George Barna Survey: “Accountability”

In the results of a recent survey by George Barna, he states that only about 5% of Christians believe their church does anything to hold them behaviorally accountable. There is general “bemoaning” of these results. Indeed, they are sad, but not for the reason most would expect. I think part of the problem is in the wording of the question:  Does the “church” do anything to hold you accountable? The question is based on some faulty presuppositions.

I don’t think  the “church” should hold anyone “accountable.”

Genuine Christianity only “works” on one platform:  relational one-anotherness (animated by His resurrection life). I do not look  to the “church” to hold me accountable. I look toward brothers and sisters with whom I walk, to love me, and care for me, not “hold me accountable.” Love is  expressed by care, including rebuke and discipline, not by reporting in to my “accountability  partner.”

Since the American Constantinian church is intrinsically  individualistic and independent, it is only logical that real care of a quality of Jesus’ kingdom,  will be unlikely. We expect some nebulous system of “church” to police me, sheriff  me, to make sure I am being a good boy according to the performance  metrics of whatever group I belong to.

Every group has its articulated and unarticulated behavioral expectations. They often have no relationship whatsoever to any biblical mandate, but merely reflect social and cultural sensitivities, priorities and preferences, of the group.

I can be utterly accountable behaviorally, and be a  complete relational fraud with God and humanity.  It’s called . . . faking it for the incentive of reward that my particular group metes out for those who  play according to the behavioral expectations of the group. I can check off my weekly do and don’t do list, to perfection, report in to my accountability group or overseer, and be relationally alienated from God and humanity. Since relational integration is the definition of the fulfillment of all righteousness (Mark 12:30 ff., Luke 10:27, John 15:12),  our behavioral “accountability” means nothing, in and of itself. A cultist can have biblically impeccable behavior, and have neither right relationship with God nor humanity.

Right relationships will manifest in right behavior (because I am “others” aware), but right behaviors do not categorically  produce right relationships. If perfect behavior was the path to right relationship, Jesus’ incarnation would not have been necessary. Humanity’s condition is one of relational alienation manifesting in sin. Humanity’s problem is not at its root a behavioral one. It is a relational one. We needed a Savior to be restored to right relationship.

So when Barna asks the question, we point  at the deficiency of the “church,” not realizing that we are the  church and the reason no one is holding me accountable, is my own fault  because I am not walking in relational reality with anyone, just paying my weekly homage at the shrine of conservative Constantinianism.

I know it may be fussing with terms, but accountability is a “non-biblical”  term. As I said in my books (Authority, Accountability, and the Apostolic Movement, The Silent Killers of Faith), it’s a poor attempt of the Adamic  nature to try to accomplish through monitored performance metrics, what only  Spirit-empowered discipleship and relational one-anotherness can accomplish, as  we embrace his death and resurrection life . . . one with another.

So, the data is sad, but not for the reason most would  think.

Copyright 2010 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby Permission to copy, forward, or distribute this article is granted as long as this copyright byline is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references

25 comments on “George Barna Survey: “Accountability”

  1. Thank you…you wonderful heretic. “Accountability” is a non-biblical term”. Not just the term taht’s in error but the entire concept as you point out. If we are truly ‘born’ from above and have the life of god in us our walk is about letting that life grow in us and through us…so that we may grow up into Him who is head…” One of the reasons often cited for why the church is so very necessary is accountability. I must tell you that I have never been in a church where accountability or ‘mutual submission” is the church practice.

    Speaking literally, if all churches practiced accountability and holding ‘members” to some absolute standard of moral conduct…our building would be empty. This is why we keep re-inventing church…this is why ‘seeker friendliness”

    i suggest that if you REALLY want accountability, join the Amish.

    If you want life and an environment of love, caring and sharing of the manifestations of the spirit (gifts) which can enable us to “grow up”, be fruitful and come into maturity.

    Jesus did not come to establish a new religion, or give us a new standard or set of rules to be held accountable to but to give us life and life more abundantly – His life…the life of God often referred to as eternal life………which is in His Son.

