"In a day of tarnished leaders, fallen heroes, busy parents, frantic coaches, arrogant authority figures, and egg-headed geniuses, we need mentors like never before — we need guides, not gods. Approachable, caring souls who help us negotiate our way through life's labyrinth." 1
Author Fred Smith suggests that a willingness to confront is one mark of a wise mentor. Mentoring can be a powerful change agent when the mentee allows accountability in the relationship. To be accountable is defined as being "responsible, liable or answerable to another." 2
We live in an "everything's O.K.," "I'm not responsible," no-consequences society. Our culture, films, TV and books rarely link a thought, an action, or a desire to its inevitable sin. To its bottom-line payoff. How easy it would be to be brainwashed by the smiling faces of beautiful people on TV and magazines! We may see the surface, the start, the "shine," but not the end result.
God's biographies in Scripture, however, give us the whole picture, the end. Warts and all. Life, death, glory. And our loving Father in heaven holds us accountable for every word, action and attitude. Jesus said: "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account . . . in the day of judgment." (Matthew 12:36, 37; see also Colossians 3:23, 24 ).
Do we give others the freedom to see into our lives, and be used of God to help us grow? Each of us needs not only a mentor who will encourage our strengths, but also one who will reveal our blind-spots. This type of vulnerability to an individual means we allow him to lift up a mirror and comment on what he sees in our lives. To reflect back to us what is or appears wrong or immoral. This person is willing to confront us in love, so that we may become ". . . sincere (waxless, transparent, pure) and without offence, till the day of Christ." (Philippians 1:10).
Ever-learning Daws Trotman
Some people might think that one's need for godly accountability and instruction is only there when this person is young in his faith. I recall an amazing lesson which I learned early on to the contrary. The first time that I heard Dawson Trotman speak was in Fort Worth at a Billy Graham Crusade. He was founder and president of The Navigators. I was immediately struck with the power of his message and sought to meet him.
Trotman had just accepted Graham's invitation to set up and oversee their new attempt to personally counsel all those who came forward to make a decision for Christ in Graham's meetings. Previously everyone just prayed the "sinner's prayer" together. That was the counseling. Dawson Trotman, and later Lorne Sanny, then Charlie Riggs, led in the respected Counseling/Follow-Up Ministry of Billy Graham.
After seeing Daws at the Texas Crusade for a couple of weeks, he invited me to a conference in California. I hitchhiked the 1600 miles to Santa Barbara, and was overwhelmed with the mighty men and women of God whom I met. Just before Daws was to speak, he motioned me forward, and whispered, "You've had a course in preaching at the seminary, haven't you?" I nodded. "Well, I want you to critique my message." I said, "Come on, Daws, I can't do that. You're speaking to thousands of leaders with Mr. Graham."
Trotman's passion to know Christ echoes still in my heart. He was always seeking to be better for Jesus. After Daws spoke he took me aside: "Walk with me to the chow hall. What did you notice?" "Oh, it was just a little thing. But the message was wonderful." Trotman then quoted Michelangelo: "'Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.' Tell me what you saw!" Slowly I replied, "Well, you are very good with gestures as you speak. But often you put your hand in your pocket and I can hear the coins jingling." "Ahhhh!" Daws gutted out in a loud explosion of air. "Thank you. Great!" He gave me a hug as we walked. Then he took all the coins out of the pocket, and put them in his back pocket. I never heard him rattle coins again.
Daws would never confront, until he knew he had your open heart. On many other occasions Daws would hold me accountable about something I'd done or said, "nailing me to the wall." It was in the rare, untouched area of attitudes where I was most confronted. Just doing a job was never my mentor's goal; doing it "from the heart" was the standard (Ephesians 6:6). I changed, and grew. I've also had the privilege of being accountable to Bill Bright, Charlie Riggs, pastors, and sometimes lost businessmen. They all "rattled my cage," holding me accountable. "At the time, discipline isn't much fun. It always feels like it's going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it's the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God." (Hebrews 12:11). "You use steel to sharpen steel; and one friend sharpens another." (Proverbs 27:17, The Message, NavPress).
Accountability Group Questions
In recent years there has been a rise in accountability groups for men, but they are still rare. Joining a group of others for prayer, spiritual growth and accountability is to take a giant step toward maturity. Rod Handley has a well-used and excellent list of questions. For 10 years he has taught character and been accountable to a group of guys. Women could use some of these questions plus others. I have used similar questions beginning a mentoring relationship; then as we grew, we've added others.
1. Have you spent daily time in the Scriptures and in prayer?
2. Have you had any flirtatious or lustful attitudes, tempting thoughts, or exposed yourself to any explicit materials which would not glorify God?
