Is your accountability group like the Kingdom, or is it more like a water cooler?


by Mike Nichols

Men need accountability. Look at any biblical model you choose to study, and you will see that every leader had someone to whom He was accountable.

Moses had his father-in-law, and he had Aaron. David had Jonathan, and then Nathan – whether he wanted the latter or not. Christ had the ultimate such partner, His Father, but He also had His “inner circle” of Peter, James, and John whom He taught but also with whom He shared His human thoughts and concerns. Paul had first Barnabas, then Silas, perhaps even Luke. Accountability keeps us focused on God, on being humble, on admitting our faults, and on repentance and growth in Christ.

Promise Keepers started the modern conversation on accountability anew when it burst on the scene in the ‘90s. Every man who is familiar with the wildly but only briefly successful men’s movement knows the “Seven Questions” and how awkward they can be when you don’t want to answer them, particularly the dreaded last one: “Have you been truthful in answering the other six questions?”

Pastor and professor Traylor Lowron, writing on the Covenant Eyes website, detailed how his accountability group suffered through awkwardness, lack of personal or spiritual connection, and eventually folded after only six months. Lowron asks the logical question, based on that experience, “So how did the admonishment to ‘pursue vital relationships with other men’ get dumbed down to meeting with other men and asking a series of probing questions about behavior?”

It’s a good question. Lowron uses it to disparage the lack of accountability among Christian men in modern society. His next question asked why there are no women’s accountability groups. Women, says Lowron, have fellowship, not accountability.

He’s right. The fellowship is the accountability. That’s the way women do it, and while there is good reason to believe that is how they are wired genetically, there is no reason men can’t do the same. Lowron suggests the issue is a failure to fully believe the Gospel, and a willingness to hide and pretend we are OK when we are not. I believe he’s got the idea, but it goes much deeper than that.

Men essentially are loners. That is the way we are genetically, it is the way we are raised and socialized, and it is the way we remain most of our lives without intentional efforts to change. And by change, I don’t mean approaching it like some of us approach changing a lightbulb: Standing still with the bulb in hand waiting for the world to revolve around us. As Christians, we are called to progressive sanctification that we actively participate in through (to repeat Lowron’s words) the pursuit of vital relationships with other men.

Without vital relationships, a men’s accountability group is nothing but another “gathering around the water cooler” talking last night’s game, the upcoming football season, the adventures of one another’s kids, followed by ten to fifteen minutes of asking difficult questions no one knows anyone else well enough to answer.

Do men even know what a “vital relationship” is? If not, we’d best turn to God’s word to discover it.

Paul writes throughout his works of what it means to be close enough to trust one another. He speaks of eating together (1 Corinthians 11:33), which empowers community. From that community comes a foundation of common purpose (Romans 15:5), which is to bear one another’s burdens while carrying our own load as well (Galatians 6:1, 2), overcoming division and building a mutual care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25).

If we do all these things, we grow into a fervent love for one another (1 Peter 1:22). It is that love that is truly a “vital relationship.” The biblical relationships detailed in this article all had as their basis a fervent love and trust for one another. Only when men have developed the strong bonds of true love for one another can true accountability take place.

Even then, accountability groups can falter. Absentee members are hard to hold accountable. To be accountable, one must be present. If we commit to being part of an accountability group, we have to attend to enjoy its benefits and be of help and comfort to others there.

Confession without expectation of actual change is therapeutic, but not sanctifying. Confession without actual change trivializes sin, making its confession meaningless. We have to be sorrowful enough about our sin to know that it cannot continue and we must stop.

Concentrating on obedience ignores the Gospel. Concentrating on “doing right” places our focus on ourselves, not on Him who empowers us to change. We must remember the Gospel in order to let Him change us, as our own efforts, even in Christ, are just as useless, just as much “filthy rags,” as they were before we became believers.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

In confessing, we are agreeing with God about our sin, and in an accountability group our confession should commit us to the change we know we must make. But again, that change must be effected by Christ in us, as His grace gives us peace with Him (Romans 5:1) and the power to do that which we, by ourselves, cannot (Titus 2:11-14).

We encourage one another by praying for one another, reading the Scriptures to provide encouragement, exhortation, and comfort, and we remind each other that we are, indeed, citizens of heaven, not this sinful world.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20, 21).

He does the work. We submit to Him to allow Him to do it. And when we can’t find it within us to do so, we need good, close, trusted friends with whom we can be brutally honest to help us get on the right track. We don’t need water coolers. We need brothers in Christ who love us enough to tell us the truth.

Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (

Mike is a home builder with a psychology degree entering Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in January toward a Masters in Counseling. A “four-percenter” (only four percent of Christians believe after age 40) who came to Christ 22 years ago, he is happily married to his beautiful wife Liz and enjoys his blended family of seven children and four grandchildren. He changes light bulbs the old-fashioned way and doesn’t stand around water coolers.

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