How to Make Accountability Work

Accountability has gotten a bad rap. It is easy to see why, I guess. When it comes to battling against sin, and especially those stubborn, addictive sins, accountability relationships are sometimes held up as a cure-all, a near guarantee of success. Yet often they end up being a means of commiseration more than challenge, a time when Christians sit around feeling sorry for one another rather than full-on battling against sin.

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Yet I believe the Bible promotes and even demands accountability relationships for Christians who want to battle hard against a dogged sin. Paul writes, “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. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2). Accountability is a specific–and if done right, helpful–form of bearing one another’s burdens.

However, for accountability to be successful, it must be done well. In his book Finally Free, Heath Lambert includes some helpful principles about effective accountability. He writes in the context of battling against pornography, but the points he makes are equally applicable to any sin.

Here are seven principles for effective accountability; each is further explained by showing what effective accountability is and is not.


Accountability Is…

Accountability Is Not…

1. Effective accountability does not rely exclusively on accountability.

…one weapon among many.

…the only weapon in the fight against sin.

2. Effective accountability is involved early rather than late.

…calling out for help in the moment of temptation and before you sin.

…delayed confession–the regular reporting of sins already committed.1

3. Effective accountability involves someone with maturity.

…able to function best when it occurs under the leadership of someone who has a track record of victory over the sin in question.

…going to work well if you are seeking accountability with someone who is struggling and sinning in the same area as you.2

4) Effective accountability involves someone with authority (Heb 13:17).

…involving those who can speak with authority. It may also involve those who “…watch over you as those who must give an account.”

…fighting on your own; by definition, accountability is not a solo effort.

5) Effective accountability should avoid explicit details (Eph 5:11-12).

…describing sin and temptation in general terms with the goal of enabling your accountability person to help you best.

…not a place where explicit details are shared; we must avoid fueling further temptation.

6) Effective accountability places the responsibility for confession on the person with the problem.

…full and free confession without prompting, pushing or demands for honesty.

…going repeatedly through a list of questions without making honest and up-front confession of a particular sin.3

7) Effective accountability must actually hold people accountable.

…being actively involved in the life of another Christian with regular and caring communication.4

…simply the commitment to meet regularly and work through a list of questions.

1 “You will not experience dramatic change in your struggle as long as you use accountability to describe your sins instead of declaring your need for help in the midst of temptation.”

2 “Seeking accountability from those who are in the same place in their struggle as you are may make you feel comfortable but is unlikely to lead to actual change.”

3 “A person waiting passively to provide answers to specific questions is in a far different place spiritually than a person who is willing to take the initiative to expose their struggles in the pure light of day.”

4 “The calling to be a spiritual person who restores another caught in a sin is a high and holy calling that requires time.”

*Thanks to my friend Heather who suggested that this material could be presented in a table.