When I visit churches or interact online with Christians to talk about the idea of accountability, I often detect an undertow of shame.
Often Christians pursue accountability in order to put to death some nasty habit in their lives or to decrease temptation. This is the vibe I pick up from them: “I want God to chance my desires and my heart, and I know he will in time. But meanwhile, my accountability partners help keep me on track.”
Notice the dichotomy. “We shouldn’t really need accountability,” they think. “Accountability is just about me being afraid of having an awkward conversation about my failures. The fear keeps sin at bay. I know God wants me to be driven by higher motivations, and one day I will ditch the accountability and experience real Christian freedom.”
I believe it is this kind of thinking about accountability that cripples the church.A New Paradigm of Accountability
Okay, it isn’t new. It’s actually very old—as old as the New Testament itself.
The book of Hebrews gives us a great picture of what accountability was meant to look like. The author believes wholeheartedly that the new covenant has been inaugurated, and he believes Christians should stand firmly in blessings and benefits of that covenant. But he is not so optimistic that he turns a blind eye to the ongoing impact of sin in the church.
When it comes to our sanctification, the author of Hebrews is very clear: one of God’s primary means of making us holy is through quality relationships in the church. Not a crutch. Not a last resort. But rather a chosen means of transformation that is perilous to neglect.Two Examples
Take Hebrews 10:23-25 for example. The primary concern of the author here is to see his readers persevere in their faith right up to the end of their lives—to hold on to the hope they have in Christ. How will this happen? By stirring up one another to love and good deeds and meeting together often.
“Encourage one another,” he says. This word means to call someone to your side in order to strengthen them with your words. It refers to both “being there” for someone and having the right words to say. In the original language, “encourage” refers to a variety of conversations—instructing, comforting, admonishing, rebuking, warning, urging, begging, consoling—any timely words your friend needs to hear to strengthen his or her heart.
Or take Hebrews 3:13. After a dire warning about falling away from the living God, the author gives us the command: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Catch the importance of what the author is saying: There is a level of daily interaction we are meant to have in the body of Christ that helps us to see how sin is operating at the heart-level in our lives. Sin has a deceiving, heart-hardening effect in our lives. But God has given us one another to see into each other’s lives, to spot the sins we are unwilling or unable to see in ourselves.Sanctification is a Community Project
Accountability is about giving not only an account of my temptations and sins to another; it is about opening my heart to someone in a way that lets them shine the light of God’s truth into me.
Call accountability a crutch, if you must. But if you do, remember that as long as you are on this side of glory, broken men and women will always need crutches. God’s ordinary means of sanctifying you is found in the people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, molded by the Word of God.
This sermon by Paul Tripp hits the nail right on the head. Do yourself a favor: set aside 50 minutes to watch this.
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A pastor and sex addiction. Sounds reprehensible doesn’t it? But author Tom Ryan is a real person, with a real background of family challenges. He was raised in a mainline Presbyterian church and brought to Christ through an evangelical church. He had a calling of God on his life and pursued his seminary education with passion. At the same time, he developed (as many ministers do) a secret private life filled with sexual struggles.
We don’t know about ministers who struggle sexually because they are not talking about their struggles openly from the pulpit…or anywhere. Ministers hide and closely guard their private lives. And if they get caught, they often fade away in shame from their churches, never to speak about their struggles again.
Ashamed No More gives a much needed voice of hope to struggling ministers.One Level Deeper Than Your Normal Recovery Book
Ashamed No More is not an easy read; it’s a reflective read. It’s a book that benefits from the author’s considerable time in reflection and therapy. He has done the hard work it takes to recover. He has experienced deep healing and many levels of victory. There were times in reading this book where I found myself stepping into a deep hole of truth I had not yet experienced in my own recovery.
Ministers: You should start with this book. Tom is a minister and it will speak to you in ways easily identifiable to a minister.
Further in your recovery: You will be challenged and surprised by this book.
“The addict needs truth and community, support and love, and the healthy reintegration of her life…Way too often, the church is the last place an addict can find those things.” (65)
The author’s not cynical about churches, nor is he blaming churches for his addition. He’s burdened for them and believes they can transform into safe places for sexual strugglers. Chapter 10 outlines what a healthy spiritual community looks like:
- Begins with the Gospel – “characterized by the teaching and ways of Jesus and by loving one another sacrificially.” (176)
- Respects the Frailty of Humanity – “all humans are broken beings…It assumes we need God’s forgiveness and his ongoing help.” (177)
- We Help Each Other – “at the heart of it, bearing the burdens of others requires a spirit of generosity, of love.” (179)
- Earn Trust – “’We are ‘as sick as our secrets’ the recovery slogan goes. Where we can be open with others about our genuine struggles and the nature of our thoughts and actions, we make huge strides in the direction of healing and wholeness.” (181)
- Put Sexuality in Proper Perspective – “The church emphasizes [sexuality] by silence, shunning and moralizing…Our behaviors do matter, and we can help each other understand why we have some of the impulses we have and what to do with the way we’ve been formed sexually as we’ve grown up.” (184, 186)
- Have Appropriate Expectations of Leaders – “The truth is that many folks in the church want to be able to think that their clergy are morally pure…This false dichotomy of clergy and laity is harming the spiritual vitality of the whole church.” (187)
“At the end of it, addiction is about shortcuts that become life-consuming ruts.” (47)
“To some degree, all who want to deal with compulsive behaviors have to do the very hard and threatening work of excavating, identifying, resolving, and releasing the critical elements of their stories.” (86)
“The beginning of genuine transformation is the recognition of brokenness.” (102)
[On why the church would make full use of the Twelve Steps] “First, it’s clear that Wilson’s [founder of AA] hope was that agnostics using the Twelve Steps would come to terms with the reality of God…The second reason…is that the church herself needs the honesty and the genuine acceptance of brokenness that is the ethos of the recovery movement.” (107)
“Personal transformation can also be catalyzed by deep experiences of love and habituated practices over a long period. As Ron [Mortoia] puts it, ‘Deep Love, Deep Pain, and Contemplative Practice’” (115)
“Part of healing is developing the humility that requires us to bow before the Creator of all our souls and cry, ‘Not my way, but your way. I’m no more special than anyone else; I’m no more special than God says I am.” (122)
“The struggle is where God is.” (138)My Interview with Author Tom Ryan
I interviewed the author recently on my Top Tips For Sexual Purity Podcast. We talk deeply about the book, his story, and the special challenges ministers who struggle with sexual sin face.
PART TWO: Darkness, Brokenness, Therapy & Healing
PART THREE: Hope For Ministers Who Struggle
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