Accountability Groups – Part I
For the last two weeks we’ve talked about spiritual mentoring. I think of accountability groups as group mentoring. But, there are some important differences. So, let’s take a look.
To whom you are accountable spiritually?
Have you ever really thought about that? Of course we’re all accountable to God. And most Christians have a Bible study group or Christian friends they hang out with. But do you have a flesh and blood person or people you’ve empowered to ask you the tough questions that will inspire you to live out the mission God has prepared for you in this life?
I do! I have five men, and my wife has four women, who are committed to help us grow spiritually, relationally, emotionally, and even physically. These are the men who watch my life and my back. They pray for me, encourage me when I need it, and speak truth to me even when I’d prefer not to hear it. They’re my accountability partners, my friends, and my spiritual brothers and we’ve been meeting weekly, for almost twenty years.
And, how did that come about? A simple phone call.
More than twenty years ago, I got a call from my friend Tom that had a profound effect on my life. He asked if we could have lunch to talk about something God had put on his mind. Normally I’d be wary. “What does he want from me?” That would be the first question that popped into my head, but I trusted Tom, so we met.
“Clare,” he started out, “I’ve been frustrated lately with how little I’m growing in some very important areas of my life. I really want to be a better follower of Jesus. I really desire to be a better husband and father and even a better friend to my friends. I have all these great intentions, but for one reason or another they just never seem to happen. The tyranny of the urgent, my job, the busyness of life, all kinds of factors seem to suck the life out of me and I rarely get around to doing the things I know God wants, and I want for me.
Now he had my attention. Immediately I identified with his frustration. What reasonably sensitive person wouldn’t? God, our spouses and children deserve our first allegiance. The problem is our bosses, customers and clients are sitting right in front of us or online, demanding our attention now, not when we have time, but NOW! And, they generally get it. But then, guess who doesn’t?
For stay-at-home moms it’s the same. The demands of children and all the frustrations of keeping a household afloat can be overwhelming. When do they have the time to address their needs and grow spiritually and relationally? And mothers who work outside the home are in a whole other league.
“So here’s what I had in mind,” said Tom. “I’d like each of us to write down a dozen things we know we ought to do to be the kind of Christian, husband, father, and friend we want to be. Then I thought we could meet together weekly, exchange our lists, and empower the other person to ask the question, “How are you doing in _______________? And go right down the list. I need a real person sitting right in front of me to encourage me to move from where I am to where I know God wants me to be, and my family needs me to be.” He also suggested that at the end of our times together, we pray for one another and the significant people in our lives.
As soon as he finished explaining his plan, it was one of those “dah!” moments for me. Of course, that’s what I needed! This wasn’t one more person demanding one more thing of me. These were goals I was going to prayerfully set – goals both God and I wanted of me. I was just giving permission to another person to ask me how I was doing and encourage me to godliness. Ironically, if my wife asked me the same questions, I’d probably think she was nagging. But a man I trust asking me these same questions felt empowering.
Still, I was wary. I knew that once I started down this road, I’d actually have to do the things I said I wanted to do, or I’d feel guilty. And I hated guilt. But let’s face it, my plan so far to mature in these areas wasn’t exactly on fire, and his idea intuitively made sense. So I said “yes” before I changed my mind and I’ve never regretted it.
My definition of Accountability Groups:
Accountability groups are small circles of Christian friends committed to encouraging one another to live out the will of God for their lives.
“Two are better than none, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
Choosing Accountability Partners
Here are some things to keep in mind as you begin thinking about choosing accountability partners.
1. Over the years, in my experience helping hundreds of people find accountability partners and form accountability groups, I’ve found that three to four is the ideal number of members. (We actually have six in my group, but it works.) When only two people meet, over time there’s a temptation to simply end up having coffee or lunch and talking about life. That’s not a bad thing; in fact it’s a great thing, but just not the purpose of accountability groups.
2. The two primary requirements for accountability partners are that they be believers and people you respect. Look for men or women whose character demonstrates a love for God and a heart for people. They don’t have to be spiritual giants, but they should want to be.
3. It would be beneficial if at least one person in your group was particularly, spiritually mature and had a good grasp of biblical truths. If not, consider asking the most spiritual person you know to mentor your groups for three to six months rather than being a permanent member.
4. Each group should be made up of all men or all women. I don’t recommend co-ed groups.
5. Make this selection process a matter of regular prayer and develop a short list of the names of people the Holy Spirit leads you to consider. These are people you’re going to empower to encourage you, so think deeply about these people. This isn’t like joining a Bible study that you can quit anytime you want, or like it was in gym class where you count off by 4’s. Finding God’s best for you is critical.
6. Over the years I’ve found that best friends make great accountability partners. Unlike casual acquaintances, they already know how you treat your spouse and your children. They’ve observed your life; they know your moods, your strengths and your blind spots. Almost universally, I’ve found good friends who are accountability partners become even better friends over the years.
7. Find the first person, before you ask a third or fourth. Then the two of you should select the next member of your group, and the three of you pray about a fourth and so on. Before you meet with each person, send them to our website and ask them to download their own copy of the Guide for Developing Christian Accountability Groups and Partners. This will help assure you all have the same goal in mind.
Next week we’ll talk about how you get started and how accountability groups actually work.
If you’re having a 10 second rule moment and sensing that you’re reasonably certain this is something you need to do, then begin praying right now. I mean it! Shut your computer down now and begin praying for an accountability partner.
My questions for you: Do you have an accountability group? Tell us about it.