Being “Accountable”?

Judge Shaking FingerToo many “accountability programs”–a thoroughly unbiblical concept, see the definition below (1)– betray an underlying mentality of criminality rather than sonship. It is all about being required, as a condition of “membership,” or “discipleship,” “leadership,” or “promotion to position,” to report-in,  on a regular basis, to the equivalent of a spiritual parole officer. This is to make sure you have not misbehaved since the last report in–to measure/”assess” you on how well you have “handled your sin” the previous week, and to assure you are continuing to conform to group norms of doctrine and behavior. If you have misbehaved, you must show/prove adequate repentance for your sin to your “overseeing authority figure,” (pastor, cell group leader, accountability partner, etc.)  or you will be subject to potential “church discipline,” ranging from mild to severe.

A criminal will never be transparent with a cop. He will just lie to protect himself, because the cop has the authority to punish without affection. But a son with a father can be transparent, because a son is secure (or should be) in his father’s love, and his  father is never surprised by his son’s nakedness–he has seen it before . . . many times. He is not interested in punishing without affection. A father’s chastisement is for development unto purpose, not punishment for underperforming to the “standard of God’s Word.”

I have known many young people who were part of high accountability, discipleship/mentorship type programs. Years after they were no longer in those programs, they confessed to me privately that they just lied their way through the whole program. They knew what was “expected” by “leadership,” they knew the “game they had to play” to get promoted to leadership opportunities, and they just played it.  They gave the leaders what they wanted. Others confessed to me that they just performed to the expected behavioral standards as long as they were formally in the program. When they were no longer in the “program” they simply went back to doing what they wanted to do. You cannot achieve by external program protocols, and measurement to those protocols, for what is missing in heart authenticity.

I know of a very well-known “Evangelical” ministry that has a 56-page “accountability” manual of behavioral rules and expectations for “discipleship candidates.” This is complete with a self-curse at the end which the candidate must sign, imploring God’s severe judgments to fall on the candidate should he or she ever violate one of the requirements!

I know of another young people’s “discipleship” program that had a list of over seventy requirements of discipleship/accountability. The irony in this situation was one of the “requirements” was to make sure to honor sabbath rest! Good grief, you would be so exhausted from trying to be “accountable” to the other items that you would collapse from mental and spiritual exhaustion!

I know of another situation where the “church” had a 40-page, 8.5″x 11″ double sided manual on the “roles and duties of a pastor’s wife,” (How many scriptures are there on that topic? NONE!) that was the “accountability” standard for that group. Not surprisingly, I dealt with women from that group who were having complete personality/nervous breakdowns under the weight of such bondage.

These types of things are COMMON, and they are the fruit of preaching and teaching “accountability” when genuine, authentic, love, safety, relationship, family, and trust are absent. You will get the former included with the latter, but the former without the latter is very spiritually ugly.

You cannot accomplish with well-intended “behavioral supervision” careful “sin management” and efficient “discipleship program administration” for what is absent in heart bonding and love. When love is real and present, you do not need accountability programs because love compels transparency with those who have proven themselves to be “spiritually safe” people. When we are safe and welcome in each other’s hearts, there is no need to police behavior like holiness hall monitors in a high school. Love welcomes. Love invites. Love is all you need.

“Accountability” is the poor man’s substitute for when you are “too busy” to invest relationally in people, trying to accomplish with the force of command authority, positional authority, delegated authority (care groups, etc.) program administration, and a thin veneer of “caring” for you, by helping you “manage your sin,” for what should be the logical overflow of abounding love between hearts knit together in love.

If there is a problem with ungodly behavior with individuals in a community, what is needed is not “discipleship” or “accountability” programs. What is needed is a self-reflective assessment of:

A) Are people really converted? I am convinced 75% of those in “church” who say they are, are not. (2) You cannot expect godly, transformed behavior out of unconverted people. Trying to get Godly behavior out of uncoverted people is like trying to herd cats. It is not in the nature of the cat to be herded. Without a genuine, new creation nature the best that will happen is sin management based on human will power, which is itself . . . sin.

B) Why is love and family affection so absent in our relationships? Because God’s love has transformative power. Discipleship is based on hearts knit together in love. Remove that, and you are left with something very ugly and abusive, regardless of how many Bible proof texts we may use to justify our efforts.

So the next time someone asks you if you are “accountable,” smile broadly and tell them “no.” If folks can get over the shock, it might open up a very profitable conversation. 


