My Road to Accountability

September 9th, 2013

My own experience with accountability started in my teenage years, the summer after my sophomore year in high school, when my youth pastor, Tom, sought me out and asked me if I wanted to start meeting with him at McDonald’s before school on Wednesdays. I initially balked at the six o’clock meeting time—any time before noon is early for an adolescent male—but after thinking it through I began to see how this could be beneficial for me and agreed.

See, as an outgoing, fun-loving fellow, I had plenty of friends at the time, but they were just pals and acquaintances, the types of guys I could talk about girls with or go see a movie with or just hang out with. Do all those normal teenage shenanigans with.

What I was lacking was a person I could really open up to. But not only that—I was also lacking the ability to open up. I didn’t know how to do it or how to even go about doing it, and sometimes, I didn’t even know I needed to do it.

Then Tom comes along with this opportunity to start meeting with him. I took him up on his offer, and not long after that we started our weekly meetings under the golden arches. Finally, at long last, I had a person in my life I felt I could share real stuff with—stuff about my faith, about my doubts and fears, about my dreams for life and what those looked like. About the struggles and temptations I had as I stepped into adulthood, and how well or poorly I wrestled with those struggles and temptations.

Even better, though, was that I now had the opportunity to listen as Tom shared with me some of the challenges he had in his own life. Maybe it sounds weird, but I didn’t feel like he was unloading on me or using me as an ear to vent into—he was just trusting me with a small part of his inner world, a part that I was old enough and mature enough to hear about. He was showing me the flip side of accountability—it’s not all about talking; it’s just as much about listening.

There I was, a teenage kid, awed and amazed at Tom’s ability to listen to me as I poured out my heart and his willingness to share a little bit of his heart with me. I couldn’t believe it. I had mistakenly thought adults had it all together. You can imagine the paradigm shift I underwent the first time I heard Tom talk about some of the challenges he faced in his own life. Here was a guy who had progressed much farther in life than I had, who had his career and life plan figured out, and he still had struggles.

It was liberating.

From Accountability Partners to Group

Tom and I continued to meet together, one-on-one, through my entire junior year. The following summer, though, he suggested an addition, mentioning the possibility of bringing in my friend Jake and turning our weekly meeting into a fullfledged accountability group. Jake and I knew each other really well, and though we’d had some deep talks before, we’d never dived as deeply into each other’s stuff as we probably should have or could have. But now we had a great opportunity to be intentional about just that—all our normal small talk and goofing around could come at another time; now we had a guaranteed hour, once a week, to get down to business.

Senior year began, and Tom started mentoring Jake and me in how to keep each other accountable. He taught us what accountability should look like. He taught us about treating each other’s struggles with love, respect, and grace.

He taught us that accountability is not about sitting across from someone as a judge, but about sitting next to him as an advocate.

And you know what? It worked. Jake and I graduated and went on to college. We became roommates. We eventually got into ministry together. We met a couple of girls, fell in love with them, and then married them and started our own families.

Tom was in both our wedding parties.

And now, twenty years later, Jake and I are still doing this, still hanging out once a week (though now on the phone—more on that later), and getting into each other’s worlds. We’ve been at it for twenty years, and our lives have been irrevocably changed for the better because of it.

Accountability is not easy, and it doesn’t come naturally. But in the long run it’s incredibly necessary, and when you do it right, it’s nothing but good.

The Benefits of Accountability

There are far more benefits to accountability than we can list here, but one of the greatest benefits that come from being accountable is the ability to live a life unencumbered by many of the unnecessary weights we add to it.

We come into this world with nothing in the way of material things—just our own skin and internal organs and the factors of the environment we are born into. A mom and a dad, or just one of them, or none. Brothers and sisters or just a brother and a sister or just one of them or none. A lot of money, or a middle-class upbringing, or extreme poverty.

You get the idea. There are many intangible factors that contribute to who we are and who we become. And as we get older and mature, we tend to start adding things to our lives to help us deal with those contributing factors. Maybe you grew up without money, so you add an unhealthy pursuit of material wealth in adulthood. Or maybe the converse is true; maybe you grew up wanting for nothing, and as a result you have experienced a form of emptiness and have since rejected material wealth, adding simplicity to your worldview.

Sometimes we add these things because we think they’ll make life better; sometimes we add them to cope with a current situation; sometimes we add them in order to make it through the day.

The problem is that we often add these things to our lives, learn to live with them, and then find ourselves at a point where we can’t live without them, even if they are no longer healthy (or never were in the first place). The problem then becomes this: instead of contributing positively to life, all our little additions grow to the point where they become obstacles and weights that detract from life.

When you get accountable, you get to figure out which of these things you need, and which ones you can get rid of.


This excerpt from Open: What Happens When You Get Real, Get Honest, and Get Accountable, by Craig Gross, is used with permission from Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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