We are not intended to live our Christian lives alone. We are members of a community. Most of this living occurs within the context of our local church. It’s here that strategic relationships emerge with opportunities to provide deeply personal care. Overall these relationships are meant to help us to follow Jesus faithfully. Often we find an area of sanctification that we want to focus on and then ask another Christian to keep us accountable. It’s common for us to refer to these relationships as our accountability partners.
But what makes a good accountability partner? And, how can we be helpful to our brothers and sisters? Here are some important traits.
It is important to know if the person who is going to help you is a Christian or not. Certainly one may find help from non-Christians. However, in the full scope of what I believe the Scriptures teach, the consistent application of a biblical worldview is supported by a right relationship with God himself. We live by the Spirit of God under the Word of God. Therefore, it is preferred that an accountability partner be another Christian and ideally a member of the same local church (Rom. 8:5; 1 Cor. 2:14-15).
Bearing burdens and excising sin takes work (Gal. 6:1-2). More than just being available this requires being involved. It has to be the kind of commitment that weathers storms, endures difficulty, and is willing to see it through. This type of commitment realizes the stiff headwinds of adversity on the front end. It’s the embrace of a family member that says, “I’m with you and will be with you through this.” In the despair of sin and temptation, knowing that someone is there with you, slugging it out, is a great encouragement.
Of course, we will be of little ultimate help if we are simply willing to take phone calls, answer texts, and show up. As useful as this is, we still need to say something. What will we say? Here it’s vital that we believe the Bible is God’s Word. Really this is of the utmost importance. If we are convinced that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible, and sufficient Word of God, then we have something to say (2 Tim. 3:16-4:4;1 Thess. 5:11). If we don’t, then in one sense, it doesn’t matter what we say. To penetrate through the haze of sin and blaring noise of temptation, an accountability partner must have the conviction that God’s Word is true. This obviously has tremendous implications for what we believe about God, humanity, sin, judgment, grace, mercy, and repentance. We need conviction to be helpful.
By this, I don’t mean that to be an accountability partner we must be sinless. Obviously we are all sinners and all in need of help. But I do believe that there is wisdom in considering the maturity of someone whom you chose to ask to help you. If you have three guys struggling with purity who agree to meet together and talk about their struggles but none is seeing victory in sin, how helpful is this in the long run? There is wisdom in having someone who has demonstrated godliness help you to do the same through regular accountability (Eph. 4:11-15; Col. 1:28).
Most people shy away from confrontation. We don’t like it. But, to help each other grow we need people in our lives who are courageous enough to call a spade a spade. We need a friend to come alongside us and say, “Here’s what I’m seeing, and this is what God’s Word says.” This takes courage. If the goal is spiritual growth through accountability then implicit in this is the courage to call the other person out when they are not obeying God’s Word (Col. 3:16-17; Rom. 15:14; Matt. 18:15-18).
There must be clarity on two fronts.
First, there must be clarity on God’s Word. This goes with the section on conviction above. We must know the Word of God and the God of the Word, and we must speak with clarity on his behalf. To be helpful in matters of spiritual growth—especially in issues that may require strong accountability—there needs to be clarity. This involves what God has said in matters of law (this is what God requires us to do) and gospel (this is what God has done in Christ for us).
Second, there should be clarity on our role. Accountability partners are not the Savior nor are they the Holy Spirit. On occasion, we might be tempted to fear our accountability partner more than we fear God. This is not helpful, because it was a lack of fear of God that got us into sin in the first place (Rom. 3:18). There’s also the temptation to cling to the accountability partner like they are the Savior. Instead of wearing out a path to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16) we blow up our accountability partner’s phone with texts. There’s nothing wrong with texting of course, but the helpful accountability partner understands their role. They have clarity. And so they will regularly point their friend back to God and his sufficient grace. This takes humility as well as clarity—and often, time.
Helping our brothers and sisters with sin is hard and heavy work. The most useful in this regard reflect Christ. And if we are reflecting Christ, then we are compassionate helpers. The early 20th-century theologian B. B. Warfield observed the descriptions of our Lord Jesus and found the most common was compassion. If accountability partners are aiming to render Christlike service, then they must reflect his compassion. Like Jesus, we must have a heart that breaks over sin and teachers those who are struggling with eyes full of love and compassion (Matt. 9:35ff). I don’t think compassion obscures anything I’ve already written. Instead, it colors it. We are most like Christ when we are clear with the Bible, courageously pointing out sin, and doing it with loving compassion.
In short, a good accountability partner is someone who’s working hard to follow Jesus and willing to help others to do the same.