So why is accountability so popular among Christians in this generation? As I stated before the rise of the privatised life – ironically lived before everyone on social media – is part of the reason. Christians in particular who are struggling with sin and brokenness are keen to conquer it and have some sort of drip-fed exposure to one person over time that defangs the possibility of full-blown exposure to everyone all at once. So there’s an emotional safety net to it.
But let me posit a couple of other reasons – all of which are rudimentary and need some work (but if I can’t do that on a blog, where can I?):
1. The Poverty of Preaching: Ok, ok, so I’m gonna sound like a crusty old conservative. I am not. I am simply looking at Timothy and Titus and the call Paul made to them to discharge their duties of public proclamation, and then I am holding up much modern day preaching against it. There is a marked difference between them. When you see the sheer weight of responsibility that both these men are charged with insofar as public teaching is concerned – and what it is designed to achieve – you realise that much modern preaching is a long way off that standard. That, I suggest, is not primarily due to the lack of oratory skills, or the lack of theological learning, in pastors, but in the lack of confidence that preaching the Bible can actually do all of the things that Timothy and Titus are called to do: Week in week out expository Bible teaching is what trains/teaches/admonishes/rebukes/encourages/convicts of sin/comforts with gospel etc. If the sermons in our churches are primarily about the churches vision statement, savvy cultural observations, based on someone else’s book, a call for money/commitment etc, then something else is going to have do the work of shaping and forming the Christian into the likeness of Christ (nothing else will, btw).
2. The Privatising of the Culture: Preaching as public proclamation to a certain people in a certain place over a certain period of time is designed to feed God’s people to ensure that they grow and become more like Jesus together in their lives and for the sake of their lives together. At least it should. But if church is primarily a place where I go to get a spiritual boost each week as an individual then my expectation of preaching will be different. A public preaching ministry that includes “admonish and rebuke” will be an affront to my privatised sensibilities. 1Thessalonians 5:14 reads:
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
That can, of course, be done one-on-one, but 1 Thessalonians is so steeped in the language of community, and we are so privatised that we struggle to realise how transparently people lived before each other. To do so publicly – with an expectation that God’s people are a body that operates together – is a direct challenge to the “I’m alright Jack” perspective.
3. The Rise of the Therapeutic Culture: As someone married to a Clinical Psychologist I am readily aware of the growing need for mental health services, especially in the under-resourced, over-burdened part of our city in which we live. With the corresponding loss of public proclamation in the way I have described it, many people are turning to the therapeutic model as a alternate way to address issues within the church. Of course there is room for therapy, wholeness groups etc within a church context, but they are to be servants not masters. A therapeutic culture only within a church, in which the primary public proclamation of the word has been lopped off the top, will inevitably lead to a need for people to seek out someone – anyone – to deal with the matters that only public biblical teaching over a period of time can begin to address. Once again, I am not saying there is no need for the follow up conversation, or the referral to a therapist, but those are secondary, private means within the context of a primary, public ministry (a bone of contention perhaps, but willing to be tested on this one).