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  • Writer's pictureElijah Blalock

Men Need Friends, Not Accountability Partners


One of the most difficult experiences I can recall growing up is realizing that Romans 7:19 applies to me too. I don't act rationally according to what I know is good. I can know a thing is wrong, do it anyways, regret it, and then do it again. I felt powerless to change my own actions, and that feeling was crushing. I don't think what I'm describing is a unique experience. This is just what it means to be a sinner, and we are all sinners, and I'd dare say that if you've never felt that feeling of helplessness against sin, it's probably because you haven't tried very hard to stop sinning.


There are lots of sins that seem to have an addictive or controlling quality, but for young men in youth group, porn was the big one. Now, in reality, statistics tell us that this was very likely a problem for many girls as well, but it was usually emphasized as a male problem. The solution offered was an accountability partner. The exact program for accountability partners varied depending on who was pushing it, but the gist was that you find someone you can trust and have that person ask you directly about your sin problem regularly. They would ask the tough questions and hold you accountable.


The point of this post isn't to bash the intent of accountability partners. I had them, and they helped, but they helped because they were more than accountability partners. They were friends. Perhaps there was some female counterpart to this experience, but I remember accountability partners being almost exclusively a male thing. When men had problems, be it porn, drugs, or alcohol, they needed accountability.


Though accountability was the keyword, it's not like your accountability partner could punish you in some way. Accountability just meant that you had to confess your sin regularly. That meant that the primary motivation to stop sinning was to avoid the shame of having to admit it. Shame isn't always bad because sin is shameful, but Christian confession has to move beyond shame. In theory, confession is answered by grace and forgiveness which would heal the shame (1 Jn. 1:9). This is what an accountability partner was supposed to do. However, the very name, "accountability partner," emphasizes discipline. This version of accountability—asking, confessing, and shame—is necessary but insufficient to stop sin. The shame of confessing sin is a motivator, but not a sustainable one.

We know there are consequences to sin. It is a good thing to know that sin will produce shame and destruction in your life, and to therefore avoid it. But on its own, all this does is make us afraid of our accountability partner and ultimately afraid of God. We obey, not because we love God, but because we are afraid. This isn't sustainable. Why would we want to keep seeing someone who only causes us shame? And why would we want to be with a God who we only see as a disciplinarian? Are we obedient because of what we gain or because of what we avoid? Shame can't produce lasting change or the love for God that Christ commands us to have (Rom. 8:15). We have to believe that God is offering something greater than what our sin offers. Only when we love God more than we love sin will we be free from sin's power (Ps. 34:8). If we believe that sin is better than what God offers, it doesn't matter if we know that it's wrong and shameful. Eventually, we will pursue what we think is best.


And that's why men need more than accountability partners. They need friends. God seldom acts apart from a human agent, meaning that we will frequently experience his goodness through other people. To be sure, a true friend asks tough questions and will call you out when necessary (Prov. 27:6). There is an element of accountability in friendship! But friendship is more than accountability. Friends give us comfort and encouragement. Friends help us when we are in need. Friends are fun to be around! We need friends in our battle with sin because we need something better than sin. Ultimately, that "something better" is God, but good friends mirror that goodness, even if imperfectly. And it is only in the context of a real friendship that the shame you feel confessing sin can give way to grace. Only a friend can offer a word of grace that you actually believe.

I can only speak from my own experience, but I don't think this is something that is effectively communicated to men. If I may paint with an overly broad brush, it seems like when women struggle at church, other women give them affirmation and encouragement. When men struggle, we give them accountability. Don't women need discipline and accountability? Don't men need to be encouraged? For either sex, shouldn't a good friend offer both?

To push things even further, I'd say that a friend is more than a plan to fight sin or to improve yourself. Friendships can't be purely task-oriented. Good friends will make you a better person, but friends are people that you love for who they are rather than what they have to offer. In John 15:15, Jesus gave his disciples the highest honor he could—he called them friends. It wasn't because of what they had to offer him, but rather because he loved them. According to the text, what made them friends was that Jesus disclosed everything he heard from the Father. It was Jesus' self-disclosure that made him a friend of the disciples, and the same is true of us. We are friends insofar as we are willing to share our hearts. We were made to have friends. If Jesus saw fit to have friends, who are we to think we don't need them?


So what am I advocating for? Men are all different and need different things. All of us need a measure of accountability and encouragement, for example, but each man probably needs different amounts of each and in different ways. Who would know what each particular man needs? His friends. The people best equipped to help struggling men are his friends precisely because they know him and they offer something that God designed him to have. When we are good friends to each other, Christ's love is a little more tangible, and that might be all it takes to lift a struggling man out of sin and despair. Our ministries must see men as people to befriend rather than problems to solve. So, let men have fun and be friends. We need to be held accountable, but we need more than that. We need godly friends.

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