A few days ago over on my Instagram account, I asked this question; “When you hear the word accountable, like someone is going to hold you accountable, what is your initial gut reaction? Is it positive or negative?” I’m a little surprised to tell you that 89% responded with a ‘thumbs up’, meaning a positive response. For some reason, I was expecting more people to respond negatively.
Personally, I love the act of being held accountable – there’s something so personal and powerful about trusting someone to hold you responsible for something. But I can also understand a negative reaction, because I think accountability comes off restrictive. Allow me to give you an example.
My husband and I are not strangers to alcoholic beverages. Chris is a beer snob, and I like bubbles, wine, beer – okay, I like a lot of libations, but let’s not get off topic. When we started taking our faith more seriously, we recognized the importance of not letting our love for tasty drinks get out of hand. We want to represent the Lord well, and drinking in moderation, is a part of that. And let's be honest, we're not always good at this.
On one recent occasion, we were hanging with a group of friends, eating snacks, playing games and having a few drinks. After Chris had a few, I leaned over and whispered, “Hey babe, you might want to have a glass of water before you grab another one.” From our perspective, this was me keeping my word to my husband. We’ve talked about this very scenario where we are tempted to have one too many, and we’ve agreed to hold each other accountable, aka know when it’s time to cut it off. But from an outsider’s perspective, this easily looks like a nagging wife trying to control or restrict her husband.
Here’s the thing, accountability is not meant to be restrictive; it’s actually meant to be empowering.
I’ve been reading 1 Thessalonians lately, and came upon a verse that I think beautifully portrays a non-restrictive, ‘thumbs up’ definition of what it means to hold each other accountable.
1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 says, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.”
Those words in bold, encouraging, comforting, and urging, are what empowering accountability is made of.
If I want to decrease my time spent on my phone, Chris yelling at me every time my nose is buried in Instagram isn’t going to inspire me; a gentle reminder that I want to create more space for conversation or listening for the Lord– that will. The same principle applies elsewhere. If I want to be held accountable to reading the Bible more, having someone ask me pointedly, “Have you been reading your bible every single day?” and then scolding me if the answer is no, isn’t going to press me to get into the word. But being urged and encouraged that gaining wisdom from the Bible is life giving, that will motivate me to dig deeper.
Using language that is encouraging, comforting and urging is a crucial component of empowering accountability, but there's one more piece. It cannot be a one-sided decision. If I randomly decided that I didn’t want Chris to drink as much in a social setting, and started harping on him to drink water instead, what do you think his response would be? He’d be taken off guard and probably a bit frustrated. I can’t hold Chris accountable to drinking less without him inviting me to do so. And the same goes to any accountability relationship.
In order for accountability to be empowering, both of these characteristics must be present:
- it must be birthed in a trust-based relationship and agreed upon by both parties
- the goal must be to encourage, comfort and urge each other towards the goal
I love this verse, this beautiful perspective, on accountability so much that Chris and I have declared it over our marriage for 2018. We want this year to be a year where we are not only intentional with our marriage, but intentional in becoming more like Christ. And the only way to do that is by encouraging, comforting, and urging each other to live lives worthy of God, who calls us into his kingdom and glory.
If you’ve never experienced empowering accountability, my prayer is that this might kick start you to pursue it. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, let’s “encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”