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Accountability is a commendable idea, but for many it lacks the depth to hold us to our intentions. Like anything worth doing, it's only useful if we have some skin in the game. For example, if I say something rude to a clerk I don't know at a store I'm rarely in, I can move on from that situation pretty easily. I don't have to care about it. But if I say those same rude words to my wife or a friend, I am eventually forced to deal with it because of my proximity to them on a daily basis. And there can be even more forces pushing me in accountability because I genuinely do care about their feelings and how they think of me. That poor clerk I'm rude to in the store is out of sight, and out of my character "care zone." Oh well, sorry, God. I'll do better next time.

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.

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Michael Cheshire is the senior pastor of The Journey Community Church in Conifer, Colorado.

Posted: February 25, 2013

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Displaying 2–6 of 44 comments


March 04, 2013  5:46am

'At some point, I just think that the church has got to be a church for the leaders, too. They need protection and healing as much as anyone else in the congregation. At times, they need even more.' Absolutely. 'We all go home today.' Even the pastor.

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David Hood

March 01, 2013  11:32am

This is exactly the point that is made by a new movie I saw called Home Run(it's not in theaters until April). It's not the typical "faith" film as it is pretty honest about how difficult it is to 'get right' when sin takes hold (in this case the main character is an alcoholic who goes through a 12 step program). I think this movie will get alot of Christians thinking differently.

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Roy Yanke

February 27, 2013  9:10am

This is a powerful paradigm shift that most churches and beleievers are not comfortable with. I heartily agree with the approach. It would be another way for the church to " heal" its wounded, instead of shooting them. Our ministry of restoration is built around this model of grace. www.pirministries.org

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February 26, 2013  4:27pm

100% agree! I think if I would have been a part of a team like this I may very well still be in ministry today. I didn't even have a public failure and yet I still grew tired of the back biting and venom that came against me as a church leader. As a church leader I was forced into this fake life that everyone could look at as a model of perfection. No matter how unrealistic it was. People needed me to be the super Christian. One day I realized that I wasn't and I quit. I have fallen back in love with God and his grace since then and articles like this make me think there may just be a place for me in ministry again some day.

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Ron S

February 26, 2013  4:14pm

Gary, I think you are missing the point here. There is a massive difference between running someone off and someone leaving because of their failure to apply the gospel. I think being a pastor may give me better insight here, but I can tell you that all pastors understand that when someone decides to leave our church we must let them go. We can't cling to these people as if they were ours alone. As leaders we are called to stand up for the one being pushed around and choose not to let the nay sayers and detractors bother us.

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