I have never been a fan of the concept of “accountability partners.”*
I understand the concept. People need someone to help them to own their actions and continue working on areas of struggle in their lives. We don’t always want to take responsibility for our sins, and we should have people around us in whom we can confide and who will remind us to persevere. The problem is, I don’t think this ends up working in real life. I have seen far too much damage done in relationships where people had set themselves up to be accountable to a single individual.
Some of the things I’ve witnessed have included withdrawal from a spouse in favor of the accountability partner; legalism and being held to a standard other than the Bible; gossip at the hands of the partner; and bullying by the membership of a church over what should have been private issues—including, but not limited to, public humiliation.
You may think that either I am exaggerating or that the good far outweighs the bad. I disagree. When people make themselves specifically responsible to only one or two people for all the areas in which they are struggling, someone is bound to get hurt. Not only that, but this type of relationship is not just about praying and caring for people. It’s a relationship based on sin detection and prevention, rather than on mutual love and trust. It can easily become one-sided or twisted beyond its original intent. While I do know some people who claim to have benefited from accountability partners, I know far more who have ended up more broken than when they started.
One thing I find troubling is our obsession with “fixing” the sin in people’s lives. We have substituted the long list of Old Testament rules with a New Testament list of rules. I am not suggesting that there is no such thing as sin, but we really place far too much emphasis on avoiding personal sin and “trying to be good.” Not good in the sense of doing good deeds; good in the sense of not doing bad things. It’s a very childish way to view morality, and it’s certainly no way to maintain a healthy friendship. That kind of interaction leads to guilt and shame, instead of light and love. I have never heard of a pair of accountability partners who came together for the purpose of encouraging one another to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, or visit the imprisoned, with the partners pushing each other greater effort when they have failed to do so.
I think that what people are really seeking, and need much more, are deep friendships. We need the kind of friends in whom we can confide, including places where we struggle to follow God. In a transparent friendship, we have a two-way street. We have genuine partners who want not only to keep each other from falling into unhealthy patterns but who also want to demonstrate love in other ways. It becomes a friendship in which people share their deepest thoughts, fears, dreams, hopes, and sins with each other, but they also enjoy one another’s company in more mundane ways, too.
It is the church which should help us understand our sin and our need for Christ, as well as encouraging us to work for the good of all people. It is our friends who should let us open ourselves to greater levels of transparency.
*Please note, I am not talking about the relationship between people in recovery and their sponsors. I don’t have any experience with this and cannot speak to it. I am talking here only about the type of accountability partners typically set up in churches for the general membership in which two people, or sometimes a very small group of people, set themselves up to hold each other responsible for “sin issues” in their lives.