Maybe this is a uniquely Millennial situation, but I remember that everyone and their duck got accountability partners in college. If someone was struck down suddenly by a sin struggle, usually sexual, the sure fix was to get an accountability partner.
I was frustrated with my accountability experience while in college. I was the one primarily in sin, and my accountability partner was disappointed when I would sin. I became incredibly ashamed to talk to her about my struggles, and we both ended up avoiding one another. My shame fueled more repeat sin.
Neither one of us were good accountability partners, though.
We were concerned with fixing behavior rather than dealing with the heart. We wanted change without prayer and biblical confession. We didn’t encourage one another, and we certainly didn’t point one another to Christ. We were doing too little, too late.
When To Find Accountability
No one should be waiting to find accountability once a bonfire of sin starts. Accountability should be happening regularly, through all seasons of life. An ideal situation would be that you meet with your accountability partner(s) once a week face to face for an intentional time of confession and encouragement.
That ideal would include being able to see them casually throughout the week, and feeling freedom to send them messages when you’re struggling, need prayer, and to also check on them and care for them. This ensures that you’re actually living life together and seeking to “encourage one another every day, as long as it is called today” (from Hebrews 3:13).
Who Is Ideal for Accountability
A good accountability partner isn’t some random Christian friend you decide to confess your sin to, or someone you want to help fix. There are different types of relationships within the Christian community, including discipleship and mentorship, but accountability partners should be mutually encouraging.
You want your accountability partner to have a firm understanding of the Gospel and be able to understand that you are a redeemed sinner, being sanctified every day, but also failing everyday. (No one is capable of loving the Lord with the whole heart every single second of the day. We all fall short of the glory of God. Nor do any of us abide in Christ every second of every day).
I prefer accountability partners I fellowship with corporately every Sunday, and love it when my accountability partners are in my small group. At one church where I was a member in the US, all the women in my small group acted as accountability to one another. It was a sweet, refreshing, sin-killing group.
Currently I have five accountability partners. My husband, one woman at my church and in my small group I’m teaching how to have accountability, one woman who lives in my neighborhood who was in a non-church based small group, one woman who lives in my neighborhood who I’m teaching how to have accountability, and one woman who is older than me who matches my husband and I in purpose of life, but loving elsewhere in a different capacity.
How To Have Accountability
So you’ve got an accountability partner, but how are times of intentional accountability used?
The structure of my accountability times typically look like this:
- We ask one another about life, especially things that might have been shared about from the previous time we met. It’s a lighthearted, natural way to start. When appropriate, rejoice with them in victories.
- After two or three minutes, if we haven’t already gotten into confessing sin, we’ll ask one another, “How have you been doing?”One of us will share our sin, temptations, struggles, and any insight we already have about why we might be struggling with that sin.
- The listening partner encourages the confessing partner, “Thank you for sharing with me. I can see how that’s hard. I’m thankful God gave you the grace to reveal that sin to you.”
- The listening partner then asks questions based on biblical principles and to seek understanding. Accountability partners should try to avoid assumptions about specific struggles. Even if the partner has dealt with a similar sin or struggle, it does not mean the sin has the same root.For example, two people could be gluttonous. One person may be gluttonous because she is in absolute rebellion and doesn’t care that she’s not caring for her body. The other person who is gluttonous may do it in cycles. She uses the time of gluttony for comfort instead of turning to Christ for comfort. Same sinful actions, different root causes.It’s important to help your accountability partner figure out what the root of a sin is in order to repent from that sin. Without understanding the root of sin, it’s hard to battle the sin. Again, just dealing with the behavior of sin only changes behavior, not the heart.
- If understanding of the battle is reached, the partner who has listened and asked questions has any wisdom or verses to share that would help battle, this is the time to share.If understanding of the battle is NOT reached due to gaps or confusion from the confessing partner, the listening partner should point to the Gospel for hope, that the Holy Spirit can and will reveal sin and its root.
- Pray together, and go back through step 2-5 for the other partner.
- End in prayer and a hug. In most situations, with the exception of newer believers learning how to be an accountability partner or after an appropriate rebuke, you should leave feeling encouraged rather than condemned.
NEVER say things like:
- “I would never do that, how could you?”
- “I didn’t realize someone could struggle with that.”
- “Why don’t you just stop doing that?!”
- “I’m just really frustrated with you.”
- “I’m good. I didn’t sin this week.”
- “This verse points to that God’s wrath will be poured out on sinners if they do not repent.” (The whole point of someone confessing is that they want to repent and run.)
- Challenge or rebuke one another to look more closely at a sin struggle if there has been lack of any progress or victory over the course of two to three weeks. Use discernment and pray before rebuking.
- Remember that everyone falls short of the glory of God, and no one will be without sin on this side of eternity, including you.
- Confess your sin in full and in detail. Keeping secrets and hiding information builds false vulnerability.
- Grieve in a godly way over your sin and over your partner’s sin.
Throughout the week, message your accountability partner. Ask them how they are doing with one of the sins they confessed. Tell them you are praying for them. Confess or ask for prayer if you have had any struggles that week, too.
When my accountability times changed to being focused on the Gospel and loving one another through Christ, I actually wanted to see my accountability partners. Confessing sin wasn’t burdensome, though we still grieve with one another over our sin.
I also started to see genuine change in my walk with Christ and in fighting sin when accountability looked like this. I also saw change in my partners’ lives, which is incredibly encouraging.
If you’d like to investigate in detail what it looks like to care for another sinner while remaining Gospel-centered, Bobby recommends Instrument In The Reedemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp.
If you have any questions you would like to ask Bobby or Vanessa, please send a message to us via social media, comment below, or send an email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com
Photo: Anna Levinzon (Flickr)