How to Ensure Accountability is a Healthy and Helpful Part of Discipleship

Adjusting Accountability in Discipleship


Ryan Brown

Director of US Training and Leader Development

Accountability in discipleship is a key part of growth and one of the five transformational elements we refer to as TEAMS. Accountability can be encouraging when done right, or painful when done poorly.

“Assume nothing” is a motto I try to live by in leading a discipleship group. I want to lead in a way that prioritizes listening over assumptions. This is a challenge, because we all constantly make assumptions. The discipline is learning to ask a question first. This may well confirm that our assumption was accurate, but it may also show us that the assumption was wrong.

As I’ve listened to others share what’s going on in their life over the past few years, my assumptions – more often than not – have been shown to be false. The diversity of new challenges people are facing right now is staggering. Many of these challenges are incredibly specific and unique to the person, business, or family. Because of that there’s no silver bullet, there’s no blanket answer that covers each situation. At the same time, none of us have been through this before, so we can’t lead by relying on past experience to help others. In challenging seasons, discipleship must become more personalized than ever. One of the primary areas to do that work of personalization is accountability.

How to Personalize Accountability

Personalizing accountability right now will mean asking good questions and listening well in order to minimize our assumptions and truly understand what other people are going through. After understanding the situation, you may realize that you have no advice to give. That is ok!

Listening as part of accountability in discipleship

So, what do you do? The good news is that advice isn’t the magic bullet to leadership; dependence on the Lord is. Remember, the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives just as much now, in this situation, as He has been in the past.

Philippians 1:6

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:6-9

6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

When you don’t know what to do or say, prayer is the best place to start. Don’t neglect the power of prayer “in the moment.” We get the privilege of being a co-labor with God! But ultimately, God is the one who brings the growth.

Ask more questions. The inability to give advice may aid your leadership more than you realize. Because you can’t “fix it” for them, you only have the option of helping them walk through it. A few questions can go a long way. Here are a few examples:

  • “What are the options in front of you?”
  • “What are you feeling?”
  • “What do you long for?”
  • “How might God be at work in your life through this?”
  • “What does it look like for you to be a blessing to your kids/ spouse / extended family/ co-workers/ customers/ suppliers/ neighbors/ etc. in this situation?”
  • “What is one thing you could do this week to move forward?”

And remember, you have the benefit of a community of people within your group (and the church at large) who may be going through similar things. If nothing else, the simple act of bearing one another’s burdens – even when they can’t be “solved” – may bring an incredible comfort in the midst of struggle.

Helpful Questions to Ask for Accountability in Discipleship

Having laid a bit of a foundation to how we might approach the challenges of others in accountability, I want to spend some time naming some issues that might spark your thoughts for how to make adjustments in your accountability over the coming weeks.

This may feel a bit like a laundry list, but think of it almost like a whiteboard for brainstorming: let the ideas that resonate with you, spur your thinking; those that don’t connect can be left alone.

  • With new rhythms of life come new or different temptations. How has a change in schedule, responsibilities, or location opened up the door to specific temptations?
  • Relational conflicts may be on the rise as many live in close quarters with limited time alone. Frequently, the conflict that arises is not necessarily new, but something that was left under the surface for a while has now become unavoidable. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:34). What been in your heart that’s now coming out in this new situation? How can we deal with the heart in the situation?
  • Most people spend the majority of the waking hours each week doing their work. Whether that is paid work or doing the hard work of raising children, what we do often gives us some sense of identity. For just about everyone, that work has in one way or another undergone a drastic change.
    • Loss of job and income.
    • Working from home.
    • Adding the responsibilities of childcare and/or homeschooling to an already demanding schedule.
    • Drastically decreased workload.
    • Drastically increased workload.
    • The stress of keeping a business from going under.
    • The tension (and possible resentment) of being “home” but inaccessible to family.
    • Fear of exposure to COVID-19 while at work.
    • Laziness and being unfaithful to an employer.
    • Overwork exposing idols of the heart.

We can’t underestimate the impact these kinds of changes will have on people. If we don’t talk about it, we are probably missing one of the things that weighs most heavily on people’s hearts.

  • Personal worship. How have new rhythms of life impacted time set apart to be with the Lord?
  • Financial security. How might someone find financial assistance? How might this be exposing a heart of greed? How might this be an opportunity for generosity?
  • Direct impact of COVID-19. Someone gets the virus, is exposed to it, or is caring for a loved one who has it. How do we support them and care for them in the midst of it?
  • The emotional impact of social isolation.
    • How does someone’s personality deal with a “stay at home” order? Introverts and extroverts will feel this very differently.
    • What is the person’s living situation? House full of people with no time alone. Living alone with little ability for social connection. Empty nester who can’t see kids or grandkids. Etc.
    • Mild or intensifying depression and/or increased anxiety are very real possibilities for many people during this time.

How can we help step into people’s lives and connect them with other people and resources that can help?

  • What does it look like to pursue physical health if routines of exercise are no longer possible in the same way?
  • What opportunities does this pandemic provide? For work, family, mission, etc.?

Accountability Points People to Christ

In all of this, the underlying emotions that might be ringing the loudest for people (leaders included) is fear. The answer to fear is not simply a few good actions steps. Throughout the Bible, the refrain repeats: “Do not fear, for I am with you.”

As we walk with people through all of this, we need to vigilant in pointing others (and ourselves!) to the One who does not leave us or forsake us because He was forsaken so that we never would be left alone. The only One who can bear our burdens and grant us a peace that surpasses understanding. The God who feeds the ravens and knows that we need food, too. He is seated on His throne just as much today as He was when He spoke the world into being.

So help people, make adjustments, walk with them, lead in the power of God’s Spirit through this unknown, and point them to the One who can bring peace to their fears.