3. Have you been completely above reproach in your financial dealings?
4. Have you spent quality relationship time with family and friends?
5. Have you done your 100% best in your job, school, etc.?
6. Have you told any half truths or outright lies, putting yourself in a better light to those around you?
7. Have you shared the Gospel with an unbeliever this week?
8. Have you taken care of your body through daily physical exercise and proper eating/sleeping habits?
9. Have you allowed any person or circumstance to rob you of your joy?
10. Have you lied to us on any of your answers today?
(See 2 Peter 1:10 ) 3
Marriage Helps Accountability
Every marriage brings with it built-in mutual accountability. For instance, after I got married I discovered that my wife had little motivation toward going to the movies. When I wanted to see a good movie, I would tell Clemmie I was going to "pick up something at the mall, and be back in a couple of hours."
Once back home I encountered her normal questions, "Did you see anyone we know? What did you buy?" My general answers weren't enough for this very feeling, sharp young woman I'd married. Then I admitted I'd seen a movie. She would get upset, listing all the "honey-do" things needing fixing around the house. The more she talked, the more devious I became that next month to see a movie. Finally, Clemmie wisely asked, "If you want to see a picture, why not tell me before you go? I won't yell anymore." Accountability was good for our marriage and I began to grow out of my singleness.
Why We Resist Accountability
While being accountable may cause friction, the sin-nature of our makeup dictates a need to be lovingly confronted. We don't need to "get away" with anything. One of my coach-mentor pastors asked me the day after I'd been assigned a girl to counsel with and lead to Christ: "Did you touch her in any way?" "No, Sir," I said. He then explained with a personal story the need to be overly careful when counseling any female.
A string of powerful "one another" commands from the Epistles urge us to be responsible toward one another. To be accountable for loving in His church, Paul reminds the unaccountable heart, "None of us live as self-contained units." (Romans 14:7, Phillips Trans.). The Holy Spirit would teach us "Mentoring 101." We are to: "Love one another, prefer, forbear, admonish, be kind, forgive, submit, teach, comfort, edify, exhort, consider, provoke to love and good works, confess faults, pray for, have compassion one to another, be hospitable, be subject, kiss one another." As His Body, we are His hands and feet and mouth to encourage others.
Psychiatrist Louis McBurney helps people understand why we naturally resist accountability. "The primary reason we might find it hard to face another person who asks convicting questions is that we fear rejection. If we come clean, will we still be accepted and maintain friendships?" Dr. McBurney lists secondly that "no one wants to walk into a situation where one feels crushed and embarrassed. Those who are willing to confront need great sensitivity to respond with love." Thirdly, we don't like to face our own negative feelings — what's inside us that might boil up. 4
The Advantages of Being Accountable
1. We grow faster, are more mature and spiritually wise, with fewer detours.
2. We produce more. Most of us need a target and a deadline. Being accountable to do a Bible study you've agreed to do, and knowing you'll be asked if you completed it, makes you plan your time better. I'm living more step-by-step, rather than by last-minute slides.
3. We will experience close, lifetime friendships with a person or an accountability group who cares for you. You have a person with which to share, who cares for you, prays, and wants God's best for you. He or she will help you be more like Jesus, and be open for your counsel and encouragement at the same time.
4. Accountability can keep you from disaster! A large survey questioned pastors who had been immoral in their marriage. All had four things in common:
- contact regularly with an attractive woman;
- a weak or non-existent devotional life;
- a conviction that they would never be unfaithful;
- no accountability person or group.
5. Most leaders gain birth through good mentoring.
Dr. Howard Hendricks writes that he asks everyone to hook up with a mentor. "After more than forty-five years of working with men in terms of mentoring relationships, I can tell you without reservation that the men who are making the greatest impact for God in this generation are men who have placed themselves under the tutelage of other godly men. If you care about making any kind of difference with your life — in your work, with your family, in your community, in your faith — then find someone who can help you grow and realize your life goals." 5
God's Accountability Blessing
God carefully gives us a promise when we open and share with each other. "Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed." (James 5:16). Confession of sin to others, however, should be done with care, with one of the same sex (unless in marriage). And confession should be only as broad as the sin. God forbids sharing a detailed testimony of one's sins with the church."But fornication and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not convenient, but rather giving of thanks." (Ephesians 5:3, 4).
Set yourself the goal to find a mentor this month. Or, link up with a group of people desperate to have all that God has for them! Then be honest, learn and grow strong together. Bob Roberts writes powerfully about the impact on his life of a wise "old man," his mentor. "My old man listens to me. . . . Second, my old man has moved beyond technique and into touch. Third, my old man teaches me by illustration of his life. . . . There is wisdom out there. Wisdom comes only from those who live out the truth over the long haul. You see a young man's power and strength in the speed of the windmill. You see an old man's wisdom in a sail that harnesses the wind, points you into the waves, and sails you to a distant land." 6
1 Chuck Swindoll, The Finishing Touch, Dallas, Texas: Word, Inc., 1994.
2 Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (2nd), G. & C. Merriam Co., Publishers, Springfield, Mass.
3 Rod Handley, CTC Ministry, Lee's Summit, MO: from Character That Counts on accountability.
4 Leadership Journal, Summer, 1996, p. 34.
5 Howard and Wm. Hendricks, As Iron Sharpens Iron, Chicago: Moody Press, 1995, p. 85.
6 Bob Roberts, Jr., "I need an Old Man," Leadership Journal, Summer, 1996.