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The Dark Side of Christian Accountability

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  • 2017 Oct 10

If you were to look up the definition of accountability, Merriam Webster would give you:

“the quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or account for one’s actions.”

But the idea of “giving account” isn’t just a statement explaining one’s conduct. In Christian community, it gets a little more complicated.

Christian accountability involves coming alongside someone you trust, someone grounded in their faith who will meet with you, listen to you, encourage you, and counsel you in your walk with the Lord — which always involves our battle with sin. In addition to being a spiritual practice, accountability is a connection that’s forged through relationship, trust, emotional vulnerability, and the ups and downs of our spiritual walk.

Which is where things get messy.

Because Christian accountability involves an equilibrium of so many delicate psychological, emotional, and spiritual components, it’s easy for things to go off-kilter—turning the practice from something encouraging and edifying into something potentially damaging.

Sound a little extreme?

Jayson Bradley doesn’t think so. In his article, “What Christian Get Wrong About Accountability," Bradley examines the darker side of Christian accountability, one that rears its head when we start elevating the practice over the relationship.

According to Bradley, our focus on the practice of accountability over the Christ-love of Christian community makes three things happen:

1. Spiritual growth becomes about what I don’t do.
2. Spiritual growth becomes something I achieve through grit and determination.
3. We’re trained to see love as monitoring each other.

Our tendency to see accountability as a “means to stop us from doing ‘bad’ things” can be especially deceptive.

“So many of Jesus’ parables focused on the good we left undone rather than the bad that we do,” Bradley writes.

“This doesn’t mean the negative things we do don’t matter, but it’s a lot harder to hold someone accountable to opportunities they ignore. You’d never ask an accountability partner, ‘Hey, did you walk by any travelers lying in a ditch today? Did you neglect to visit someone in prison today? Did you neglect to clothe someone who was naked?’

Yet what we neglect to do says as much about our spiritual development as what we keep doing that we shouldn’t. When we reduce holiness to simply ‘stop sinning,’ we become incredibly superficial and miss the big picture of what Christ’s salvation is really all about—transformation.”

It’s a sobering thought, and just one example of why we need to regularly check and re-check our focus. Are we looking at the big picture of Christ’s redeeming, patient love? Are we willing to walk the long road of heart transformation with one another...or are we putting the emphasis solely on changing behavior?

Bradley also writes that real relationships require more than accountability:

We need spiritual friendships — ones that contain elements of accountability, but aren’t defined by it.

“Friendship needs to grow beyond the need to ‘give account’ to others. Because ultimately, giving a report on my bad behavior is not friendship or community.

Instead, spiritual friends help each other recognize God’s movement and promptings. They encourage each other to stay connected to the vine so that they may produce fruit. And while there may be times these kinds of friends need to say tough things to each other, it’s always with a sense of humility and love.”

“It’s all about trust,” Bradley writes.

And that's what will bring our hearts just one step closer to real and true living—moved not by obligation, but sparked by love.

Article date: October 10, 2017

Photo courtesy: ©Unsplash

Cristina Rutkowski Ford is a Richmond-based artist, writer, and creative communicator. Along with writing, creating, and finding some semblance of balance in life, Cristina channels her passions into her work as editor of