If I'm accountable to you and we both struggle with the same sin we can drift into simply having a "secret club" about our struggles. And then there are the issues that come if I don't struggle with what you're fighting against. I can simply listen, not really understand and say things like, "I'll pray for you."
"For," not "to"
Please understand that these are just my experiences. I'm sure many have had great success with accountability. But I also know that I'm not alone in this. I've heard many stories like mine, of grand intentions that produce little or no actual change.
I honestly think I would have written off "accountability" altogether if it hadn't been for the several years I spent as a professional firefighter. During my first year of training, they used the word accountable often but in a radically different way than the Christianese I'd heard. They too added a little word at the end, but it wasn't "accountable to" but rather "accountable for." We were accountable for each other. It was a complete paradigm shift for me.
You see, when we are in a burning building, firefighters are paired up. We are responsible to get our partner through the emergency and return them back intact. It doesn't matter if your partner made a mistake or a bad judgment call that got him in trouble. You're accountable for him. Period. Get him out of danger. Don't even think about leaving him behind! No excuses, no giving up, no blame, and no certainly no whining. Sure, chew him out later if he made a stupid move, but right now … "We are getting you out of here, my friend!"
When you are accountable for another, you can't ask them to leave a group. You don't get to call a timeout in the middle of an emergency. You have to help them even if it hurts you. And if it comes to it, you trade your life for theirs.
You may get on each other's case later, but friendship at that level can always work through conflict. We don't leave our partners. Not ever. Firefighters use little catch phrases like, "If you go then we both go." And, "Everyone goes home today." They have a keen sense of awareness that the stakes of their job are incredibly high. Firefighters work amongst human suffering. That is also true for men and women in ministry.
One of the core values of the church I pastor is that we as a staff are all accountable for each other. If one of us falls, we are not going to kick them out of the club, staff or church. We are going to stay with each other until we clear the danger. If a staff member falls, they don't automatically lose their job or position. They get the chance to be helped back up on their feet. We believe our mistakes can be just as big "God moments" as the successes in our life.
Accountability, in my life, means I can share the worst parts of my character with my staff and fellow leaders, and in turn, they can share theirs with me. No one gets left behind. No one on this team lives under the cloud of their failure forever.
Tested by fire
Over the years, we have had this principle tested a few times. Once, a young staff member got into some sin that was hurtful to his reputation and to a relationship. Several people in the church found out about it and demanded that he be fired. We all stood together and said, "No way! If he goes, we all go." We met with the disgruntled church members and clearly communicated to them in no uncertain terms that they would lose all of the leaders if they ran this guy off. Our worship leader, support staff, all our youth pastors and every other staff member said they would all quit; they would not be part of a church that needed perfect leaders.