Discipleship requires creating a culture of accountability that will keep you focused on your relationship with God and others.
Creating a culture of accountability isn’t always easy, but it comes naturally with being in spiritual relationships with others. It is a huge part of what we gain, and what others gain, through genuine relationships.
You may have heard others say, “I only need to be accountable to God.” You may have even thought that yourself at times.
Because if God knows everything already, why should you share the difficulties and challenges going on in your life?
Yet Scripture says, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7).
Fellowship means deep, abiding relationship—or to know and be known. So if we’re really in relationship and fellowship with people, they will know because of our love for them.
Loving relationships with God and others characterize a believer.
You may think, “I’m a good person. I’m doing the best I can to walk in the light. I’m reading my Bible and doing the stuff that good people do.”
But the point is not simply about walking in the light. Rather, you should consider:
- Do you get down to the ugly with people?
- How often do you share about your struggles with those whom you are in spiritual relationship?
- Do you encourage and empower others toward accountability?
What the Truth Is: Everybody’s Ugly
We all struggle in one way or another. It might be with an addiction, it might be with shame, or it might be with pride.
Yet God blesses us through other people being in our life. Being known and knowing others is a great blessing.
To read about humility in discipleship, check out Jim Putman’s book The Revolutionary Disciple.
In fact, that’s what heaven is going to be like: one big gathering of people who know each other deeply. So the Holy Spirit creates deep relationships, the kind of relationships we were built for—but lost because of sin.
When you really know others as you walk in the light, you take dark thoughts—the lies planted by the devil—out of the darkness, and then bring them into the light.
Light is the best disinfectant.
People hide. They lie to themselves and to others. They pretend.
People often get so caught up in the forest that they can’t see the trees. Thus, you can become clouded in your understanding and get one degree off course.
One degree off doesn’t look bad until you are many degrees off. Then you are so far out that you don’t know how to return.
If you don’t have relationships with people who know you and where you’re headed, and who can catch you when you’re one degree off, then you’re set up for failure.
What Is Our Protection? Accountability
God designed accountability to be, in part, like the rails that keep you from going off the road.
You may run into them, but they’re for your protection.
Accountability is also like the rumble strips on the side of the highway—as you move into them, a loud noise wakes you up to the reality that you’re drifting.
The rails and rumble strips keep you safe and alert you to potential dangers.
That’s what relationships do. They hem you in and tell you the truth.
For example, Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
Your friends who really love you will tell you the truth. They will tell you what you need to hear when you’re veering off course rather than what you want to hear.
True friendship is caring about someone so much that you’ll tell them the truth, even when they might not want to hear it.
We speak the truth in love to those we care about, to keep them going where they want to go.
What Are the Problems With Accountability?
We may understand the advantages of accountability, but something still keeps us from always being accountable. For instance, two problems can surface with accountability:
- Being vulnerable is not always natural or easy.
- How do we build an environment around us so others feel safe to be vulnerable as well?
In a world where sin rules, humans cover themselves. After Adam and Eve sinned, what did they do?
They covered themselves. That is the natural result of living in a sinful world.
So it’s no surprise, then, that you and others might be afraid of vulnerability and accountability. But the Scriptures say, “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). This takes place as you start to understand your identity in Christ.
As you start to understand his love for you and as you start to see how Jesus acted, your outlook may begin to change.
For example, Jesus was real in his humanness. He wept in front of his disciples.
Jesus showed us what being honest with people looks like.
Being accountable means being vulnerable, which takes courage. Because you’re right: Others could judge you and respond negatively. Yet you must be courageous.
I never said accountability doesn’t require courage. It does, but you must be willing to step out with Jesus’ help.
And when you start to be honest—especially as a disciple maker—you create a safe environment for others.
People are only going to go as deep as you go. You set the depth.
Having God-Honoring Accountability
Another thing with accountability is that you must hear what someone brings to your attention in love, and that’s never easy.
We don’t always want to hear what we need to hear. We don’t aways want to be held accountable.
Sometimes I react poorly to what someone shares with me, which is my pride rearing its ugly head. Pride destroys discipleship, which I wrote about in The Revolutionary Disciple, and it must be extinguished.
