Accountability and Rule


A balanced approach to accountability esteems the value of being in relationship with people who love us enough to take the risks of honesty and candor when necessary.


The issue of one-on-one and group accountability has been widely discussed in the last few years, and like so many other areas, an unbalanced approach can lead to one of two extremes. The first extreme is a complete lack of accountability before other people. Sometimes this is couched in the pious-sounding statement, “I am accountable only to God.” The opposite extreme is a harsh authoritarian approach in which accountability is used to pressure people into someone’s definition of obedience. In this situation, exhortation eclipses affirmation in the same way that law often overrides grace.

A balanced approach to accountability esteems the value of being in relationship with people who love us enough to take the risks of honesty and candor when necessary.

Biblical accountability is not a matter of external imposition, but of voluntary submission. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). There are few churches in which the elders genuinely “keep watch over [the] souls” of the flock, and yet we need such a ministry in our lives.

Accountability can relate to overt sin (1 Samuel 13:13), to doctrinal impurity (Galatians 2:14), to the impressions we create before others (Romans 14:15-16), and to decision making (1 Kings 22:6-8). The purpose of accountability is to protect us from the sins of presumption, self-deception, and rationalization. In addition, accountability communicates “I also am a man under authority” (Matthew 8:9).

If we are wise, we will not put our confidence in ourselves, but in Christ (Philippians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 3:5). True accountability is inversely proportional to confidence in the flesh. Thus, we need a mental shift from seeing accountability as optional to viewing it as a necessary nutrient for spiritual health. Adapting the story of Nathan’s rebuke of David for his adultery and murder in 1 Samuel 12, we should find a Nathan with whom we can share our struggles before a Nathan finds us to confront us with our sin.

The problem is that it is easy to convey the appearance of accountability without the reality. When Christian leaders, for example, are “accountable” to people who will back them in whatever they say or do, image defeats substance. Another way of feigning accountability is withholding information. This is why it is necessary to maintain honesty and transparency as well as regular interaction with those to whom we are accountable.

Accountability should be invited rather than imposed, and it need not be reciprocal. When we seek the benefits of personal and group accountability, we should prayerfully look for people who have a vital walk with God, who are marked by integrity, honesty, and character, and who can be objective about the decisions we need to make. In this way, the support of community upholds us in our disciplines and encourages us to stay on the path of discipleship.


Another time-tested approach to accountability is “Rule,” a word derived from the Latin word regula, meaning "rule, pattern, model, example." A “Regular” Christian is one who embraces some form of Rule in the spiritual life. Rule has to do with a pattern of disciplines that is practiced by a community (e.g., the Rule of St. Benedict), though it can also be embraced by an individual or a small group.

Rule relates to order in a life of prayer, study, silence, solitude, and other disciplines, and its intention should be one of true freedom and skill rather than rigidity or legalism. Personal Rule can be made in consultation with a spiritual director, and common Rule can be established among friends who wish to be united in a common bond of spiritual love and support. When groups are committed to corporate Rule and prayer, they can become remnants within the visible church and agents of renewal.

Taken from Ken Boa's Handbook to Spiritual Growth

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