Can I contradict the title of this post in the first sentence? #BadBloggingHabit
I don’t like the word “accountability partner” any more than I like the word “diet,” and I dislike them both for the same reason. They sound like an exception and a punishment rather than a lifestyle and a gift.
No one is going to live on a diet or in an accountability relationship. They’ll do it for a little while and then they’ll stop. We know this. So let’s quit saying it. Admission: I will still use the phrase accountability partner in this blog. I want to change your mindset more than your vocabulary.
What is the alternative vocabulary to “accountability”? It’s friendship. Every instance of accountability that I’ve ever seen endure did so because the two (or more) people were friends; not because they enjoyed going on a sin-hunt (a concept we’ll debunk in a moment, but let’s take it one at a time).
So what if you don’t have a friend who will serve this role?
- Make yourself accountable; which is a radically different mindset from “having accountability.” If you’re married and struggling with sexual sin, this is a vital step in protecting your spouse.
- See who appreciates the authenticity of your actions. People are hungry for authenticity. Live the kind of relationship you want and see who is drawn to you.
- Invest in that relationship you develop in point #2 in the ways described below.
The questions provided below serve two primary purposes that are not always considered part of developing an accountability relationship: developing trust and addressing pre-crisis temptation. Both of these are generally known to be important for effective accountability, but the questions most commonly asked in an accountability relationships are not targeted at these objectives.
- Deepen trust to draw out greater honesty – We trust those who show the ability to care for us well. Many of the questions asked between accountability partners (by now you should hear “friends”) should be for the purpose of demonstrating care for the individual so that trust is developed and greater honesty ensues.
- Identify pre-crisis contributors to temptation – Crisis level temptation is not born in a vacuum. Usually there are predictable things that lead to the pivotal moments of decision. Many of these have nothing to do with what we classically think of as “temptation.” If this concept intrigues you, but you’re not sure what this would entail, keep reading.
Without further ado, let’s begin to look at questions you wish your accountability partner would ask and why. These five questions are merely meant to be representative and to spark creativity (stale, repetitive questions result in withering accountability). Use them as a launching pad for the kinds of conversations you should be having as you establish lasting and enjoyable accountability in your life.
1. What are you doing to enjoy life?
We sin because sin is fun. We enjoy sin; at least for a little while. The more we deprive ourselves of legitimate pleasures, the more we will be susceptible to the temptation of illegitimate pleasures. A friend who spurs you to avoid illegitimate pleasures (e.g., sin) should, just as passionately, call you to pursue legitimate pleasures—in balance with your life responsibilities. “Shooting the breeze” about your favorite hobby is not just wasting time while your waiter brings your breakfast, it is part of the accountability relationship.
2. What new stressors are entering your life?
Sin is frequently an escape more than it is a pursuit. If that is true, then being aware of the things we are prone to want to escape from is important. Often, just not being alone with our stresses is a huge relief. When we don’t feel like anyone knows or understands what we’re going through, all of the lies that make sin appealing become more convincing. Sometimes our friend may be able to suggest things to reduce the stress, but even if they can’t these are not wasted conversations.
3. Would you like to “just hang out”?
If accountability partners only spend time together “doing accountability” then their relationship will likely begin to feel like a sin-hunt. Accountability will be deemed to only be “working” when sin is found. The purpose of the relationship will be called into question during extended periods of time when our sin-of-choice is absent. The result is a neglect of the relationship and creation of a context more ripe for temptation during “the good times.” Having times when you “hang out” (or whatever the cool word is now) is vital to accountability providing the long-term protection desired when people enter into these kinds of relationships. Again, you should be saying, “This sounds more like intentional friendship than an accountability protocol.”
4. Who or what is getting too much air time in your thought life right now?
This is similar to the stress question, but does not have to carry the negative connotation. Our mental air time can be consumed by a fictional argument with someone we believe has unreasonable expectations of us. But it can also be fixated on a particular craving or a personal ambition that is becoming too central to our identity. Asking this question is a great way to help each other become self-aware of our thoughts; which is very important for addictive behaviors. Too often it is passivity toward our thought life that allows temptation to gain significant momentum before we begin to resist it as temptation. Knowing you’ll be asked reminds you to pay attention.
5. What are you passionate about in the coming weeks, months or year? How it is going?
Your friend should already know, but if they don’t, then they have to know what “it” is before they can ask now “it’s” going. Part of what sin does is rob us of the time and energy that God desires us to invest in the things he made us to be passionate about. In that sense, sin is a parasite; it lives off of resources intended for another purpose. For many people it is helpful to realize that purity is an investment as much as an outcome. Purity is investing our lives in the things that really matter more than it’s the avoidance of particular activities; otherwise couch potatoes would be saints. For achievement-oriented people this realization can add to their motivation to pursue purity.
Don’t take the suggestions above to discount traditional accountability conversations. You should still ask traditional accountability questions:
- Have you succumbed to temptation since we met last?
- When have you been tempted and what have you done about it?
- How has your time of Bible study and prayer been?
- Has God felt more like a cop-detective or a Savior-Father to you recently?
- What have you not told me that you should?
- What should I have asked that I haven’t?