Accountability vs. Disciple Making: What’s the Difference?


I tried to convince myself that it was a trivial difference. After all, my twelve-page paper was on T.S. Eliot’s poem, it just happened to be on the wrong poem! Two seconds after discovering my mistake (while it was printing!), I began to justify it as a minor difference. Clearly the goal of the assignment was for me to learn and grow through the process of writing it. And I had! Unfortunately, my professor didn’t agree.

It’s probably happened to you as well. Whether you picked up the wrong toy for your child’s birthday, mixed up the recipe to your loved one’s favorite meal, or (going way back) recorded the wrong channel on your VCR, we all know what it’s like to successfully accomplish the wrong thing.

Today we continue our “What’s the Difference?” series. In the past we have looked at the difference between 1. A Christian and A Disciple 2. Coaching and Disciple Making 3. Shepherding and Disciple Making and 4. Mentoring and Disciple Making. Now, let’s investigate the difference between accountability and disciple making.

Accountability partners were originally a weight-loss concept in the 1960’s. In the 1990’s the practice gained popularity in connection to Christian faith. Many Christian churches and organizations promoted these partnerships, including Promise Keepers. At a Promise Keepers conference in 1993 professor Howard Hendricks said, “A man not in an accountable relationship is a moral accident waiting to happen.”

But what exactly happens when accountability partners meet?

Like the above quotation suggests, an accountability relationship exists to help someone follow through on their commitment. Whether the commitment is related to a diet, faith, or something else, partners come together to check-in about those goals.

Christian accountability partners often use the exact same questions each meeting. Questions such as, “How many times did you read the Bible this week? “How have you shared Christ with others this week?”, and “Did you exercise three times this week?”

Despite the fact that there are no Biblical examples of accountability partners, this practice has helped many. It’s a way for people to spur one another on toward love and good deeds, to confess sin, and to pray for one another (Hebrews 10:24-25, James 5:16). It demands honest vulnerability and commitment to one another. All wonderful things! In these ways accountability is similar to discipleship, but in other significant ways the modern notion of an accountability partner is very different from disciple making.

First, disciple making is focused on becoming, but accountability is focused on behaving.

Scripture shows us that disciple making is always focused on becoming a disciple maker (Matt 28:18-20, Luke 6:40). In order to accomplish that, the disciple maker must understand prayerfully understand what each disciple needs so that they can get there. In an accountability relationship the focus is on behavior. Since there’s no common overarching goal, only the individual can make his goals. For one person the goal may be to become a better spouse, for another it may be to become a better parent, for another it may be to overcome an addiction, etc.

Second, in disciple making the discipler leads, but in accountability no one leads.

Since the discipler is farther along in her faith journey, she helps lead the person(s) being discipled. The disciple’s goals are co-created through relationship, intentional questions, and vision. It’s a bit like a dance, one person leads, but both are vitally important and benefit from each other.

An accountability relationship is different. In accountability, each person sets goals by and for herself. Since accountability without permission is harassment, partners only ask about what their partner has invited them into.

Finally, disciple making must have a measurable Kingdom outcome, but accountability may not.

The fruit of a disciple is another disciple. Multiplication happens when we submit our plans to God’s plan for our life. However, an accountability relationship may or may not be focused on God’s plans. In fact, even a Christian’s goals can be self-focused. Since many Christians lack an understanding of the greater purpose of our maturity accountability partner lacks the accepted framework to help them develop such an insight.

To be very clear, I think accountability is both valuable and important. In fact, a disciple making relationship without accountability will fail. However, accountability on its own won’t result in generations of disciples. If you’re in an accountability relationship consider finding someone to disciple—or to disciple you. Growth for growth’s sake rarely leads to lasting fruit.

The differences between the two aren’t minor. If you want to make multiplying disciples, choose to become a disciple maker. After all, Jesus’ way of making disciples is the perfect way, and He discipled! So choose disciple making, not just accountability, not just mentoring, not just coaching, and not just shepherding!

By Justin Gravitt


Justin Gravitt is the Dayton (Ohio) Area Director for Navigator Church Ministries. Read more from Justin at his blog, “One Disciple to Another,” where this article first appeared.


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