January 24, 2018

The 'Why' and 'How' of Accountability (2)

Titus is to set an example for the flock. Paul says the same to Timothy when he writes to him as well (1 Tim. 4:12). Paul consistently taught this to young pastors specifically, but I think we can apply it to ourselves too. Be an example to others. God is interested in how we live our lives as well as what we believe. Character has got to be key in the life of every believer. Our lives and our teaching should be filled with integrity. We don’t live in a clean-cut society. People live messy, chaotic lives—you don’t need me to tell you that! But the good news is that all of these lives can be transformed by the gospel of Jesus. That’s where we come into how we model Christianity to people by what we teach and by how we live and act toward one another. Think back to those people who have influenced you. I’m sure they didn’t just teach you the Bible, but you learnt from how they lived their lives too. This type of learning doesn’t just come from attending a bunch of meetings; it comes from spending time with people. We need a culture of openness. We need to be practising community on all sorts of levels every day of the week.

This is not exclusive to pastors or men either. Look at verses 3 and 5. Women need role models too. Women need to be actively discipled too. “Reverent in behaviour, not gossiping and not heavy drinkers.” Teaching is an active word. Bringing the truths of healthy doctrine is not just a male pastime. Doctrine is a Christian responsibility, and women are to bring it to bear in the daily things of life too. How were women taught life skills in the old days before microwaves and takeaways? Girls were taught by older women, often their mums and grandmas. Sadly, today in our communities, grandma is often the drug dealer or the scheme’s biggest gossip. Most girls get their teaching from the TV or YouTube. We need to be encouraging our older women to be teaching the younger women. Young women need to be taught how to be discreet, busy at home, and obedient to their husbands. I’m sure you’re all loving that sentence! Older women are, among other things, to teach younger women how to bring their homes under the lordship of Jesus Christ. When these words were written and the false teachers were on the prowl, it seems from 1:11 that the way they infiltrated the church was through women and their homes.

The point is that women are to teach women healthy doctrine. Again, this is not for the purposes of knowledge, but for the purpose of living it out in daily life. In our modern context, what does that mean for a woman who works full-time? What does it mean for a lone parent? What does it mean for a single woman? What does it mean for a stay-at-home mum? Homes are the battleground of our generation. Young women need to be shown how to be mothers, how to look after their children, and they need to understand the Bible and how to live in this world. Are you involved in discipling someone right now? Are you being discipled by someone? If not, I strongly urge you to find someone! These kinds of relationships are vital to the health of a church. It is what we are called to do as we wait for Christ’s glorious reappearing.

So what do we say to them? What do we teach them? See verses 11–13. Teach them grace. Grace teaches us all of these things. We must teach one another the gospel of grace. Point one another back to the cross. That place where Jesus hung and died so that we could be reconciled to God and then to one another—that is healthy teaching. It’s grace that has changed us, and it’s grace that will keep changing us. Notice that this grace not only saves us, but it teaches us (Titus 2:12). God doesn’t just walk us through the door of salvation when we come to Jesus. We don’t just get saved, start going to church, live our best life now, and wait for Him to come and collect us. Grace helps us to walk the life of faith until we get to glory. And we don’t do this walk alone. We do it together. Arm in arm. Hand in hand. Grace has appeared in each of our lives, so what are we going to do about it? We need to speak it. Teach it. Rebuke each other in it. Encourage each other in it. Model it. This is what a life of grace looks like. Teach that. We know something of pain and mourning. Teach that. We know what it means to fall in sin. And yet grace forgives us and raises us up again. We can teach people about restoration. This responsibility rests with all of us who call ourselves Christians. It is messy work. It is costly. It involves time and perseverance. But we must do it if we are serious about passing the gospel on to the next generation and raising up a new generation of men and women who, in turn, will teach others also.

This is the biblical basis; now what about the practical outworking of these truths? How do you go about starting this sort of relationship? What should you not do? What happens if the relationship goes wrong or breaks down in some way? Let me give you a few pointers.

1) Before you start an accountability relationship, pray for the Lord’s guiding. Who should you be discipling? Who should be discipling you? It isn’t always helpful to meet with your bestie! You want someone who is going to challenge you, someone you can learn and grow from. So make a wise choice. Then just go and speak to the person; ask them if they’d be willing to meet with you to pray and invest in your life. If you’re talking to a person you’d like to disciple, say something like “I’ve been thinking it would be good if we met up to study the Bible and pray together. I care about you and would love to see you growing as a Christian.” This is a brave thing to do because we’re never sure how the other person is going to react, but we really need to lead by example. We can’t expect others to be in this kind of relationship if we’re not willing to do it ourselves!

