In this post we’ll talk about accountability: what it looks like, how to get started, and what to watch out for. Let’s begin with a definition.
What is accountability?
Accountability is a helping-each-other-out sort of relationship where we help each other achieve goals by asking the question, “Did you do what you said you would do?” Or in the case of breaking a habit–did you not do what you said you wouldn’t do?
With Christian accountability, the goals are often related to our relationship with God and others: doing something (or not doing something) so we can love God and others better.
Why is an accountability partner important?
It’s important because sometimes we need a gentle push to follow through on our goals. If we know someone is going to ask us, “Did you do that?” we’ll be far more likely to do it. For things we’re trying not to do, accountability helps us with discipline. If we know someone will be asking us what we did, we’re less likely to give in to temptation.
Are there different types of accountability?
There are many different ways to do accountability. Here are a few of them:
- An ongoing accountability group. You may have a small group of close friends (1-4) who meet regularly for fellowship, prayer, and accountability. Ideally, this group would be a local group so that you could really enter into each other’s lives, share your problems, offer support, build each other up, and encourage each other.
- A specific purpose, limited-time accountability partner or group. Sometimes we need accountability for a limited time to work on one goal. Maybe you have a weight loss group where you hold each other accountable to what you ate that week. Or maybe you’re working on a renewing of the mind project and you want to ask someone to hold you accountable to renew your mind for a specific length of time for a specific goal. Or maybe you’re married and attracted to someone other than your spouse. You might ask someone to hold you accountable to not even thinking about that person so you won’t fall into temptation. This accountability can take place by email, phone, text, or in person. With this type of accountability, you don’t necessarily have to know the person well, you just have to be committed to contacting them each day.
- A deep friendship where you talk about spiritual things. In a sense, a close friendship often becomes an accountability of sorts. If you have a close friend who is willing to talk to you when he or she sees something amiss in your life, she’s holding you accountable just by bringing those things up.
- A church fellowship. Ideally, your church should be a place where you feel comfortable in sharing your struggles and asking for help. It should also be a place where your fellow church members aren’t afraid to challenge you in a loving, grace-filled way. It’s almost impossible to have this happen though unless your church is very small or unless you get involved in a small group in your church. Accountability works best in close relationships.
How do I find an accountability partner?
The simple answer is, “Start asking!” Make a list of people you can ask and then start asking. In order to do this you may have to go out of your comfort zone and you’ll also have to risk them saying no.
If they do say no, don’t take it personally. Not everyone wants to open themselves up to that level of vulnerability, nor does everyone want to work on transformation. Also, the person you ask may already have an accountability partner.
Is there anything I should look for in an accountability partner?
Here are a few things I would look for:
- Someone who is interested in growth.
- Someone who will be honest with you.
- Someone who will remember to ask you.
- Someone who will give you grace when you fail.
How do we get started?
- Begin by setting a time for how long you plan to hold each other accountable: 4 to 6 weeks is a nice beginning length.
- Then establish how often you’ll report to each other. In most cases I’ve found that daily accountability works best. However I’ve been doing weekly to-do-list accountability with a friend for probably half a year now where we just email each other our weekly to-do lists (in Evernote) and then at the end of the week we email each other our list with all the check marks in place to show how much of the list we accomplished that week. So it will depend somewhat on what you’re holding each other accountable for.
- Establish what you’ll report each day. For example, if you’re working on breaking a habit, you may report whether or not you followed your boundaries that day and whether or not you renewed your mind once you broke your boundaries.
- Establish the method you’ll use to report – email, text, phone, or in person.
- Start holding each other accountable.
Anything else I should do or be aware of?
Here are just a few thoughts I had from my own experiences with accountability.
- If your partner doesn’t report one day, be sure to call or email and ask how they did.
- If you notice your partner giving a fuzzy answer such as “I had a pretty good day yesterday” but not reporting if she followed her boundaries, ask her if she did.
- Always give grace. Make it safe for him to ask you. If he broke them, try to say something encouraging.
- Remember that only God has the power to transform you, so don’t expect miracles from your accountability partner. He or she is a human being with weaknesses. He might forget to ask you one day. She might not give grace one day. That’s okay because you don’t need a perfect accountability partner for transformation to take place. If you find your accountability partner consistently failing in one area, it might be helpful to talk about it together and look for a new accountability partner if necessary.
- Don’t expect your spouse to be your accountability partner just because you’re married to him or her! Often there is one person in a relationship who wants to pursue growth and one who doesn’t.
- Since we’re transformed by the renewing of the mind, it’s just as important to hold each other accountable to the renewing of the mind as it is to doing what we said we would do. I talk about this in The Renewing of the Mind Project. Since our goal is to get to the point where we actually want to do the new behavior (or want to stop wanting to do it if we’re breaking a habit), it’s important to change the way we think about that habit. We can do this by consistently going to God for help with it and renewing our minds.
- If you find yourself wanting to fudge the truth when you report to your accountability partner, you may want to consider just holding each other accountable to the renewing of the mind. Ask, “Did you renew your mind if you broke your boundaries?” Another option would be to ask your accountability partner to ask you if you’re lying each time you do accountability.
Accountability is a valuable discipline that can greatly impact your relationship with God and your behavior. If you’ve never tried it, I hope you’ll give it a try. If you have any tips you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them!
Discussion question: Have you ever had an accountability partner? If so, how has it impacted your walk with God? Also, do you have any tips for us on accountability?