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True and False Accountability
18 September 2014
This is the fourth article in which I have shared extracts from the life-changing book So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore: An Unexpected Journey by Wayne Jacobsen. In the form of a fictional story, the author shares many deep truths about what it means to follow Yeshua (Jesus), and the pitfalls of institutional Christianity.
For today's article, I've taken excerpts from Chapter 4 which address the issue of true and false accountability. For more details about this book, and links to the other extracts, see Radical, Profound, Must-Read Books!
This is such an awesome book that I strongly urge you to get your own copy and read the whole thing. Just follow the link above.
Read more excerpts from this book:
I hate getting up at six in the morning for a breakfast meeting and having everyone else fail to show up. This is an accountability group, after all.
Five of us formed it after a men’s retreat six months earlier, promising to hold ourselves accountable to being good husbands, involved fathers, and committed believers. Attendance after the first few weeks had been sporadic, but that day only one other guy showed and he hadn’t been to a meeting in at least two months. In fact, we’d given up on him.
Bob Miller, one of our council members, came only to tell me afterward that he and Joyce were separated. I was hoping Gil Rodriguez would show up because he was the only one I could talk to about my escalating problems at church, for which I mostly blamed John. So instead of unburdening myself, I spent the whole time talking about Bob’s separation.
He’d been married to Joyce for more than thirty years and raised three children, and until that moment I’d thought they were one of our model couples. Since Bob was one of our council members, I knew this was going to reflect poorly on our congregation....
During our conversation I kept hearing laughter across the partition in another section of the restaurant. I remembered thinking how out of place the laughter seemed with the grief going on right in front of me. How dare anyone have that much fun this time of the morning around people in so much pain!
I tried everything I could think of to help Bob fix it, but he said it was impossible.... We got up and walked to the cash register to pay our checks. I was seething with anger at the other guys for not showing up and at Bob for being such an idiot.
As I got change back from the waitress at the cash register, I looked up to see a familiar face.... Our eyes met and he seemed as genuinely surprised as I was. “John? What are you doing here?” A big smile broke out across his face and he answered with a chuckle in his voice, “Jake, how are you doing?” He came over and shook my hand....
I followed him across the room and sat down at the table in the corner where all the laughter had come from earlier. “Was that you laughing so hard over here, or was that another table?” I asked, sizing up the room.
“Oh, that was Phillip! I wish I’d known you were here because I want you two to meet... he’s on a similar journey to yours, and he’s just surfaced from some painful and deep waters. He’s just like a kid splashing around the summer pond. His joy is even more infectious than his laugh.”
“I’m glad someone is having fun,” I said, the sarcasm dripping from my lips.
”That doesn’t sound good.”
“It’s been horrible since I last saw you and this morning really topped it off. No one showed up for our accountability group, except Bob who hasn’t met us for a long time. He only came to tell me he and his wife are separated because she found some pornography on his computer. He’s a leader at the church, too. What a mess!”
“You seem really angry.”
“This is going to hurt the church.”
“Is that why you’re angry at him?”
That was the first time that morning I stopped to think how I felt about Bob. I had been so upset with his separation and how it would affect the church, I really hadn’t thought about Bob.
“I didn’t think I was mad at Bob. I was mad at his failure and ...”
”And what it is going to cost you.”
“I don’t know if I thought of it that way, but now that you mention it I was pretty hard on him. I guess I blame him for not being more consistent with the group and admitting his struggle.”
“Accountability is not for those who struggle, Jake. It’s for those who succeed.”
”But aren’t we accountable to one another?”
“Where did you get that idea?”
“It’s in the Bible, isn’t it?”
“Can you show me where?” John reached down and pulled a Bible off the booth seat next to him and tossed it on the table.
I picked it up and started to thumb through it while my mind raced to find a passage. I couldn’t come up with one. I even glanced through the concordance but recognized all those passages referred to our giving account to God, not to one another. “Doesn’t Hebrews talk about people being accountable to leadership in some way?”
“No,” John said as he chuckled, “it talks about leaders giving an account for the lives they touch. All the accountability in Scripture is linked to God, not to other brothers and sisters. When we hold one another accountable, we are really usurping God’s place. It’s why we end up hurting one another so deeply.”