2) Decide together how frequently you should meet and what you should study. If you’re the one leading the relationship, make some suggestions—I emailed those in my church a recommended reading list, and there are plenty of helpful suggestions on that. If you haven’t got this, just let me know and I can send it to you. If you’re the one being discipled, ask the other person if she has any suggestions, or you could suggest something you’d like to study. Maybe you’re struggling in a particular area or would like to understand a subject better. Let the other person know.

3) Be honest. I know it can take time to feel comfortable opening up to someone, but it is best if, straight from the off, you’re open with your accountability partner. It’s good to encourage the person you’re discipling to do the same. The only way you’re going to see someone grow, or grow yourself, is if you’re open and honest about your struggles. Again, I know this is hard, because often we aren’t even honest with ourselves; Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things. But it’s really the only way we will see lasting and real change.

4) The dreaded questions! I know that a lot of you don’t like asking or answering the questions that we use. But it is really, really important to use them. Otherwise the time we spend with someone can be aimless and we can end up talking about a load of rubbish. We can spend five hours with someone and not actually get round to talking about anything of significance. For those of you who find it difficult to steer a conversation and not get side-tracked with every random story going, these questions should enable you to do that. As a general rule, I would spend about 20 minutes catching up, 20–30 minutes talking about the book or passage of Scripture you are studying, and then 20–30 minutes going through the questions. So really you should be able to do all that in an hour and a half. Obviously, there are times when you’ll spend more time depending on what has been shared and what needs to be talked about. However, that should be an exception, not a norm. It’s important to get into the habit of asking the questions from the beginning of the relationship, because it can be hard to introduce them later on. The questions aren’t designed to trick anyone. They are there so that every aspect of life is talked about. And hopefully the directness of them will enable people to give direct answers. However, that is not always the case. I was meeting with someone weekly and was asking the questions. After a while I found out that the person had been lying to me every week for about six months! That was a hard pill to swallow. If you are meeting with new Christians, be aware that they will probably be lying or keeping things from you. It shouldn’t deter you from asking them, but should help you go into the relationship with your eyes open. This is not only a problem for new believers though. Older believers can be just as bad; they might not outright lie to you, but they might be selective with the stuff that they share. In those circumstances, you should employ a bit of discernment and maybe ask some follow-up questions.

5) Avoid allowing your meet-ups to become ‘spiritual gossip’ sessions. The purpose of you meeting together is to encourage and challenge one another, and to pray together. You’re not interested in what the neighbour has been saying or what was overheard in the coffee queue. Your focus is the other person’s soul. Which is why I said earlier about not meeting with your bestie. When best mates meet up for discipleship, it can often turn into a gossip session or a ‘slagging-someone-off’ session. This needs to be avoided at all costs, as it’s not helpful for anyone.

6) When things don’t work out. Part of my role at Niddrie is to be a matchmaker! I try to put discipleship partners together. When I do this, I always say it’s a trial for three months. As much as I try to match people in a helpful way, it doesn’t always work out like that. Relationships don’t necessarily break down for sin issues. There might be personality clashes, one person’s circumstances might change, or one side might feel it’s not particularly benefiting them. So saying it’s a trial gives people an out and they don’t have to feel like they are stuck in this relationship forever. I have to say that there haven’t been loads of relationships that haven’t worked out. But on these occasions, we have made provision for it. It goes without saying that when things need to be switched around, we need to be sensitive and wise in how we handle it.

7) This is an important aspect of the accountability relationship. As far as possible, we need to keep what is talked about confidential. That means even from our husbands! This can be difficult at times, but it is crucial. There may be occasions when you need to share something because their life or someone else’s life might be at risk. Or there may be times when you need to share a pattern of serious sin with your church elders/pastor/women’s worker to get some input from them. If you do feel that you need to share, it’s always best to let the person know and tell them the reason. But generally, what is said should stay between you and them.

All this being said, I hope I’ve not put you off! I can honestly say that being involved in accountability relationships has been hugely beneficial and encouraging to me as a believer. I have learnt so much through being discipled and being a discipler. I have had to figure out answers to questions I would never have asked myself, and I’ve seen the Lord work in the lives of many women. I would say that the benefits far outweigh the negative aspects of discipling.

For those of you who have been involved in discipleship for a while, keep going. And for those of you just starting out in this or considering it, have hope that the gospel will change and transform your life and the lives of others as you serve Christ in this way. As Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

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