Too Much Accountability?

ImageThe other day, Rachel was talking to a friend of hers about church. The conversation flowed, touching on everything from music to children’s programs to their own personal involvement in the church’s ministry. Soon, the topic led to them discussing a mutual friend who went to still another church, and the following line was said to my wife:

“Yeah, they haven’t really been going to church lately because there’s too much accountability. 

When Rachel repeated that to me, I was floored. Too much accountability? Too MUCH accountability? Is that even possible?

Read through the Scriptures and you’ll find verse after verse telling us to keep each other accountable. We’re told to encourage each other (1 Thess. 5:11), rebuke each other (Gal. 6:1), correct each other (Colossians 3:16), teach each other (Rom. 15:14), pray for each other (James 5:16), and on and on. The idea is that our Christian lives aren’t lived in a vacuum; we need the community of believers, the fellowship of the church, in order to grow. As iron sharpens iron and all that.

But when I began thinking about the statement, I understood. Sometimes in church we have a bad habit of calling judgmentalism accountability. Under the guise of holding others accountable, we project our personal preferences and standards onto other people and then measure them accordingly. Didn’t wear a tie this Sunday? Didn’t raise your hands in worship? Read from the wrong translation? Said something too old fashioned? Asked for grace after breaking a rule?

To spoof off a line from The Brady Bunch, “Guilty, guilty, guilty.”

Jesus said that we would know our fellow Christians by the fruit that they bear, but He didn’t give us permission to critique the type. Accountability is something that flows from relationship: our relationship with Christ and our relationship with each other. Sometimes it gets ugly; sometimes, we have to speak frankly to someone who is living in direct defiance of God, and that can get unpleasant. That’s accountability at its hardest and its finest, and it takes a mature, humble, and seasoned believer to speak the truth in love.

But when our accountability is merely thinly disguised bullying, that’s not accountability at its worst, that’s just flat out sin in our own hearts.

When it comes to the proper attitude for holding others accountable, James E. Orr, in a hymn influenced by Psalm 139, said it best:

Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.

I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival, start the work in me;
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

May we be guided by God’s Word, prompted by His Holy Spirit, and loving with our hearts this week as we walk with our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we call sin, sin whenever we see it, but may we remember to offer grace as our Savior did – and does – with us.

2 thoughts on “Too Much Accountability?

  1. I have also seen a trend in our churches over the last 10 years. People will visit a church for a long time and never join, because joining a church will add accountability to them. They won’y be asked to serve on a ministry team or teach if they never join. Alvin Reed’s book Raising the Bar is a good read for anyone who wants to try and raise the level of accountablity for their church and ministry. Great post Jason.

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    1. John – I think for a lot of younger people, there is a backlash against accountability. The young woman mentioned in the article clearly felt like accountability meant that someone else had the power to dictate her life (there were additional comments that I couldn’t add without revealing too much information concerning the parties involved). If that’s what people think Biblical accountability is, then it’s no wonder they run!

      But you’re right to point out that when we dumb things down and expect nothing from our people, we get nothing from our people. Having high expectations for the Body of Christ isn’t wrong – it’s crucial. We just have to be studious in making sure that those high standards hew to the Biblical standard than our own personal preferences.

      Love the comment, brother, as always. But I have to ask: how do you have time to read the stuff I put out when you’re freshly enrolled in seminary? Don’t you have enough to read? 🙂

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