    • Hey George, good point about the Amish. You are right. that is the logical end of “accountability. I worked with a lot of folks in Alaska who came out of a communal type accountability living situation where it got so bizarre that their food was rationed to them based on their sex,age, and weight, and, get a load of this . . . toilet paper was rationed out to them by the leadership by “square” so as to be “accountable” with economic resource and to make sure no one was using more than they should to take care of nature’s business.

      Absolutely true. Absolutely pathetic, and the inevitable end of “accountability.” Once the measuring stick of behavior comes out, the only limit will be the creativity of the fallen nature active in God’s people.

      Of course, people starting stealing and hoarding toilet paper. . . . giving the impression of obedience . . . but “cheating on the side” . . . faking it.

      Paul said, the strength of sin is the law. Accountability just strengthens sin.

      • Funny stuff if it weren’t so true. I guess many of our experiences would make a good stand up comedy routine. There’s none sp blaond as he who will not see.

        our attempts at ‘accountability” are so very pathetic and so rooted in a s[irit of control and that tree of knowledge of good and evil! we still are tied to the scales of justice and a spirit of lording it over each other.

        i thabnk god jesus’ set me free from all that stuff. Sorry to hear about all thaose “squares” 9to use a 60’s word. That’s hilarious and O so sick!

        We are nothing more than Christian Pharisees or accountants. Personally I’m a CPA…Certified Pharisaical Accountant. I once heard a brother we both know say taht the only cure for a Christian Pharisee is a Pharisectomy!

        Amen to that!

        keep up the provocative and thoughtful posts,

  2. Steve, i just read your article at and posted the below in response to you. Regards. fob James

    “Steve, I went through your helpful book “Authority, Accountability…” last year. I can’t remember if you covered this but “to give account” literally means “to give word” in the greek. That is, “apodidomi”(to give) (Stong’s G591) and “logos” (word) (Strong’s 3056). This word combination of “apodidomi and logos” in the new testament, as to believers, seems always to be used in reference to a vertical relationship to God alone.

    Each of us “gives account” for his own life, and church leaders give
    account for how they led, but always to God. Never to each other. In
    Matthew 12:36, Hebrews 13:17, and 1 Peter 4:5, this is the case. I can
    find no exception.

    The term is also used in reference to giving account to worldly authorities, for instance in the parable of the master/steward, Luke 16:2; and in reference to the city clerk in Acts 19:40.

    Today’s popular terms like “accountability group,” etc., as you point out, are not supported by scripture. Why don’t believers stick with the
    language of scripture when considering relationships among ourselves,
    such as “bearing one another’s burdens” and all the rest? The Holy Spirit inspires the actual words used in scripture:

    “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches
    but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with
    spiritual.” 1 Corinthians 2:13

    Ah yes, but we would have to throw out 90+% of evangelical dogma — if we stuck with the language of scripture.

    The biggest elephant in the room may be the main word for “authority” in the greek (exousia — Stong’s G1849). Paul, an apostle, had “exousia,” not in the sense of “authority over,” but in the sense of authority “in the Lord” or “in the gospel.” But never is “exousia” mentioned in regard to the relationship of “elders” and “shepherds” in the church to the “sheep,” at least so it seems from some initial word searches. Wonder if the phrase “recognizing the authority of the pastor/elders” would have sounded really weird to a 1st century believer who learned from the Lord’s apostles?

    And the rhino in the room is probably the word “commitment”……….

      • “Commitment” is an interesting (and ongoing) study. The bottom line is that the Lord’s apostles “committed the gospel” to “faithful men able to teach others.” The apostles never demanded a “commitment” to themselves from believers, even ones they brought to the Lord, as a condition for receiving the new believers into their fellowship. Instead, for instance, Paul “commended” himself to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” True leaders do as Paul, “commending” themselves to peoples’ consciences in the sight of God. And the Holy Spirit backs them up. Fleshly leaders demand up-front commitments to themselves, “their” church, or leadership structure, etc., as a condition for joining up. Often the “commitment” required is couched in terms of “covenant” or “discipline” (Calvinists), “confession” or “call” (Baptists), though charismatics seem most often to prefer to stick with the word “commitment” itself. It’s all the same thing, however.

