Over-Complicating Accountability

We’ve made accountability way too complicated. Just reading the word “accountability” probably made some of you cringe just a little. Visions of awkward, forced conversations or going through a list of prescribed questions come to mind. Or maybe sitting at a round table with people you sort of know, drinking bad coffee out of styrofoam cups in a church fellowship hall during a men’s or women’s bible study. Some of you think back to college and your accountability group who got together, all admitted to the same sins as last week, limply suggested you all do better, and agreed to try again at the same time and place next week.

Accountability has become a formal word associated with groups and meetings and appointments. We’ve mistaken formality for intentionality. Accountability must be intentional or else it won’t happen. But when it becomes formal we usually stop being accountable. We’ve made it too complicated.

It really only has two main ingredients.


We must be humble enough to know we need help, to recognize our shortcomings, to admit them to others, and to listen to their counsel. Humility gets us over ourselves, our fear of losing face, our shame. It recognizes our need for others and their contribution to our betterment.


We must have trusted friends. We don’t need a posse of them, just a couple. They must be people with whom we are honest and who are honest back, who will tell us hard truths knowing that we’re humble enough to listen. They must be unafraid of our opinions or our wrath. (Of course most wrath isn’t humble, either.) They must be godly and invested, in our lives enough to see the ebbs and flows of emotion and soul. And they must allow us to be for them as they are for us.

This is it. That’s the recipe for accountability. Have friends and be honest.

None of this is easy. But neither is it complicated. Do you have godly friends you can trust? If not, start there. If yes be intentional about trusting them and asking them to trust you. Might it help to meet regularly? Yes, but as friends who care not as “accountability partners” who devolve into rote questions and stock answers.

Accountability only works if it is rooted in relational investment. It works if it is not merely a Q&A but rather life lived alongside life, through conversation, meals, fun, crisis, ups, and downs. This is relationship, the kind out of which real accountability grows. The kind where it’s safe to be humble and honest.

Don’t over-complicate things. Keep it simple – humility and relationships. Then start the hard work of growing in those.

I live in the Nashville area and spend my days helping churches with leadership development. My nights are spent writing and rooting for Minnesota sports teams. I also podcast a bit. I'm the author of The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith, and The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life