What Does "Accountability" Mean?
Full disclosure: this term may be triggering for some. Please take a breath and hang with me while we re-write our narratives.
I’m rethinking and totally reworking my definition of accountability. I say this because I’ve paused several times in recent conversations, realizing I've held a false belief. It’s time for that to change. This term has been twisted to either control us or give us a false sense of control. The terms responsibility, community, partnership, and obedience (in proper context) are much more relevant.
In my life, "accountability" was formerly a term used in power imbalances. I was "accountable" to all those in "authority" over me. To the purist, nothing may seem wrong with this perspective; however, in context it meant:
- abject submission to all power figures, including parents, teachers, principals, preachers, bosses, and men, all of whom represented "God"
- severe punishment awaited any perceived infraction of rules or disobedience of rules, known or unknown
- an expectation of my service to those in heirarchy
- unquestionable assumption of my inferiority
- my inability to make "correct" decisions or possess viable capability
- the power and authority of my superiors to enact disciplinary measures or punish at will
- the lack of "accountability" for my superiors
- all of the above, as I was still under someone else's authority
- I now stood in judgment of how I executed my duties on behalf of those "under" me
- ultimately, God was waiting for me to slip up, make a wrong decision, or make a mistake so He could condemn me
All that shame had to go somewhere, so it came out of my life in the form of perfectionism, control, anger, depression, anxiety, paranoia, and many other evils.
Being "accountable to" and "accountable for" did nothing for me spiritually. It was just another man-made law I couldn't keep. It couldn't offer peace, joy, hope, love, grace, or mercy. It could only dangle a carrot on a stick in front of me full of empty promises.
When God swooped in and rescued me from my deep, dark pit, He set me on the Rock that is Jesus. Jesus took my heavy burden of performance-related "accountability" and yoked me up with His kind, gentle, humble spirit. I'm no longer "accountable"; He is. Jesus and His Father work to accomplish their will, and I'm simply a cooperative participant (most of the time ;-). Instead of everything depending on me, everything depends on Him, and He's given me new language to live by!
God has given me life, time, and talents that I can intentionally develop in creative ways that He will use in His Kingdom. He sends people in my path with whom I can share His goodness.
For those in leadership, there is great responsibility to watch over souls. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not a grant of power, but a burden of protection. Earthly leaders, while equal to all other humans in God's sight, have a bigger job to serve those in their care. If their leadership is based on Jesus' model, all is well! Their tasks are oriented around good boundaries: keep in the good, keep out the bad.
Rather than operating by the twin evils of people-pleasing and going solo, God has given me brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I can mutually consult on a regular basis, so we don't go rogue. In a pure sense, you might say I'm "accountable" to someone because it's so important to include others' perspectives as we live out our faith and ministry; however, in this sense, we're not creating a power imbalance, and that's the difference. We work for each other's mutual good and growth.
Mutual submission should be the hallmark of Jesus' followers. When we see each others in partners of the Kingdom exercising our various individual strengths and talents, and we desire good for each other for the glory of God, we are postured toward growth in ways we could not accomplish alone.
Outcomes are not my concern; all I have to do is follow Jesus' lead when He asks me to do something. He's already given me many instructions that I can accomplish through the power of His Spirit (love my neighbor, do good, live at peace, stand up for widows and orphans, spend time with Him, etc.). In the moment, if He impresses me with a task, I have the opportunity to obey.
My first priority is always to obey God rather than men. I have One Person to please, and if I'm seeking to do that in a kind, gentle way, He works out the rest. Accountability in no longer a hard word because it holds no power over me.
If you're reading this from a wife's perspective and wondering what Biblical submission means in that context, check out my other article HERE.
©2023 Julianne Knapp. First Published 1.31.23
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