So then I must swallow my pride and say I appreciate their honesty and I’m sorry about my reaction. I tell them that I’m going to pray about the issue they raised.
Just to be clear, I don’t automatically assume because somebody is honest with me that they’re speaking to me from the Lord. That’s why I must pray about the issue to make sure it’s a problem in my life.
And I certainly don’t want to brush something off just because I don’t like what they’re saying, and it hurts my pride.
That explains how to deal with people being honest with you. But how honest should you be with others?
In all circumstances, be wise about what you share and with whom you share. You don’t want to share some personal issues with everyone you know. This is especially true for mixed company.
You’re not going to be open about certain issues with everyone, and that’s important to understand.
There are appropriate levels and circumstances to have conversations of accountability.
Just because you’re not accountable to everyone doesn’t mean you’re not accountable to anyone.
If you’re not accountable to anyone, you’re in a very dangerous position.
You can say, “Well, I’m accountable to God.” But God commands us to be accountable to others. As the apostle James says, we are to confess our sins one to another.
Also, Hebrews 3:13 reads: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
The word “encouraged” here means “to exhort and admonish.” In other words, we must honestly speak into each other’s lives daily to avoid having sinful hearts.
This is important stuff, and we need to be serious and purposeful with it.
What’s a practical example of this? That can look like asking someone how they are doing or telling them they are doing a great job in their work.
This is about living life with people so real honesty exists between you and them as you help each other to be more like Jesus.
Sometimes I think I know what’s best, but I don’t. I’m lied to. I’m confused sometimes, and I need somebody who loves me enough to say, “Hold on a second. You’re veering off course. You have been deceived.”
So when my fellow brother or sister speaks to me in this manner, they exhibit an accountable spirit that seeks my best interests.
Creating a Culture of Accountability as a Leader
As leaders, we must strive to create environments where people feel safe enough to be honest about what’s going on in their lives without the fear of shame and judgment.
A culture of accountability is not going to grow unless it’s healthy enough to hold real and authentic relationships.
All of us have experienced being shamed before. In those moments, the devil tries to drive us to cover ourselves because he knows we can be deceived into hiding from the light.
The devil wants to create the need to keep certain things in darkness in your life and culture, and if you’re a disciple maker, if you’re mature in Christ, you aim to change the culture around you for the better.
God calls you, and those around you, to come out of the darkness and into the light of Christ.
You’re responsible for building a culture of honesty and transparency. Whether a leader or a newcomer, you can change a culture.
You get to be the light. You get to be honest and life-giving. Because you have the Holy Spirit, you can be life-giving, helping people find peace, conquer the devil’s lies, and see the light of Christ.
Accountability Starts With You
Not everyone is going to like a culture of accountability. Many people don’t want accountability and don’t want you to speak into their lives.
But you know the consequences of a lack of accountability. You also must be willing to prevent those consequences from happening by speaking into someone’s life before they’ve veered too far off course.
That’s one of the many reasons accountability is important, but it all starts with building a culture—or at least being willing to be the first. You must lead others in courageous accountability.
Then there is an extra layer to accountability, which is finding a small group of people with whom you continue to walk. As a disciple maker, you work to raise up people who live according to the principles of Scripture and can pass those teachings on.
If you’re a disciple maker, you help people live out disciple-making, accountable cultures.
For instance, I have guys with whom I get coffee regularly, but I also have my disciple-making group. I have that group so I can help other people experience what God has for them, which is discipleship in relationship, and discipleship in relationship produces accountability.
Know the advantage in having groups of people who know you and can speak into your life, even though they may not be in constant contact.
This makes the church attractive to other people, because as this culture gets lonelier and lonelier, people crave the kind of community we started out with—the kind of community we went away from in the garden.
Now go out and create a culture of accountability.
Jim Putman is the senior pastor of the Real Life Ministries church in Post Falls, Idaho.
Check out his book The Revolutionary Disciple to learn more about the need for humility in discipleship.
This post was adapted from the Real Life Ministries podcast episode here. Used with permission.