How to Incorporate Accountability into Your Discipleship Approach
Reggie McNeal has said, "Genuine spirituality lives and flourishes only in cultures and relationships of accountability" . If this is true, and I believe it is, then accountability must be an essential element of our disciple-making strategies.
According to Dr. Dave Currie, accountability is "the volunteer surrender of your life to the regular and frequent scrutiny and encouragement of another person for the purpose of ongoing life transformation that brings glory to God" .
Currie believes that this kind of accountability helps people get perspective on current problems. It paves the way for support in tough times. It provides a consistent challenge to grow. It helps keep us focused on the future and to take necessary next steps in our personal growth. In the words of Bob Proctor, "Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to the result."
Now, it's important to realize that the most effective forms of accountability combine loving graciousness with tenacious and consistent support. Accountability should not be legalistic or brutal. It's meant to provide just enough pressure to initiate and sustain growth at an optimal pace.
So, what does accountability look like? It's simply discussing what's going on in your life. What are your current struggles? What are the possibilities that excite you? It's talking about the emotions that you experience, particularly those that are recurring emotions. Accountability provides an opportunity to explore our primary relationships. It's a place to ask hard questions.
In his book entitled Cultivating a Life for God, Neil Cole shares a number of accountability questions that people can ask each other in what he calls "Life Transformation Groups"—groups of two or three Christians that meet weekly to help each other grow in their relationship with God. Cole includes the following questions from James Bryan Smith and Richard Foster:
- In what ways did God make his presence known to you since our last meeting? What experiences of prayer, meditation and spiritual reading has God given you? What difficulties or frustrations did you encounter? What joys or delights?
- What temptations did you face since our last meeting? How did you respond? Which spiritual disciplines did God use to lead you further into holiness of heart and life?
- Have you sensed any influence or work of the Holy Spirit since our last meeting? What spiritual gifts did the Spirit enable you to exercise? What was the outcome? What fruit of the Spirit would you like to see increase in your life? What disciplines might be useful in this effort?
- What opportunities did God give you to serve others since our last meeting? How did you respond? Did you encounter injustice to or oppression of others? Were you able to work for justice and shalom
- In what ways did you encounter Christ in your reading of the Scripture since our last meeting? How has the Bible shaped the way you think and live? Did God provide an opportunity for you to share your faith with someone? How did you respond?
I have found that the best places for accountability are in one-on-one relationships and small groups. One-on-one coaching that incorporates a call to action and subsequent accountability can be very helpful for taking necessary next steps (check out a past blog called The 5 Stages of a Structured Coaching Conversation as well as MinistryLift’s coaching resources). For years, I have been in small groups that provided mutual support as we identified growth areas. Some groups were better at this than others. However, when people trust one another and have a desire to grow, you can build intentional accountability into a group to accelerate the growth process.
Stephen Covey has said, "Accountability breeds response-ability." We need the loving support of others to take necessary actions. It's an essential ingredient in effective disciple-making.
Note: Incorporating healthy accountability into church life is one of eleven key elements for Developing a Strategic Pathway for Discipleship in Your Church.
Randy Wollf is the Director of MinistryLift and Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary.
 Reggie McNeal, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009).
 Dave Currie, Getting SAPPY: The Power of a Spiritual Accountability Partner, Unpublished Manuscript, 2007.