The Christian life was never intended to be lived alone. If you are serious about applying what we read in the New Testament, you will discover that it is impossible to follow Jesus apart from a tangible connection to other believers, specifically in the local church.
This is nowhere more evident in the repeated command we've seen in Ephesians 4 - that we must speak the truth to one another in love. In verse 15, we speak the truth in love to one another because that is how the body grows and builds itself up. In verse 25, we put away all falsehood and speak the truth because we are members one of another. There is a sense in which we are responsible for all of the other members in Christ's body, and even more responsible for the other members in our local church. Even then, it is impossible to truly know, trust, and be completely open with that many people. That's why we believe it is particularly helpful to have identified a specific person or small group of people to whom you are particularly accountable.
This starts in our "mutual ministry time" in Gospel Communities (GCs). At the end of our scheduled GC nights, we break out into groups of men and women to talk about areas of ongoing growth in our walk with Christ. We confess sin, celebrate victories, and seek prayer for God to continually grow us in particular areas as his disciples. Even then, because of the frequency of our GC meetings, and because the makeup of the group can vary in size and who is present, it's helpful to identify a person or two to whom we will be even more intentional in accountability.
Often we have a hard time understanding what is meant by "accountability." Sometimes fear is used as the primary motivator in accountability: "I am afraid of having to admit my failure, and that fear will keep me from sinning." But that kind of accountability typically leads to hiding sin or addressing fruit without getting to the heart where true change is found. At other times we treat accountability as a therapy session where we can say we are "struggling" with a certain sin and feel good about confessing it, but have little intent to change it.
So how can we develop a good accountability relationship? Here are some practical tips I often share with people. Allow them to inform both your mutual ministry times and other accountability relationships beyond that time.
You are responsible for being accountable to others. (James 5:16)
It is not primarily your accountability partner’s job to track you down (though they should/will if needed).
If you find yourself tempted to sin, or having given into temptation to sin, make the phone call right away.
Have a regularly scheduled time to connect in some way (phone or in person).
This is time to deal with the non-urgent, but important.
This is also time to deal with what you didn’t call immediately about but should have.
Make this meeting frequent enough stay on top of issues and long enough to share openly.
Use agreed-upon goals/questions/standards as guides.
Try to observe growth in a couple specific areas that God is convicting you about or leading you in (example: purity, anger, evangelistic courage).
Consider common sin tendencies and all spheres of life for the disciple.
Use questions to focus part of your time on issues related to applying what we are learning together as a church through the word.
Consider using a final question, “Is there anything you haven’t told me about but should?
Allow some time to share freely and openly.
Know what you need to share and the areas for which you need support, exhortation, admonition, and/or prayer.
Allow others to address what’s on their heart before pressing in for more.
Celebrate victories as much as you talk about failures.
You should see growth because God loves to work in his people: look for it.
This is God’s work: Give him the credit!
Use grace as God uses it.
Consider how the gospel shapes your response to someone else’s need for growth.
Consider the holiness of God, the offense that sin is to God, and the extent of Christ’s gracious sacrifice to remove the penalty, power (and eventually) presence of sin in our lives.
Offer a vision for the joy and restoration that comes through repentance and doing things God’s way.
In the Bible, grace does not excuse, it transforms.
It is not helpful or biblical to say “it’s OK” to the confession of sin and then offer no vision or hope for change.
Grace is necessary for true biblical change. It is the freedom and power in which transformation can happen without the bonds of guilt/shame.
Push one another in the power of the Spirit.
Do not settle for “I’ll try harder next time.” Create a tangible, biblical plan for what “next time” will look like.
If there is a sin pattern consistently confessed without growth, draw in more people to address the problem.
Trust God first, one another second.
Trust in God is what makes accountability work. We are called to “one another” ministry regardless of whether or not we trust others.
You will need to be vulnerable in what you share, and you will need to allow God to overcome the fear of man to share it.
Begin and end your accountability time in prayer, and go to prayer throughout as the Spirit leads.
So what next step will you take to build a thriving accountability relationship? Maybe you need to apply these things in mutual ministry time in your Gospel Community. Maybe you need to identify a particular accountability partner. Maybe you can sharpen your accountability with your current accountability partner to see more purposeful growth take place. Identify the next step and then take it!