How to Build Accountability in Discipleship: A Practical Tool

Developing and maintaining accountability relationships is essential to discipleship.  The general idea behind an accountability relationship—usually put in terms of having an “accountability partner”—is to have a support system in place that can help you guard against sin, provide someone to confess to when you do sin, and to encourage you in disciple’s life.

Verses like James 5:16, “confess your sins to one another so that you might be healed,” speak to the importance of accountability, and we know we need this kind of openness in our discipleship, but we can struggle with knowing how to go about it.  Understanding how accountability, particularly confession, should look on a regular basis can be a challenge.  Even for those experienced in the practice of accountability, maintaining and knowing how to engage your accountability partner requires guidance.

Here is a tool to try in your discipleship accountability.  This is merely a practical way to “check-in,” a prescriptive plan that you can immediately and easily use to define how accountability will look in your discipleship.

When you check-in with your discipler, or your accountability partner—which should be at minimum once per week—try remembering to go through A, E, I, O, U, Y.

A – “A” is for abstinent.   What kind of life does your sin have right now?  Is it breathing deep breaths because your giving it so much oxygen or gasping for air because you’ve been walking in obedience?  Have you been abstinent?  If so, for how long?  If not, what exactly did you do?  From pride to coveting to gluttony to lust, we identify sin by our specific practice of it, when we commit it.  Whatever your struggle, abstaining from its destructive habits is central to being kept, and keeping someone, accountable.  Often, the first thing to put on the table with your accountability partner is your abstinence or lack of it.  Your accountability partner is someone you trust, so trust them with your confession.

E – “Exercise.”  Your spiritual state is tied to your emotional, mental, and spiritual states.  God requires that we love Him with mind, heart, soul, and strength—that is, with our bodies.  Remember Paul’s words, “present your bodies as living sacrifices.”  Exercise, however brief or strenuous and in whatever form, calms us, regulates our hormones, gives us perspective, improves our thinking, and teaches us discipline and sacrifice.  When you check in with your accountability partner, be sure to go into your physical activity.

I – “I” stands for “what have I done for myself?”  It’s vitally important to love yourself and to care for yourself.  Everyday, you should set aside time to serve yourself.  Take five minutes to enjoy coffee on your front porch.  Read the book you want to, and not just the one you have to.  Watch a movie.  Go for a walk.  Redecorate.  Meet up with a friend.  Just do something in service to your wellbeing.  Jesus says to love our neighbor as ourselves, but we can’t love our neighbor if we haven’t loved ourselves.   So when you talk to your accountability partner, share what you have done for yourself.

O – “O” stands for “others.”  It’s important to do something for yourself and equally important to serve others.  You can’t truly love yourself as God desires you to if you haven’t loved your neighbor as God does.  Ask this question of yourself everday and talk about it with your partner at every meeting: how have you served someone today?

U – “Unsaid.”  Here is the true essence of confession.  Sin isn’t just what we do.  It’s what lies beneath what we do.  It begins with our root sins, things like resentment, pride, fear, jealousy, and self-protection.  What heart condition are you holding onto?  What led to your outburst?  Your looking at pornography?  Your obsessively bitter thoughts and envy?  What deep things do you need to confess?   What heart sin lies deeper than your enacted sin?  What’s unsaid?

Y – “Y” stands for “thankful.”   We’re told in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus.”  Sin can effect the heart by making it turn inward, bending it selfishly so that it doesn’t see others or the beauty of the world.  To check your heart and to align it with the God who has given you every need and blessing in Christ, try expressing thankfulness for at least one thing each day.  It could be the weather, your family, your job, forgiveness of sin, a good meal, or life itself.  There’s always something to be thankful for.  Express that thankfulness to your accountability partner.

Accountability is discipleship with responsibility.  Without diligence, without attending to the details of the process, and without integrity your discipleship relationship will dispense a kind of cheap grace that doesn’t move you toward holiness.