If you ever visit Phoenix, Arizona, one of the restaurants you must visit is Chino Bandido. Once featured on Food Network’s Diners Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri, Chino Bandido is an unforgettable fusion of Mexican and Chinese food. You read that correctly: Mexican-Chinese food.

On a Tuesday afternoon, I sat down with a friend who was visiting from out of town. We started catching up over our Jade-Red Chicken quesadillas and Jerk Chicken fried-rice. On that particular day, the hot news item involved a nationally-known pastor who had been exposed for sexual misconduct. The media was having a field day playing multiple sermon clips where he passionately decried the very behavior he’d now been exposed for himself.

By the time we got to dessert (our still-warm snickerdoodles), I launched into a rant about the need for church leaders to be held accountable by their boards or senior staff. In my early 20s, I knew all the right answers and I was certain that accountability was the magic fairy dust which would have prevented this black eye for the Church.

As I wound down my rant, my friend began to share a very different perspective. It turns out he lived less than 40 minutes from the church where this man pastored and their wives were in a women’s prayer group together. My face turned an even deeper red than the salsa I had next to my plate.

My friend continued by sharing an inside scoop I’d never hear told publicly. Reflecting on the detailed accountability structure the board put in place around this man, my friend made a statement I’ll never forget.

He said, “Scott, you can only be held accountable to the degree you want to be accountable.”

He noted that this man made a choice to hide the truth and rejected his accountability structure. The leader chose a destructive path, a choice no one could stop.

A Word We’ve Grown to Loathe

The word “accountability” has a lot of baggage for some people.

When I dig into the hesitation others have about accountability, I discover a history which includes accountability being forced on them by someone else, often against their will. Because of this history, accountability becomes a trigger word to trauma, disappointment, or even spiritual abuse.

In my own experience, accountability groups were built on young men’s struggle with sexual purity and they offered little help other than the constant reminder that others were struggling in the same way.

As a result of these kinds of experiences, we run from “accountability” and miss out on the benefits.

The Secret to Healthy Accountability

Here’s the secret to a healthy kind of accountability, though. It’s the lesson my friend taught me over Chinese-Mexican food.

True accountability can never be imposed, only invited.

True accountability is something we submit to willingly, not something we’re forced to accept begrudgingly. If accountability will help change anything about us internally or externally, our hearts must be open to the input and authority of the person(s) who now hold power within our lives.

Now, I know there are particular kinds of accountability which live in between invitation and imposition. Our supervisors hold us accountable to achieve results at work. Our families hold us accountable to exhibit behaviors and attitudes which fuel healthy relationships.

But, even in that in-between space, a healthy accountability depends on our openness. If I invite my boss’ accountability, it becomes something I’m thankful for, instead of something I resent. If I invite my wife’s accountability, I look forward to becoming a better husband rather than seeing her as a nagging spouse.

How Do We Invite True Accountability?

I think there are four key questions which we must answer, in order to invite others to help us become our best selves. Because, at the end of the day, accountability is merely a tool.

If Jim Rohn is correct when he says we’re the sum of the five people we’re closest to, if Jeff Goins is correct when he writes that every story of success is a story of community, then our relationships hold the key to a thriving future.

Asking the following four questions frames up the kind of request we make of our friends. This process saves us from further baggage with the A word.

What do I Want? 

In your life, what do you want that is currently absent? Or what is currently present but inadequate? What would like to see be different in six months or a year?

Over the last two years, I’ve invited people to hold me accountable to a daily prayer habit, a workout plan, a weekly publishing schedule and finishing a procrastinated project.

While this might seem like a simple question, it’s often more difficult than we expect to articulate our true desires. Answer this question before any conversation with a friend.

What is Missing?

Lean into your frustration or dissatisfaction to discover what’s missing. Ask people close to you what you commonly complain or vent about. If you don’t know what’s missing, my guess is those around you do. The best way to increase self-awareness is to speak to those who watch and listen to you on a daily basis.

Maybe what’s missing is there are no consequences in this area of your life. Maybe no one knows when you do or don’t take action. It could even be that while you want to change in one area, there’s something you want more which trumps that desire.

Identifying what’s missing defines the gap you’ll have to traverse with your accountability partner.

Who Do I Trust? 

Becoming accountable to someone is a powerful thing. We will be vulnerable and exposed. We give someone the opportunity to either support or hurt us.

Choose wisely who you’ll invite you to hold you accountable. This person needs to be someone who can tell you the truth with boldness because talking about accountability is very different than practicing it. The person needs to also be someone you trust to handle your failure with a healthy dose of grace and love.

Accountability to someone who is unsafe runs the danger of wounding rather than healing.

What Am I Giving Them the Authority to Do?

It is imperative that we be extremely clear with our “ask.”

Boundaries are a healthy component of every relationship, especially within relationships that are defined by an accountability agreement. Some people might be nervous by the invitation to accountability, so clarity in expectations can help dial down the fear and anxiety for both parties.

I gave my readers authority to call me out when I didn’t send them a new article each week. I gave my designer authority to not work with me if I didn’t deliver content to him by a prescribed deadline each week. I gave my wife accountability to take my phone away temporarily if I was using it and not present with those around me.

Clarity at the beginning reduces the likelihood of confusion later.

RELATED: Here’s the Leadership Advice I Received from Former CEO of Pepsi in One Word

All That’s Left is the Ask!

Once you’ve identified what you want, what’s missing, who you trust and what you’re giving them the authority to do, all that’s left is to ask!

“Will you hold me accountable to ___________ (action) every ________ (date/time)?”

If the person is responsible and trustworthy, they’ll ask some follow-up questions about how you’d like to hear from them if you fall short of your intention.

They will probably be very timid to hold you accountable the first time or two you break your promise, so take care in how you respond to their accountability. If you lash out at their attempts, the other person won’t keep asking and you’ll develop a reputation in this area.

The Power of Accountability

Accountability has the power to help us experience radical transformation.

I won’t have become consistent in blogging without my readers.

I won’t have become consistent in prayer without my prayer partner, Jimmy.

I wouldn’t have finished my workout plan without my wife encouraging me to get moving instead of staying in bed.

It’s not a sign of weakness to invite accountability; I believe it’s a sign of maturity and courage.

Scott Savage is a pastor and a writer. He is a frequent contributor to RELEVANTMagazine.com, ThinDifference.com, and OffThePage.com. Scott lives with his wife and 3 “little Savages” in Prescott, Arizona.