By Dr. Bill Patterson
“I need an accountability partner. I’ve been praying about it, and I believe the Lord led me to ask you.”
The phone call came not long after I processed thoughts about my life: What should be my future focus? I felt God wanted me to pass the baton—mentor, train, share insights into ministry, and encourage. Then my friend called. His question validated what I felt the Lord said to me.
We began meeting twice a month in order to help him. I found that the sessions also helped me.
Benefits of Accountability
My friend needed an accountability partner for two main reasons: he faced some life changes and he couldn’t talk about them with his aging father. Since I am 11 years older, he felt he could talk with me about some of these issues.
In preparation for this article, I asked him to jot down a few benefits he’s found from our time together:
“The times we get together are priceless. There is a process of informal transmission of knowledge. The psychosocial support is relevant to my work, career, family, and professional development. We want the other to succeed in life. Sometimes I listen more and sometimes he listens more. It is based on the need, and we both try to listen for the need in the other. Without accountability I could make a wrong turn that would be dangerous to me and my family.”
What has surprised me is how I have benefited from the accountability process. I have shared with him how some positive choices in the past have helped my family and also how some mistakes I’ve made have hurt us. In speaking these out loud, I have become more aware and more committed to seeking the Lord’s help for future decisions.
Both my accountability partner and I have talked out some visions for our individual futures and plotted some courses which will help us see those dreams become reality. For instance, I am now on a sabbatical to accomplish some writing I’ve dreamed of—but for which I have not had time. I do not believe this three-month sabbatical would have happened without first envisioning the possibilities during an accountability session.
Knowing that someone cares, that we can call one another for any need, that we lift one another in prayer, and that we genuinely seek the best in the other’s life—all these things benefit us both.
Tips for Success
Through this and past accountability partnerships, I’ve discovered a few things that have helped sustain this beneficial friendship:
Choose a regular time.
We found that meeting regularly helped us keep on track. We meet twice a month. However, we are not rigid. If one of us has extra responsibilities, we simply postpone our meeting to another set time. We have found this freedom has helped us not to feel burdened by the meetings and yet to keep them a priority.
Several years ago I met with a men’s accountability group of four. It worked well for us to meet weekly at a local park where we talked and walked—since each of us needed to get in better shape.
Both my accountability partner and I have some training and experience in counseling. Neither of us sought counseling. We sought life support and help in godly decision-making for years to come. We both wanted an honest coach we could talk with about the hard choices we face in life. We’ve met twice a month for the last year and believe we have more productive meetings now than we had early on. How long will we continue? Likely as long as we both live close enough to meet face-to-face on a somewhat regular basis and as long as we both feel value from the accountability.
Another tip for success is to listen—to what is said and to what is not said. For instance, if my partner talked about a struggle going on in his family for several months, then in one session says nothing about the struggle, I know to ask, “What’s up?”
The ability to listen well cannot be overstressed. It rates as the number one positive trait to look for in accountability. Good partners listen far more than they talk. The other accountability partner often can talk his way out of trouble—that is, he can talk until he fully accesses his options in each situation. For instance, when my accountability partner sought a new job, I asked about him moving his family. And then I listened. He talked several minutes about options. Then he talked about how it would be difficult to get the help he needed with a gifted child. Then he talked about increased housing costs in the new area. I continued to listen and only occasionally asked a probing question. He spent almost the whole hour-and-a-half talking through options. I likely spoke only 10 percent of the time and he 90 percent. But he needed to talk out his options that session. In other sessions I speak most of the time while he sets aside any items he may have had.
Be sensitive and confidential.
With no set agenda, sessions can devolve into routine talk that produces little long-term good. We counter that tendency by being sensitive to ask about delicate issues and to pick up on areas of concern. (Having a same gender partnership is an important element of this.)
What has troubled my accountability partner? Is there an area of great temptation? Is there an area where he feels a heavy burden? Has he had recurrent dreams? Is there an ongoing family crisis? How is his daily time with the Lord?
Of course, confidentiality is the key to honesty and openness. Without the other’s permission, we share nothing of what goes on in the accountability meetings.
Don’t try to fix.
Accountability helps us to keep in mind the important things so that the urgent doesn’t crowd them out. Accountability also helps us sort out options so that we make wise choices. Doing these things requires great openness—something that would be troublesome if one thought the other was trying to mold him or to fix his problems. In truth, God is our judge and healer. As Christian brothers, we challenge each other at times, but we have agreed not to try to take God’s place.
Prayer is a vital part of the accountability process for Christians. Jesus has told us that without him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). We both follow our Lord and therefore want to know and do his will. We pray for one another during the week and then pray together over lunch (if we share a meal) and also at the close of our meetings.
What about You?
God’s Word says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Have you considered accountability? Ask the Lord about it. Ask him to send you to just the right person or group. Through accountability you can sharpen your skills for the journey of life.
Dr. Bill Patterson is a minister and freelance writer in Henderson, Kentucky.