1. Accountable–dictionary definition: required or expected to justify actions or decisions; subject to giving an account; “answerable”; a record of debit and credit entries to cover transactions involving a particular item or a particular person or concern.

There is nothing in scripture to indicate this kind of relationship between believers, or between “believers” and their “leaders.”  What men call “being accountable” the scriptures call encouraging one another in love, caring for my brother, caring for another’s concerns more than my own. We are not reporting in to spiritual bookkeepers, wardens, or parole officers. We are walking this thing out together in love, in a culture of mutuality and gift exchange. We are fellow pilgrims: grandparents, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, uncles, cousins. It is a family bound by love, or it is not Jesus’s ekklesia.

2. Before he passed, Dr. D. James Kennedy said 75% of the folks in churches are not born again. He is hardly a “negative, extreme,  and reactionary” voice. My experience matches his, and matches the parable of the seeds and the sower. Only one in four seeds sown bore genuine kingdom fruit.

Copyright 2013,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact

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15 comments on “Being “Accountable”?

  1. Dear Stephen–

    Could I post this as a “guest” blog? It would reach thousands of readers and powerfully impact whole groups I am seeking to mentor. I would like a short description of you and your photo to run it. I’d like to do it next week if you give me a “go” on this request.

    John H. Armstrong

  2. “‘Accountability’ is the poor man’s substitute for when you are “too busy” to invest relationally in people…”

    Sadly, that is spot on. (And you can exchange a number of words for “accountability” and that sentence would be correct.) So many programs and “ministries” in the church building are substitutes for authentic relationships–and actually impede relationships. If people would stop being so busy with [fill in the blank] in the church and just spend time in each other’s everyday lives, we would actually get to know one another beyond surface talk. I would rather people make themselves available for genuine conversation than to have them busy with a refreshment table. What makes a person feel wanted and loved? When someone takes the time to invest in your life? Or when they walk into a church and are greeted by a barista? Perhaps that’s easier for many people because it’s too painful to be authentic with others…it’s more comfortable to hide behind a veil of programs and activities. This way we feel so godly and “connected” in our serving and yet we’re safe from the pain of our depravity.

  3. Steve, Your message dove-tails with what I read recently about discipleship. This brother said.” It is easy to lay rules on you and make you feel guilty if you do not conform, and in so doing deceive myself into believing that I have been obeying, which is anything but the truth.But how difficult it is to seek to understand you, to learn why you do what you do, and through prayer and God’s Word attempt to meet your deepest needs.This takes true commitment to Christ and commitment to you.It is my being Jesus to you. Also I read,I only have the responsibility to accept you as a fellow sinner and try and meet you needs. Thanks,Steve–stay on target.

  4. Amen, Steve. A 56 page manual? Incredible.

    Re: So the next time someone asks you if you are “accountable,” smile broadly and tell them “no.”

    I am doing this, Steve, and even have a few notes on the greek text ready:

    — On Accountability (to give account) — look up “didomi logos” ( G1325, G3056 – Strong’s) and “apodidomi logos” (G591, G3056 – Strong’s). These words literally mean “to give word,” translated in English, “give account.” So do we as believers “give account,” that is, make ourselves “accountable” to each other? Or is this another word that has been taken by man out of the context of scripture for his own fleshly purposes?”  The Holy Spirit does not use these words, not once in scripture, in regard to relationships among believers, including apostles, leaders, and all the flock.  It is always about worldly relationships, or at times an accountability of leaders to God (for teaching, leading).   There is just something sick about using it all the time in regard to brothers and sisters, and moms and dads.  No good early father I know wants an “accountable” son.  The prodigal, understandably, tried the accountable-I-am no-longer-worthy appeal with his dad, who cut off his speech and would have none of it. A cognate of lego/logos is the often used verb logizomai, which is what Abraham did when he believed God and it was “accounted” (logizomai) to him for righteousness.  The only “son” who could ever give “account” for my sins did so on a tree 2000 years ago, with his own blood. I wish all the folks calling for new church polities with true “accountability,” would consider that ‘accountability” is the wrong word, the wrong gospel.

  5. Stephen….again, I am finding your views and insights compelling and truthful. This website has been like a strike of lightning to my soul. In fact – some years ago the word ” illumination ” was spoken and that is how I see your teachings…Brother, your an inspiration. Keep going and on going.

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