I’ve written often about accountability. I’ve shared frequent conversations with people who are hesitant to show compassion in case it is mistaken for approval of what someone is doing. I’ve challenged readers to not separate the components of the biblical direction to speak the truth in love. In essence, if you can’t keep love in the equation, speaking the truth is not the directive. You can’t pick which parts of the directive are more comfortable for you.
As part of the same discussions, accountability comes up. I hear, “We need to not be scared or bullied out of holding people accountable. We need to not worry about offending someone, because we are helping when we correct them. If we don’t call people out, we fail people in the church.” Yes, of course I’m referring to the church. After all, speaking the truth in love is biblical. It’s something those in the Christian faith are directed to do. We can’t expect those who don’t believe the Bible to live by the same directives. We can’t expect someone to receive what they don’t embrace. It doesn’t mean speaking the truth in love won’t make a different in someone’s life. That’s their choice. And we know God has way more influence than we do. But I’m primarily talking about accountability within the church. Of course, there are differences among us. That’s more obvious in today’s culture than I’ve ever experienced in my life. But there are always differences. We might be talking about seismic differences or minute ones. How do we handle those differences?
And perhaps that’s a good place to start. Accountability isn’t about differences. We don’t hold people accountable to what we believe. We hold people accountability to truth. And we hold people accountability with truth. In other words, truth saturates both the content and process of accountability. And truth requires humility, because truth isn’t ours; it’s God’s. We can only know and reflect truth when we become less of us and more of him. We empty ourselves and let him fill us. If we approach accountability with any other motive, we get it wrong. (Even with our intent of humility, we will get it wrong at times. I know I certainly have!)
Maybe holding others accountable is the wrong phrasing. It’s actually more that we invite accountability. We have somehow come to see accountability as correction that presents a fix. It’s a crossroads, where we present a decision. If people choose wrong, they are…wrong. Accountability has become such a harsh thing when it’s not. It’s not the tough conversation at the height or depth of an issue; it’s a process. It’s a relationship. Accountability is encouragement. Yes, encouragement sometimes includes some tough words. We encourage someone to make corrections and change. But that’s not what saturates and characterizes accountability. It is relational. It’s a process. Accountability is a walking alongside someone.
When we’re in it for the long haul, we know each other. We respect each other. We listen to each other. We still might not like the hard truths we face each other with, but we are rarely repelled. The trust we’ve developed becomes our safety net. So, you want the church to have more accountability? Build relationships, and not just the ones that are comfortable. Trust God to lead you into the relationships you need, and let me assure you: it won’t be one way. You’ll hear some things along the journey you don’t want to hear about yourself. You’ll be challenged to change. And if you get offended and dismiss someone? It’s possible that person is off track, but it’s also very possible you need to hear and apply exactly what is being said to you.
I’ve heard someone say, “They don’t get to tell me what to do, because they’ve never cared much anyway.” It could be true, but maybe it’s a problem of us noticing and receiving their care. We don’t get to determine how everyone communicates and reaches out. We want people to give us what we want, how we want it, when we want it. That’s not how it works. Not when you invite accountability.
Accountability isn’t just about making everything right in the end. It’s about the process of following God through it all. You might learn more about God and yourself than you ever speak into anyone’s life. If you get mad about that, get humble. If you want accountability in the church, you want God in the church, and he doesn’t always respond when and how and through whom you want. But he knows what he’s doing. He’s the one who decided accountability was a good idea. If we focus on getting it right with him, we’ll get a little better at it with others.
Let’s do it. Invite accountability in your relationships, and steep them all with encouragement.