michael Cheshire is the senior pastor of The Journey Community Church in Conifer, Colorado.