“How are we going to change, then? We’ve taught people that they grow in Christ by making a commitment to doing what’s right and then following through. We need to help one another do that!”
“How well is that working for you, Jake, or for the rest of the group?”
“Not very well, I’d have to admit. But that’s because people aren’t committed enough.”
“You really think so?”
I’d heard that tone of voice before and knew that at least John didn’t see it that way. I hesitated to answer.
“Do you know what all this commitment talk produces?” John asked.
“It helps people try to live better, doesn’t it?”
“It looks like that.” John shook his head and let out a deep sigh. “But it doesn’t work. We’re not changed by the promises we make to God, but by the promises He makes to us. When we make commitments that we can live up to only for a brief period, our guilt multiplies when we fail. Upset that God doesn’t do more to help us, we usually end up medicating our guilt with something like drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, or anything else that dulls the pain, or it creeps out of us through anger or lust.”
“Are you saying that’s what happened to Bob?”
“I don’t know Bob, but I’d say it’s likely. Did he feel safe enough to come and share his deepest temptation?”
“Obviously not!” I shook my head in frustration. “A lot of our wives say we need a men’s retreat every month to keep us motivated enough. I sometimes think they’re right.”
“Yes, it’s easy to come back on a high and keep your commitments for a few weeks, but what happens when the glory of that fades and it’s no fun treating your wife like a queen or spending time with your children when there are more pressing demands at work? You finally give in because nothing has changed on the inside. This is an outward-in approach, based on human effort, and it just won’t work.”
“So you’re saying that our approach is only producing more sin?”
“For most people, yes, I am. That’s why Bob doesn’t want to come and no one else does, either. Even when they are there, they probably aren’t telling the real stories of their struggles. They would feel too bad about themselves. Instead, they confess to acceptable sins like busyness, anger, or gossip. That’s the worst part of religious thinking. It takes our best ambitions and uses them against us. People who are trying to be more godly actually become more captive to their appetites and desires....”
John continued, “You’re not finding God’s presence to be any more real for you than when we first talked, are you?”
“Why would you say that?”
”Because you’re still trying to make others do it, instead of living it yourself. It’s natural for us to deal with our own emptiness by trying to get others around us to change. That’s why so much body life today is built around accountability and human effort: if we could just get everyone else to do what’s right, everything would be better for us.”
“No, Jake! We’re not ever going to get it all right. People are going to mess up. Sorting out a relationship with Jesus is a lifetime journey. The life of faith is struggle enough in a broken world without us complicating it for other believers. Why do you think you weren’t there for Bob and now your pastor isn’t there for you?”
“I don’t know.”
“Because real body life isn’t built on accountability. It’s built on love. We’re to encourage one another in the journey without conforming people to the standard we think they need.”
“That sounds like relativism, John!”
“It’s not, it simply respects the process God uses to bring people into truth. I’m not talking about different things being true for different people, but about people discovering that truth in different time frames. If we hold people accountable, they will never learn to live in love. We’ll reward those who are better at putting on a front and miss those who are in the real struggle of learning to live in Jesus.”
“I can’t even imagine sharing that kind of journey with others.”
“It’s the best, Jake! It opens the door for people to be authentic and known exactly for who they are. It encourages them to draw near to Jesus, not try to fix everybody with our answers for the universe.”
“Where can I find that, John? Is there a place like that in Kingston?”
“Jake, you misunderstand. It is not a place, it’s a way of living alongside other believers. Are there others who want to live this way? Sure. And you’ll find one another in time. But first, let it change you.... Take care, Jake. You’re on the right path. It may get worse before it gets better, but it’s the same with surgery. When it does finally get better, it’s going to really get better!”
“It doesn’t feel that way.”
“I know. Getting to the end of ourselves is not the fun part. It’s just the first part. At that time, the closer we get, the farther we feel we are from Him. That’s why I want to encourage you to just keep hanging in there with Jesus. He’ll sort all of this out in ways you’d never believe if I could tell you today.”
This article is 50th a series of articles on this Web site related to Modern Christianity and the Church which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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