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The Failure of Accountability Groups among Student Dudes

As a student pastor I sometimes cringe when a guy tells me he's in an accountability group.  Often this is in relation to issues such as prayerlessness, immorality, porn or drunkenness.  I cringe when they tell me not because I believe that accountability is bad for Christian guys, but on the whole I have found it unhelpful because it is usually done in a way that is not transformational.  Let me describe three ways of doing "accountability" in order of effectiveness.  I have found it unhelpful because it is usually done in a way that is not transformational.  Let me describe three ways of doing "accountability" in order of effectiveness. 

  1. 1.  Cop Accountability: "So, did you get drunk/ look at porn/ feel up your girlfriend this week?" These are typically the questions guys ask each other when they are operating in the realm of "cop accountability".  I do not think this is bad, but it is woefully insufficient.  It can help with minor things and garden variety lust, but as soon as one starts dealing with addictive behaviour or what Scripture calls "besetting sins" than it fails to cut the mustard.  People with addictive behaviours are great liars and often end up lying after a few weeks in the group.  Often, when they do tell truth they face nothing but guilt and shame to motivate them.
  2. Coach Accountability: "Don't worry, you blew it this week, but you are doing so well in other areas.  You can do it!"  This type of accountability rests on positive encouragement rather than shame.  I have found it somewhat helpful at times and should not be discarded, but we should recognise that it does not get to the root of the problems. 
  3. Cardiac Accountability: "Let's talk about what God given appetites you are trying to satisfy when you give into peer pressure and get drunk with the rest of the guys from your hall."  This deals with the real needs of the heart which one is trying to satisfy when he gives into sin.  There is a sense in which the young man who is surfing on porn websites is looking for God.  He's worshipping at the wrong altar and he needs brothers and fathers to help him put words to his own brokenness so he can find his way home.  The goal of such a group is not mere "sin management".  It is transformation of the person.  It deals with the much deeper issues which often drive addictive and habitually sinful behaviour.  Proverbs 4.23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it". 
It is to the latter that I would call student guys (without totally neglecting certain elements of the former two).

Thoughts welcome below: 


  1. Also annoying when accountability groups become limited to one or two issues (sex and drinking) and do not allow group members to gracefully interfere with one another's lives on often unspoken things like money, showing off, laziness, workaholicism, disproportionate anger etc etc

    And - some groups seem to spend a lot of time talking about sin and none discussing Jesus

  2. Thanks anonymous. I think another big issue among students that often goes unspoken is loneliness.

  3. KNOWING what is right and DESIRING what is right is two very different things. Most of us have been in church long enough to know what we aught to do - still find ourself not wanting to do it. If we motivate people based on their knowledge of wrong, we meerely end up disciplining people (or help them to selfdiscipline); whereas true and lasting transformation has to be based on an independant decision taken from the heart.

    Much of failure on accountablity, I find, has less to do with the actual method and more to do with the very heart that does (or maybe honestly does not) desire to be kept accountable.

    To create desire for change, I believe we first must give everyone the absolute full freedom (honestly and verbally) to do exactly as they please - while we with sincere LOVE inspire them when with the HOPE of freedom Christ gives from whatever addiction we might struggle with. Any decition to be held accountdable based purely on knowledge or pressue or fear of consequences or this-is-how-we-do-it-here is utterly doomed.

    1. agreed Mikael - if people don't want to change, and invite the Holy Spirit to change them, it's like going to the gym with a group of guys who don't want to exercise. You might as well bring doughnuts.

  4. Thanks Mikael for weighing in with your view!


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