Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How Does Accountability Work?

My wife's niece emailed me the other day to ask about how she should approach the subject of accountability with a new group she is forming. Accountability in groups is an important but loaded subject. Here are some of my observations of the topic over the years. Accountability is good... but needs to be approached in the right manner.
  1. Accountability doesn't work well with big groups. I will not be vulnerable with 50 people, 20 people, 10 people. I will, however, be open with 2-4 people whom I know and trust.
  2. Openness and vulnerability are crucial for true accountability. Trust is imperative or people will hide. Time builds trust. Trust builds courage, honesty and openness.
  3. Most people believe that you will stop loving them if you see the "real" them. Trusting someone with their junk is counter-intuitive to most people because they want to be seen in the best light. This poses an enemy to accountability.
  4. You need to be clear about what you're asking people to be accountable for. Purity? Bible reading? Giving? Prayer? What is it? Be crystal clear.
  5. Have clear accountability questions so that people know what will be asked of them on a consistent basis. Stay away from yes/no answers where people can hide or lie easy.
  6. Accountability should be measured. The word accountability means you plan to "count" something or measure it. What's the yard stick? For example, someone can want accountability in the area of prayer. Well... what's the goal? Pray 10 minutes each day? Or... learn to engage the heart of God? How can it be measured?
  7. Accountability is not the mechanism for transformation, the Holy Spirit is. Accountability must aid the work of the Spirit or it becomes a form of self-righteous legalism. Remember, the Pharisees had all kinds of forms of accountability to guide them. Jesus had his harshest words for their self-righteous attitudes. They needed to confess the sins of their "obedient"/ disciplined lifestyles.
  8. Accountability is no good without grace and forgiveness. What will you do if I fail? Throw me out? Slap my hand? Apply mercy? "Confess your sins one to another, so that you will find mercy" Another verse uses the word, "healing."
  9. People are loved into obedience not driven. We obey fully when we understand how great God's love is for us. We become disciplined because we want a deeper and truer relationship with the God that gave so much for us.

Long Lasting Impact

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of writers at the Christian Writer's Conference. That particular day was a bit stressful for me with many pending fall ministry obligations and family stuff that was building. The conference was in Muskegon, so I was also dreading the two hours I would have on the road that day. Frankly, I was beginning to regret agreeing to do this talk.

Honestly, I wasn't very confident with my material nor was I sure the audience would be thrilled with what I had planned. I arrived frazzled and late because I had taken two wrong turns on the way. It was a tough day for me to speak. Frazzled, unsure and anxious I gave the evening over to God. I told him as I walked to the podium, "You brought me here for a reason. Here I go. This is yours."

My talk went better than I dreamed. I felt a connection with the group of 80 or so writers that evening. My frazzled heart calmed. My uncertainty morphed to confidence and joy. It was fun even perhaps helpful.

At the end of my talk, God gave me an unexpected gift. I had just sat down after finishing. The conference moderator was making some announcements about the next session when a lady with a very eager posture raised her hand. "Do you have a question?" she was asked. "No, I would like to make a comment," she replied. Speaking loudly and confidently she said, "I want you all to know that I knew Phil Niekerk when he was just a little boy." I jumped to my feet to see who it was. I had not recognized her during the evening. She continued, "Phil's dad led me Christ 30 years ago and his mom discipled me for several years. As I watched Phil speak tonight, I could see his mother, Ruth, in him."

What a gift from God that was to me? This lady had come all the way from Texas and the chances of me ever seeing her were very small. But there she was, recalling the work for God through my parents three decades ago. God wanted me to see a glimpse of the spiritual legacy that my parents had left with people I had begun to forget.

What will my kids see 30 years from now? Will they get to experience stories of how Janice and I invested spiritually into people? What will people say about our life investments? Will the relationships that I'm building today have a lasting impact on who people become in the future? On a hurried frazzled day, God gave me a glimpse of the power of a relational investment that is still paying off 30 years later.