A few weeks ago I received an article from Brian Phipps. Brian is great friend of mine and one of the best thinkers on Discipleship in Groups that I’m aware of. He’s also the Next Steps (spiritual formation) pastor at Westside Family Church in Lenexa, Kansas and founder of Disciples Made. The guy has a Master’s Degrees in Divinity and Counseling and is passionate about personal spiritual development and developing small group/ spiritual formation systems. You need to know Brian. He really does get it and is available to help you and your church. For more about Brian and his ministry check out DisciplesMade.com.
Now that you a little bit about him, I’m hoping you’ll read every word of this blog post. You won’t regret it!
Winning With Accountability
Spiritual development requires honest and helpful accountability. Most of us, however, have difficulty developing this vulnerable spiritual habit. Pride, guilt, and shame, accompanied by our tendency to avoid conflict, inhibit our ability to develop meaningful accountability.
Like anything else of great value, accountability is worth the effort required to develop it. I believe a redefining of accountability, along with the explanation of an accountability conversation, will help you experience significant life change.
Accountability: Support received from at least two other people to help determine and accomplish personal goals that lead to an abundant life.
Webster defines accountability as, “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.” Unfortunately, this definition has influenced spiritual accountability practices in a negative way. It implies that spiritual accountability is either a consequence faced for failure or a set of questions regularly asked to prevent failure. The focus, either way, is on failure.
I believe Jesus offers a compelling motivation to embrace accountability. In John 10:10, Jesus tells us that He came to give us life and life to the full. Abundant life is experienced as we obey the personal leadership Jesus gives us as we abide in Him. Some of Jesus’ leadership steps, however, are tough to follow, especially when we try to follow them alone. I believe we need others who are on the same quest as we are to help us discern and follow through those steps of obedience. That help is called accountability.
Phasing the Accountability Conversation
Having the right motivation for accountability falls short of eliminating the need for tough conversations. Life happens. Our spiritual enemy does his best to turn life upside down. Accomplishing Spirit-led goals often requires Spirit-led conversations, and those conversations are often quite difficult.
For example, I’ll assume a friend believes Jesus is asking him to care for his health by losing weight. He believes obedience in this area will lead him to a more abundant life. This friend, however, continues to eat poorly and fails to exercise. He is failing to accomplish his goal. He has asked me to help him accomplish this goal. I need to say something, but what do I say and how do I say it?
I have discovered that breaking the accountability conversation into three phases is extremely helpful.
Phase 1: Encourage
Language: “Is everything OK? Has something happened that is keeping you from accomplishing your goal? How can we help you succeed?”
There are three things to notice with this language. First, we are assuming the best motive. We assume our friend is failing unintentionally. We assume life has taken a tough turn. Second, notice that the pronoun is we. Meaningful accountability is best with at least two others helping. Third, we are asking more than what is wrong. We are asking for a plan to help him succeed.
Phase 2: Entreat
Language: “It looks like our support is still inadequate. Are there other challenges you are facing that you have not shared? This is a goal you believed was beneficial to you. Are you still committed? If so, how can we help you succeed?”
Notice that the focus is still on our friend’s goal and that we are still assuming the best motive. The difference with this phase is the intentional effort to discover the real obstacles. Everyone has these obstacles. Very few people are able to identify and overcome them alone. Accountability often fails at this most critical phase. Courage, fueled by genuine love and a desire to see our friend succeed is necessary in this phase.
Phase 3: Enforce
Language: “Your choices demonstrate that you are not willing or able to keep your commitment. Since you asked us to hold you accountable to this commitment, either help us help you succeed or our support in this effort will end.”
This phase requires firm leadership and forces a decision. The important thing to notice, however, is that a decision is already being made. Our friend has already decided against a decision he made earlier. We are simply bringing the last possible measure of influence we have to help him accomplish his own goals… our support.
Notice that we are not removing our love, our concern, or our willingness to help him in the future. Our friend instinctively knows accomplishing his goal will be more difficult without us. Forcing this decision in a loving way could be the motivation he needs to identify and overcome the obstacles.
The alternative is to say nothing. This path of least resistance is also the path to diminutive life change. This path inevitably makes the conversation more difficult to address in the future and leaves our friend with more guilt and shame than he had before we began.
Like anything else of great value, accountability is worth developing. Make the shift. Make abundant life the focus of spiritual accountability, and commit to following through the whole accountability conversation with love and grace. *
* Accountability is built in to every Disciples Made small group experience. Our online tools provide the structure to read the bible and journal in a way that two or more people can see your “I Will” statements and help you accomplish those goals. Our focus on developing these habits over an extended period of time ensures that participants have every opportunity to make effective and meaningful accountability part of their life forever.