Does Accountability Work?

See transcript below.

Sign up for the Growing Together newsletter:

Dr. Doug Wiess:

Pure Desire Ministries International:

Mark Laser, Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction:


LF: Hello everyone, my name is Layton Friesen. I am the Conference Pastor of the Evangelical Mennonite Church and today it’s a joy for me to be able to talk to Mr. Gerry Pettyjohn. Gerry is a counsellor therapist who works in the Winnipeg area and we’re going to be talking about accountability today so welcome, Gerry.

GP: Nice to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

LF: Before we get into the question, I’d like to hear a little bit about what you do—you’re a counsellor but what are some of the things that you specialize in?

GP: So I’ve been in private practice in Winnipeg since 2009, and I specialize in sex addiction, infidelity, sexual betrayal trauma, intimacy, anorexia, and of course all the marriage issues that go along with all those things. I got my Master’s degree through Providence Theological Seminary for counselling and then I was also certified through the American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy.

LF: Today our topic is the whole question of accountability, especially for leaders. And as we all know the news of another Christian leader or pastor ruining their ministry by sexual infidelity or addiction or abuse of some kind. It’s become almost a miserable routine in the Christian church by now, and every time it happens, we ask ourselves again “how could this have been prevented?” And somebody will inevitably say “well, we need our leaders to be accountable—that’s the solution.” And yet, as we know these accountability groups or this accountability that men have been forming maybe for the last couple of decades, they don’t always seem to work. I’d like to hear from you why is it that accountability, at least sometimes, seems to fail. Why is accountability not always the silver bullet that we hope it is?

GP: The first thing I’d like to say about that, is that accountability is a tool. If somebody hands you a power tool and you’ve never used it before, you might not do a very good job with it. Accountability works if you actually use the tool properly. The same with groups like the accountability groups; if you use them properly they will work. The biggest thing is to have the right attitude about it: committing to rigorous honesty. People need to learn how to tell the truth and be willing to tell the truth about their lives. A lot of Christian guys will get together for accountability but they’re not actually committed to telling the truth. And the thing that blocks that for most men is pride alright? It’s the mother of all sin. A good definition of pride is the unwillingness to acknowledge our weaknesses and limitations. We have to be willing to tell the truth to each other within these accountability relationships and groups.

LF: Is there something that an accountability group can do? Let’s say there is an accountability group that’s listening in on this. Is there something that they can do to develop that kind of honesty and openness and commitment to the truth that you’re talking about?

GP: Yeah, I actually have a group format that I use, and each person in the group does a check-in. On that check-in they actually just fill in the blanks. By filling in the blanks they’re actually telling the truth about their life. I mean they can still lie and not fill in the blanks properly. So, for example on our check-in we say, you know “I’ve been in recovery for you know a year. I’ve been sober from sexually addictive acts for…” and then you actually give the time how long you’ve been sober. It might be like a week, might be a month, it might be two hours. Then you say, “well I confess I broke my sexual act sobriety by…” and then you actually say what you did. That might be self sex, it might be intentionally looking at sexual imagery. It might be something more intense than that. And so, we keep track very specifically of sexual acts sobriety and also sexual lust sobriety. We not only talk about our acts but we talk about our thoughts and talk about how long we’ve been sober from that. I guess the answer to your question there is there’s an actual format with a sheet that helps you to tell the truth.

LF: So a group could actually develop something like that for themselves as a standard practice for when they get together.

GP: If somebody wants the group format that I use, they can just contact me and I’ll send it to them.

LF: When we hear the story of a leader who’s fallen into scandal we sometimes hear it said, you know “it could happen to anybody.” Do you think this is true?

GP: As far as I know, the only perfect human being that walked the earth was Jesus. So, in other words, all the rest of us are sinners. That means it can happen to anybody. I’m not sure who quoted this, I think it was Alexander Solzhenitsyn that said “the line between good and evil runs right down the middle of every human heart.” So, we can certainly tap into that part of us that’s depraved. So yes, anybody can do this.

