by Harvey Nowland for Crown Financial Ministries

Accountability, according to Merriam-Webster, is an “obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions.” That seems to be a very lofty expectation. However, the culture in which we live rarely provides examples either of those who accept responsibility or of those who honestly account for their actions.

Nevertheless, when a Christian gives or receives help, whether it’s material, financial, or spiritual, there is every reason to expect full accountability. After all, God’s Word tells us, “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay” (Ecclesiastes 5:4-5).

Who needs financial counseling?
Most people need financial counseling - not the kind that suggests where your money should be invested but a much more basic counseling: how to live on a budget. The majority of single parents desperately need budget counseling, because usually their income is significantly lower than average.

For example, Census Bureau statistics for 1998 showed median income for married-couple families with children at $57,000. In the same period, median income for single mother households was $18,000 and for single fathers $30,000. About 45 percent of children raised by divorced mothers and 69 percent raised by never-married mothers lived in or near poverty, which was $13,003 for a family of three in 1998.

Who needs accountability?
Many single parents need budget counseling, and when churches provide this kind of help it’s important that a high level of accountability be established.

There is little value in having a budget counselor meet with a single parent (or anyone for that matter) to spend time going over income, indebtedness, and required expenses and developing a workable budget and then not expecting that person to follow through. From the outset, accountability must be required. Otherwise, counselors simply waste time trying to teach someone who wants help but expects to get it with a magic silver bullet.

Accountability is not simply a requirement for those who receive help. The person or church extending the help is responsible to provide a platform that makes reasonable accountability possible.

Can you do it on your own?
Often, single parents are angry with God. They are angry because either they never married or they are divorced. They are angry because they were left with children and bills. They are angry because life just isn’t fair. You name it. The truth is that many single parents struggle trying to make it on their own.

Many don’t ask for help, because they honestly feel no one really cares enough to want to help them. So, when a single parent does need help, or asks for help, be sure that the accountability level that will be expected does not overwhelm the person.<

For example, Marla had been divorced for six years. She had two children, 7 and 9. The divorce left her with a house and mortgage. After the divorce, the first job she was able to get paid $16,000 a year. Her ex-husband never met his child support responsibilities. He remarried and disappeared. She couldn’t keep up with the mortgage payments and lost the house.

Her parents had health problems but lived in a house with extra bedrooms. So, she moved in with them and was able to find another job with an annual salary of $27,000. However, the strain on her parents prompted them to ask Marla to find other accommodations. She rented a condo and moved in.

Although she understood her parents’ health difficulties, Marla was really hurt when they asked her to find another place to live. It was then that she developed her “attitude.” She wanted to do things on her own. After all, she reasoned, if my own parents aren’t willing to help, who needs anyone else?

Keeping up with the Joneses
Marla was determined to succeed and did well at first, using her money cautiously and wisely. But after several years of expensive auto repairs and doing without decent transportation, she began to wonder why she shouldn’t be driving a better car—especially when she could buy one with 0.9 percent financing. And she saw no reason her children should do without when kids at their school had so much.

She thought she should be able to handle the expenses since the loans had been approved. However, before long her spending habits stretched what had been an adequate $27,000 salary too thin to buy extras for the kids and also make car, new furniture, and appliance payments.

Money was tight, but she did things like cutting back on car and home insurance and eating out less. Then, coming home from work one day she swerved to avoid a dog and ran off the road into a tree. Marla was hospitalized for several days with head trauma and a broken collarbone and arm.

The car was a total loss, there wasn’t enough insurance compensation to pay off the car loan, and she had to pay $3,500 for a car she couldn’t drive. Her portion of the hospital expenses came to almost $4,000. Friends helped care for the children, but because of the broken bones she was unable to use her computer and heard rumors that her job might be on the line.

Accountability doesn’t mean “strings attached”
Marla needed help. She had visited a church with a friend, and now that friend said her church wanted to help Marla. At first, she struggled because of her need but refused the help. Before long she thought, Why not? If they want to give, I’m willing to take.

She was willing, that is, until she found out what was involved. The church wanted to connect Marla with an organization that could help her negotiate the bill with the hospital. That sounded good. And an anonymous member of the congregation was willing to pay off her car loan and provide her with a safe car to drive. That was certainly generous.

However, when she discovered she would have to meet with a married couple who would serve as Marla’s budget counselors and she would be expected to develop an accountability relationship with them, she started to reach for her “attitude.”

Why should I be obligated to them? I knew there’d be strings attached. Who do these people think they are? After all, until the accident she had done all right on her own with no parental or spousal help. Besides, she wondered, after what I’ve been through, what makes these people think they can teach me anything?

As it turned out, Marla was rather quickly won over by the kind and personable couple who became her budget counselors and friends. They explained their willingness to spend time with her if she would agree to commit to follow through with what they would teach her. Accountability was the key.

Accountable without an attitude
Marla had learned to be responsible for her own actions and became willing to trust and be accountable to others. Later, she was able to pass on to other single parents many of the lessons she had learned about being a faithful manager of the provision that God had made for her. Marla knew what accountability was all about.

It’s not an “everyone lived happily ever after” story. Marla continued to have her share of struggles along the way; however, she made it back to her job, was promoted (partly because she lost her “attitude”), and was able to start saving money in an emergency fund.

Like many other Christians, Marla has become an example to others of someone who has learned to accept responsibility for her life, honestly account for her actions, and live as an accountable manager of God’s provision for her.

Best of all, her “attitude” is gone, and now Marla likes herself and others more than ever.