“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Gal. 6:1
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Matt. 18:15-16
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Prov. 27:17
While Scripture uses multiple words and varied language to describe accountability in the Christian life, the concept of holding one another accountable is itself a fairly straightforward one: are we willing to inspect what we expect from our brothers and sisters in Christ? Will we speak up in love when things appear to be out of sorts or when someone seems to be straying from holiness? Will we ask people difficult, personal questions that they would prefer not to answer so that their sin can remain in the shadows? Will we joyfully submit ourselves to such examination? If we can answer questions like these with a hearty ‘yes’, then we are people who embrace accountability.
You may not believe it, but I’ve heard that there are some people who do not like accountability—I’ve even met a few. I even had a conversation this year with a church member who said, “I didn’t ask for accountability. That is not what I signed up for.” Why though? Why would someone not want such a crucial tool for Christian growth, prescribed by the Bible, to be a prominent factor in their life? While there are many reasons that could account for this (chiefly, pride and desire for autonomy), I’d like to focus on something that is far less discussed in the church scene: the methods that people use to “accountability-proof” themselves: that is, the practical steps some people (you, perhaps?) take to avoid accountability, do “their own thing,” have everyone else just “mind their business,” or otherwise just be immune to correction.
Very briefly, then, let’s look at the top three methods, in no particular order, that people use to avoid accountability in the Christian life—my hope is that this does not describe you, but if it does, I would urge you to honestly examine your heart before the Lord and others.
- “No One Understands”
We’ve all talked to this person, but many of us haven’t realized exactly what this person is doing when they provide this response to accountability/feedback/counsel. Imagine someone battling relentless depression who is advised to integrate more comedy movies into their monthly schedule in an effort to push back against the melancholy tone that dominates their life. Despite their genuine desire to be helpful, someone providing this kind of counsel simply doesn’t really understand the situation or how things work within it. They just don’t know what it’s like. Obviously, only a fool would act on the counsel of someone who either didn’t understand or didn’t know what they were talking about, regardless of how genuine they were. This seems straightforward.
But what happens when someone believes that no one understands, no one has the required experience to analyze their situation well and no one, therefore, is positioned correctly to bring insight or even express concern over them? What happens is that accountability dissolves and that person becomes more and more frustrated with people who “don’t understand,” but who “keep trying to fix” them. Like the naïve counselor, while they are glad people are trying to help, they “know” that no one truly understands the situation (if they did, they obviously would not be saying what they are saying!), and therefore, can’t really offer much in the way of counsel, exhortation or rebuke. Because of this perceived reality, this person, a lone ranger with “exclusive,” “privileged perspective,” will keep on “doing their best” and not change anything because they can’t find anyone who understands enough to help.
Convince yourself that no one truly understands you or your situation (for whatever reason), and you’re well on your way to practically accountability-proofing yourself, though perhaps you might make a hypothetical exception if God spelled out a rebuke in the clouds.
- “There Will Be Hell to Pay”
On the off chance you haven’t met a person who “no one” can understand, you have without question encountered this second technique for avoiding everything but hypothetical accountability: the erupting volcano technique. Trying to point out this person’s sin or offer helpful counsel contrary to their desires, even in the most loving and graceful manner, is almost guaranteed to result in a stunning explosion of emotion, attitude or shutdown bitterness. You can be sure that if you have to spend the rest of the day with them, it won’t be a fun one. Sadly, for many people, this is more about who they are than a technique that they explicitly employ—they simply cannot receive any kind of criticism without intense anger, despair or both.
Ironically, these people are the quickest to point out any lack of “gentleness” in the efforts of those who express concern or point out areas of sin in their life. “Maybe if people actually knew how to ‘do’ accountability in a way that wasn’t harsh and judgmental, I would respond better,” is the apologetic refrain for the erupting volcano folks. The problem with the erupting volcano technique (aside from being straightforwardly unloving and sinful) is that practically speaking, no one wants to hold this kind of person accountable—it just isn’t socially worth it for most.
Knowing that questioning this kind of person about their lifestyle runs the chance of ruining the entire day or perhaps even jeopardizing your friendship is an extremely strong disincentive for holding someone accountable. Because of this, erupting volcanoes functionally insulate themselves from accountability altogether, with people only speaking up in the most blatant cases of sin. Want people to mind their own business and stay out of yours? Just make a habit of responding angrily and bitterly to those who try to hold you accountable—they’ll slowly give up on you, even if they probably shouldn’t, and your goal of eliminating probing questions and difficult conversations will be complete.
- “Where is the Wise One?”
This final kind of person/technique to avoid accountability is a cousin of the “no one understands” principle. The difference is that in this case, while there are plenty of people who truly understand, there is no one, each for different reasons, who is really competent to give counsel, ask the right questions or introduce correction. “This person is too young and idealistic. That person’s life is too dissimilar to mine. This person is too old. That person is a hypocrite. This person said something judgmental once. That person hasn’t been helpful in the past. This person would think X. I know the Bible better than that person—why would I listen to them? They don’t have enough life experience.” And on it goes. If anything, this kind of person sees themselves as the one who would usually be coaching and helping others in situations like this, not receiving anything from them besides maybe a prayer or two.
This parrying technique is most often employed by people who have a very high degree of confidence in their own abilities (perhaps they are intellectually brilliant), particularly their abilities to discern moral right and wrong and diagnose relational and social problems—they “know” what’s wrong and what needs to be done to fix it, and perhaps even why it happened (all from a distance, sometimes!). Like the “no one understands” technique, there is the element of truth within the distortion that makes it so devilish: obviously, only a fool seeks accountability from people who they believe to be unable to provide profitable insight and correction. The problem, though, is when the pool of people who are “competent” to correct is whittled down to almost nothing, allowing one to preemptively dismiss efforts at accountability as the good-hearted but misdirected attempts of people who don’t have as firm of grasp on things as they do. “You are behind me in this area of thinking, so I appreciate the effort but I need someone who is at least my peer in thinking about this issue,” is what this kind of person frequently thinks, but would never admit. Be wise in your own sight and you’ll give yourself an ever-present justification to “help” others see truth, but never seriously consider receiving it from them.
Consider X, where X is something you consider yourself competent in, something you understand well, something you’re good at, faithful in etc. Now ask yourself, “What, realistically, would it take to convince me that I am mistaken and/or in the wrong, despite my confidence that I am not?
If your answer isn’t something that could likely occur in the run of everyday life, you have functionally accountability-proofed yourself and have not positioned yourself to really receive instruction from anyone if it doesn’t agree with what you already think or feel.
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Rom. 12:3