        If you look up every instance of the greek words underlying these terms, you find nothing in scripture, and I mean nothing, to support what those demanding “commitments” are saying. A study of the scriptural use of the greek words for covenant, call, and confession are especially devastating to those seeking such things in regard to themselves.

        Peter made the great, historic “confession” of Jesus as the Messiah, the son of the Blessed. Later Peter of his own initiative also made a strong “vow” or “commitment,” as it were, to die rather than deny the Lord. After Peter’s resolve failed 3 times, and after the Lord was raised, Peter went back to fishing. But Jesus meets him at the lake, and 3 times asks him, with tenderness, “Do you love me?” Restoring Peter, Jesus tells him in one place, “Feed (poimaino, Stong’s G4065) my sheep.” John 21:16. “Poimaino” is what leaders and pastors do in the church. It is tender, it is protective, it is strong when necessary, it is by the Holy Spirit — done as able ministers of the new covenant. Asking people for an up-front “commitment” is a great perversion.

  3. This practice among so many others would be truly hilarious if it were not the blind reality for tens of millions of people globally seeking God in the modes invented and supported by men. I want to laugh but I weep inwardly. I pray wilderness voices such as your own find their way to the ears of the “kings” of today
    stay anchored


  4. Good stuff. I remember going to at least 4 promise keepers meetings years ago and you know what changed…NOTHING:) Nor did anything change in any of the 20-30 guys that I went with. I think I recall someone saying the definition of insanity
    is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Hey look…there’s a brick wall, hold on while I beat my head repeatedly against it.

    • Yup, those guys mean well, but a promise is an oath and Jesus specifically taught us never to make an oath. It is amazing that in the entire New Testament, there is not one time we are admonished to promise God anything. We are supposed to live in the reality of His promise to us, not our promise to Him.

      If our promises could be trusted, we would not need a Savior.

  5. very nice article on accountability. As believers, we are to encourage one another.. and to do this daily. Legalism police are prevelant in the Church,( I know, I sometimes am one) but to find some struggling broken from sin and relying on Grace people to encourage other strugglers.. is a little tougher. We don’t love God because of our ability to love Him, but because He loved us fist. Relationship IS the key. Plus, while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. He’s awesome, I’m not. I’ve been “encouraged” by all these comments. Grace be with you.

  6. Great article Steve. As one that used to try to be accountable and believed in holding people accountable, I’ve found that it’s never worked. I ended up realizing that “accountability” is only as good as the one “being held” accountable. I found out that good Christian people…..lie! Gasp!!! So, I agree that instead of keeping me accountable, I simply need encouragement. Keep up the good work!

    • Hi Mike, thanks for the encouragement and your candor . .guess what . . . me too . . .I tried it . . . it doesn’t work. It is exactly as you say. It cannot be “enforced” from without by good intentions. It is offered from within. It is a heart freely given in love. I am the only one that can keep me “accountable,” and the way to be accountable is to know that one is loved greatly and is safe in that love . . with God and one another.

  7. Hi Everyone, Just an observation.

    It seems that the idea of being accountable (as it is most commonly taught) is really a symptom of a much deeper and more nefarious issue that has crept into our thinking. The issue being that we do not really understand what Christianity is in the first place. I know that painting with a very broad brush, just some food for thought.

    • I agree. it is a symptom . . . one of many subset issues of much deeper problems, not the least of which is not understanding the essence of NT/New Covenant Christianity. Wanting to be rewarded for our behaviors is very deeply ingrained in human nature, no matter how we try to dress it up in biblical language. It is offensive to human moral sensibilities that a just and holy God should be kind, good, and gracious to people who do not deserve it.

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