Why I Don’t Believe in Christian Accountability
Mike Foster: Here are a few reasons why I don’t believe in Christian accountability and why we need a new discussion about integrity.
Through People of the Second Chance, I get to work with leaders on personal sustainability and living a life with no regrets. And though I champion the ideas of transparency, authenticity and brutal honesty, I don’t believe in Christian accountability.
The whole concept makes me cringe, and I don’t think I’m alone in this assessment. It’s horribly broken, ineffective and doing a lot of people a disservice. In many ways, Christian accountability is facilitating a pathway to our lives being chopped up by character assassins.
So here are a few reasons why I don’t believe in Christian accountability and why a new discussion needs to happen around maintaining our integrity.
1. Lack of GraceThe primary reason Christian accountability doesn’t work is because we are more interested in justice and fixing a problem. I’ve seen too many times great men and women get chewed up by this process. When we fail, what we need most is grace and a second chance, not a lecture.
We have all probably experienced or seen a harsh response to our struggles or failures. But there is a big problem when we respond with justice and not grace. You see, human beings are wired up for self-protection and survival. When we see others being hurt, rejected or punished for their sin, we correctly conclude that it is better to hide, conceal and fake it in the future. It basically comes down to this: I don’t want to get hurt, so I’m not telling. When we lack grace, accountability breaks down.
2. Bad EnvironmentsLet me be frank. If I were having an illicit affair with a woman, I’m not going to confess it to four guys at a Denny’s breakfast. And yet, too often, Christian accountability is carried out in these types of environments. We meet in small groups in a weekly environment with a few of our friends. Ultimately, there is a lid on how transparent these conversations can be, and too often, we believe that if we are meeting weekly then we are “accountable.”
My best conversations about my brokenness and struggles have come in non-typical environments. Places where I am completely relaxed, at ease, and feel removed from my daily life.
I have seen leaders every year go away for a week and meet with a coach or therapist and have this time be very effective. They dump a ton of junk, begin working strategies in their life and start dealing with significant character issues. To be frank, I would rather have us have one week of brutal honesty than 52 weeks of semi-honesty at Denny’s.
My point is simple. Find an environment that is going to allow you to open up and examine your current process.
3. The ResultsUnfortunately, the results speak for themselves. If Christian accountability were a company, it would need a serious bailout. It’s simply inadequate, and the results are sub par, at best.
The breaking down of our marriages, financial impropriety, egomaniacal and narcissistic behavior, sexual misconduct, and the bending of every rule we come across are simply signs of a failed system. Last week, I read a post from a pastor who had received emails from 33 other pastors who confessed to him of being involved in an affair.
4. We Game the SystemIf I wanted to, I could spend the next decade of my life convincing you how wonderful I am and how I have it all together. (Luckily, I have no desire to do that.) It bothers me that I’m clever enough to package Mike Foster in such a way that I could make you all believe what a swell guy I am and how I have it all together.
The problem with Christian accountability is that you and I can game the system. I know how to beat it, and if you stick around the church long enough, you will figure it out, too. And that’s a problem. We’re the alcoholic that knows where the hidden key to the liquor cabinet is.
Gaming the system is not hard. We know the right words. We know the right things to talk about. We know how to frame things up to effectively keep everyone off course on who we truly are. I can do it, and so can you. And that’s a big problem.
So that’s why I’m not a fan of Christian accountability and truly believe it is busted. But please don’t lose hope. I have something I want to offer up as a replacement to this flawed system of maintaining our integrity.
I truly believe it is time to reinvent and rethink this very important component of our lives. Over the years, Christian accountability has deformed into a very ugly, uninspiring and broken system.
First off, I want to change the word from “accountability” to “advocacy.” If we are going to redefine a process and introduce a new concept, I think it needs a new word. The word I use in this context with fellow friends and leaders is advocacy. The term can be described as active support, intercession, or pleading and arguing in favor of someone.
So let’s take a look at what advocacy means.
Radical Grace Is the FoundationRadical grace is the core engine for any healthy relationship. You can not have true transparency or confession without it. I encourage people to make verbal commitments to each other and clearly state that they will stand by one another through the best AND the worst.
Most people live with the fear of rejection and allow this fear to dictate how honest they will be with others. In advocacy, we are constantly demonstrating that this relationship is a safe place. Through our response to one another’s failures, our own deep confession and reminding each other that we are in this for the long haul, we implement radical grace.
Focus on the Yes, Not the NoAdvocacy focuses on the “yes,” not the “no.” Too often, typical Christian accountability revolves around long lists of what NOT to do. We spend way too much time discussing and managing the sin. Often, we lock onto the most minor unhealthy behaviors and think that’s going to prepare us for success in life. Unfortunately, we operate on the faulty assumption that working on the symptoms will address the core problem. Bad idea!!!
Advocacy spurs us on to the “yes.” It revolves around the crazy good things that we should be engaging in. It pushes us to live a life of positive risks, creativity, adventure and significance. We rally around each other in this and focus our relationships around this theme.
I truly believe a large amount of moral blowouts flow from boredom and dissatisfaction. We become depressed and unsatisfied with our life, career and marriage, and then we enter into dangerous territory. Why? Because we are not focusing on the “Yes!”
I know that in my own life, I become vulnerable when I have lost a sense of mission and purpose. Having an advocate in our life is important in reminding us of our calling.
Priority on People, Not OrganizationsWhen people fail or become involved in some scandal, too often we immediately consider the ramifications on the organization or company. I’ve talked to many Christians who are very concerned about when a pastor falls of how this impacts the cause of Christ.
Unfortunately, we place more concern on the damage to the brand of Christianity or the church instead of the fallen individual. I’ve seen horrific and hurtful things happen to people in the name of protecting the organization instead of the fallen person. Quite frankly, that sucks!!!
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Christianity’s brand is failures and wrecked lives. Churches are places with messy people who do stupid things. I’ve certainly made my contribution to this effort with my mistakes. In advocacy, the importance is placed on the individual. It is about people, especially those who are most broken. The organization, church or company should take a back seat.
Multi-Group ApproachChristian accountability often is accomplished in small groups that are too general or with just one person leading, which puts too much responsibility on one individual.
Advocacy embraces having multiple layers of transparency and connection. I have about 10 people who are involved in spurring me on to a life of integrity. They can actively speak into my life, and I will listen and make the necessary tweaks.
However, I have about four people whom I have a deeper connection with and discuss harder things with. I also have more structure with this group. This is what I consider to be the core.
But even beyond the core, I have one friend that has full access. We take complete responsibility for each others’ integrity, purity and sustainability. I refer to this person as my “first call.” When the crap hits the fan, I call him first.
Each layer moves into a greater level of commitment and advocacy, and each layer has an important role.
Mike Foster leads an organization called People of the Second Chance which provides innovative strategies on failure and crisis. Mike also serves as the Creative Principal at PlainJoe Studios in Southern California. He blogs daily at www.POTSC.com and is @MikeFoster on Twitter. More from Mike Foster or visit Mike at http://www.POTSC.com