By Jaquelle Crowe
Church accountability. The phrase evokes a thousand images. Culture strives to make us picture ugly images, caricaturing accountability as Pharisaical finger-pointing, judgmental condemnation, awkward intrusion, and hypocritical legalism. And this overwhelmingly negative perspective has given rise to a new generation that views church accountability with an unprecedented wariness.
Among young Christians, especially teenagers, there is a surging skepticism to accountability within the confines of the local church. Today’s teens are so passionate about tolerance and acceptance, that they’re less passionate about accountability and all the potential dangers it can present.
But this is a serious mistake. I’m a teenage Christian, and over the years, not only have I become convinced of the necessity of accountability in the life of every Christian teen, I’ve learned to love accountability. This is why.
The reason teens don’t like accountability is that they picture it as a legalistic Big Brother experience: the church is always looking over their shoulder, waiting for them to mess up, poised to pounce on any perceived mistake and ready to throw it in their faces. But this is not the biblical portrait of accountability. The Bible gives a much more compel-ling one: the church is a family who, out of a desperate love, helps protect one another from sin.
This is what culture misses: accountability is motivated by love – love for God and love for each other. The church boldly recognizes that sin is not a game (Rom. 5:12). It has deadly consequences, wrecking lives, poisoning relationships, and utterly killing joy, contentment, and peace. It destroys everything in its path, leaving a trail of hurt, conflict, sadness, and pain in its wake. If the church cares about teenagers, it will want to protect us from sin and its ferocious consequences. For that reason, it will want to hold us accountable.
But accountability is also motivated by humility. Unlike culture’s caricatures, Christians don’t arrogantly assume we’re perfect. On the contrary, we recognize how imperfect we are, and that’s why we pursue accountability.
How Does Accountability Work?
Where do teenagers fit in all of this, though? Teens live in a hype-sexualized and digital world where a million temptations beep, tweet, and pop up every day, and sin is easy. If the church loves us, it will hold us account-able. But if teens are part of the church too, that requires them to hold other members accountable as well.
So what does it look like, in practice, for teenagers to be held accountable to the church? And how can teenagers hold other Christians accountable in return?
1. Teens must invest in the community of the church.
Teens need to know their church community, truly know them, in a way that cultivates organic honesty, vulnerability, and intimacy. That necessitates more than five minutes of small talk on a Sunday morning. Teens must be active in the community. They have to fellowship, being willing to move past “hanging out” with other teens in youth group to the intentional spiritual discipline of talking, growing, and doing life with Christians of all ages.
Furthermore, they should know their pastor(s) and be willing to go to them if they need help. This should be done with the encouragement, support, and love of their parents, the people who are teens’ primary spiritual leaders. But sometimes parents need help, and since pastors are the church’s spiritual leaders, they’re our shepherds and caretakers. But if they have no idea what we’re struggling with, how can they help us overcome it (1 Pet. 5:2)?
2. Teens must pursue holiness with the community.
While the direct practice of accountability is being watchful about sin, the indirect practice of accountability is pursuing holiness. Teenagers must do this in the context of the community as they learn and grow from hearing God’s Word taught and preached. Teens need to see what sin is and how to identify it. They need to learn how to fight temptation. The church is a family, a team, and teenagers must pursue holiness with this team. Speaking from experience, this will warmly increase their love toward the church – and that will make accountability easier.
3. Teens must be held accountable by their parents.
The primary way churches hold teens accountable is by encouraging parents to hold their teens accountable. Accountability, first and foremost, takes place in the home. One example of this is how my mom and I sit down once a week to talk about my spiritual life, something we’ve done since I was 12. These have never been burdensome times. Instead, they are overwhelmingly life-giving. My mom is empathetic and encouraging, yet unflinching in calling out my sin when necessary. Those moments are obviously painful, but I embrace them because I know she does it out of loving protection.
4. Teens must hold others accountable submissively.
Even as teens are held accountable, they should desire to hold other members of the church accountable too. Accountability is a two-way street, something demanded of every Christian of every age. My mom, for example, has been vocal in inviting me to point out unaware sin in her life. But implicit in that invitation is the call to do it submissively. I must recognize that I’m the younger, less mature Christian. Still, I have a responsibility as her sister in Christ to gently and collectively point out the sin she might not see.
When it comes to holding church members who are not their parents accountable, teens should talk to their parents (and possibly their pastor) before doing anything – even with other teens, especially with close friends. Even if their motivation is love, this is a sensitive issue that demands significant wisdom, tact, and grace. Yet that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Accountability is tremendously difficult but magnificently vital.
That’s why my dream is for teenagers to hear “church accountability” and not picture anger, hurt, or bitterness – but instead to picture joy. True accountability is not hypocritical arrogance or oppressive surveillance. It’s every member of an imperfect family teaming up to protect each other for the glory of Christ. It’s faithfulness. It’s kindness. It’s compassion. It’s life. And it’s love.
Jaquelle Crowe is a young writer from eastern Canada. She’s the lead writer and editor-in-chief of TheRebelution.com and a contributor to the Gospel Coalition, desiringGod.org, and Unlocking the Bible. Her first book is This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years.