Many churches encourage accountability. An accountability partner is a Christian who pairs up with another for the sake of mutual edification and exhortation to avoid sinful behaviors. They keep each other “accountable”; that is, they honestly report to each other, and each of them considers himself answerable to the other. Though the Bible does not expressly mention this practice, accountability partners can be beneficial when they fulfill the command of James 5:16, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” We can draw some guidelines from Scripture about choosing an accountability partner.
There are biblical patterns to follow when it comes to any close relationship. The first of these is the command to be “equally yoked” with anyone we enter a partnership with, “for what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). We should not partner up with unbelievers—not in marriage, not in business endeavors, and certainly not in spiritual matters. Plain and simple, an accountability partner needs to be born again. Someone with the gift of exhortation is ideal.
Second, an accountability partner should be someone we can trust. We should trust him or her to be discreet and keep confidential information confidential: “He who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered” (Proverbs 11:13). Accountability partners need to be able to tell one another intimate details about their struggles with sin. Some personal things are disclosed that are not meant to be shared with third parties. Due to the personal nature of many things shared, it is also advisable that accountability partners be of the same gender.
We should also trust our accountability partner to have the courage to tell us the truth. The job of an accountability partner is not to agree with us all the time or stroke our ego; we need someone to accurately assess our needs and point us to Scripture. The truth hurts sometimes, but we know that “wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Proverbs 27:6).
Having an accountability partner who knows the Word of God and shares it truthfully is important. It is through the Word of God that we are sanctified (John 17:17). It is through the Word of God that “the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). When looking for an accountability partner, we should search for someone mature in the faith and able to “rightly divide the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Third, a good accountability partner will be one who understands forgiveness; we need a compassionate person who will bear with us and forgive us as the Lord forgives (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32). The Holy Spirit is the only One who can make a change in someone’s heart. It is important that accountability partners—who will come to know one another’s struggles—do not attempt to “fix” one another. It is not the job of one sinful human being to fix another. Each person should look at his own sins in a magnifying glass and the sins of others with a telescope (Matthew 7:1–2). Choosing a judgmental, critical accountability partner will lead only to trouble.
Last, it is important that an accountability partner accentuates the positive. Accountability partners should focus as little as possible on the sin and as much as possible on Christ. To sit around discussing the sins with which we struggle is not biblical: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). The key is to think on Christ, on lovely things, trusting God to sanctify us, as He has promised He will (Hebrews 10:10, 14).