LF: Is it the case, though, that there are things that we can do that make us less vulnerable?

GP: I would say there’s five vital components to recovery; five vital components to healing; to being on a growth path in your life. I’m a big believer in counselling. Here I am being a counsellor. So, you know if you’re really struggling with something it’s good to have people that can counsel you and guide you.

The second vital component of recovery is to attend one of these groups; is to actually have groups where you can be open and honest with one another. Groups really work really well because, you know, when Alcoholics Anonymous was formed, they discovered something. If you get a whole bunch of people that actually sit in a circle, and they all have the same problem, and then they actually start talking about that problem, they start to break free from the problem. Because especially sexual sin, you know, it lives in the dark. It’s like a spider in the corner of the basement. You know, shine a bright light on it, it scurries off into the floorboards. Well, this is bringing that sin out of the dark and into the light in front of a whole bunch of other people. It’s James 5:16 “therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other, so that you may be healed.” That’s a beautiful promise from God. Right there that, if we’re actually honest, if we’re actually telling the truth in front of other people and then we actually pray for each other and tap into God power we’re going to break free. That’s the second vital component.

The third vital component is what our theme is here today and that’s to have accountability. You know, it’s good to have about two to three men that know all the good about us, and all the bad about us, and they still love us. That’s true accountability and you’re committed to truth with each other.

And then of course reading and educating yourself is another vital component.

And of course, prayer. Tap into God. Use God power, not our own power. Our willpower is weak power.

LF: In your ministry you emphasize the importance of healthy marriages in terms of helping us live lives of integrity and faithfulness and wholeness. What is the connection between a healthy marriage and our ability as leaders to resist failure of this kind?

GP: One of the clichés in our business is the opposite of addiction is connection. In fact, I would make an even broader, sweeping statement on that and say, that the cure for addiction is relationship. So, we basically need five really good relationships.

The first one is with God. If you believe in God, you might as well have a close, intimate relationship with him. The second relationship is with your wife. If you’re married, you might as well have a close, intimate relationship with your wife. And then you find those two to three men that know all the good about you and all the bad about you and they still love you. So, once you’ve got those five relationships in place, you find out that all your addictions disappear: alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, whatever you got.

To go back to the wife relationship, most men are not taught how to love their wives. They’re really bad at it. So, I spend more time in my office teaching men how to love their wives than any other subject, and it’s amazing how, when they actually learn how to emotionally and spiritually connect with their wives, they start getting straight on the sexual stuff. A lot of guys, the only way they connect with their wives is through sex, and it becomes very one-dimensional. It’s just about sex, sex, sex and they forget that “oh wait a minute, a wife actually likes emotional and spiritual connection as well.” So, if you have emotional, spiritual and physical connection it’s now three-dimensional and it’s much more satiating, it’s much more satisfying and you won’t be craving sex all the time.

LF: In closing, can you give us a couple of resources maybe that you would recommend every pastor and every leader to read?

GP: Yeah, there’s three really good Christian resources here that I always recommend. The first one is Dr. Doug Weiss. If you go to you’ll see he’s written over 40 books, and about half of his books are on sex addiction and partners recovery, and then the other half of his books are on how to make your marriage better.

Then another huge resource for churches is Dr. Ted and Diane Roberts who developed the whole Conquer series which churches can use. So, if you go to you’ll find all their resources. A lot of churches have been using the Conquer series along with the follow up programs to help deal with sexual sin in the church. And then a third resource that I’d recommend that every pastor read is a book by Dr. Mark R. Laaser. It’s called Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction (also on Mark and Debra Laaser have been Christian leaders in the area of sexual misbehavior for probably about 30 or 35 years now.

LF: Well thank you so much Mr. Pettyjohn. I really appreciate you stepping in to chat with us here about a really important issue and I think it’s one that will resonate with a lot of our leaders and men generally. Thank you so much.

GP: Thank you for having me.

Leave a Reply