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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Stirring One Another Up, Part 2

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrew 10:24-25)
What does it look like to be involved in meaningful relationships with other believers? Last time we considered a couple of examples of what it doesn’t look like.  Now, I’d like to look at one more example that falls short, but then consider what it might truly look like to “stir one another up to love and good deeds.”
Another kind of involvement that may not qualify as obedience to Heb 10:24-25 is accountability relationships.  Let me quickly qualify that statement.  If you are in an accountability relationship in which you focus on stirring one another up to love and good deeds, that does represent obedience to Heb 10:24-25. 
However, it is my observation that accountability relationships for the most part have devolved into asking each other a few questions and then quickly moving on to conversation about non-essential things.
“Have you been doing your devotions?”
“Have you gossiped about anyone this week?”
“Awesome.  What do you guys have going on this weekend?”
Accountability has become more about discouraging each other from doing bad deeds, but there is little thought given to stirring up love and good deeds.  We’ve talked many times at Providence about putting off and putting on.  Put off love for idols, put on love for Christ.  Put off sinful behavior, put on righteous behavior.  Many accountability relationships are only about the first half of that – putting off sinful behaviors.  Where is the putting on?  Where is the encouragement to grow in the worship of Christ?
So you may be in an accountability relationship.  I would encourage you to evaluate what you focus on in that relationship.  Is it all about stopping certain behaviors?  Or do you also stir one another up to love and good deeds?
If showing up at church, family devotions, and typical accountability groups aren’t the biblical idea of building up the church, what should it look like to build one another up to love and good works?
A great mechanism for this kind of regular, intentional meeting together is the Puritan practice of conferencing.  (This is the model we used for the Men’s Spiritual Leadership Boot Camp last year.)  Conferencing was the Puritans’ mechanism for living out the “one another” commands of Scripture and of stirring one another up to love and good deeds. Among the Puritans, everyone—whether a pastor, farmer, teenager, or mother of small children—everyone was expected to practice conferencing. 
Conferencing consisted of very small groups – 2, 3, or 4 people – coming together regularly to engage in weighty conversation about spiritual things.  It was not merely a cold, theological discussion, but a meaningful discourse about the Word and the heart, an opportunity to build into one another’s lives with scriptural encouragement and exhortation.
One Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter, gave his congregation a list of conversation starters, including: “1. ...a point from the last sermon that you heard, or of something lately preached that nearly [i.e., deeply] touched you. 2. Or of something in the last spiritual book you read.  3. Or of some text of Scripture obvious [i.e., relevant] to your thoughts. 4. Or of some notable (yea, ordinary) providence which did lately occur. 5. Or of some examples of good or evil that are fresh before you. 6. Or of the right doing of the duty that you are about.”  Additionally, he encouraged them to open up regarding their own personal struggles.
That is a much more robust response to the exhortation to stir one another up to love and good deeds.  To use this model, we can adopt the following framework for conferencing meetings.
First, we need to come prepared to share something with the group for the purpose of encouraging them and stirring them up.  You can use Richard Baxter’s suggestions.  It could be a point from a sermon that you listened to during the week, that was helpful to you or that would be helpful to them.  It could be a point from a Christian book you are reading.  It could be a passage of Scripture that you came across in your bible reading.  It could be how to view a certain current event through the lens of the gospel.
Perhaps a brother or sister is struggling with something in particular – you could bring something to encourage him or her in that area.  It just needs to be something you are bringing to that man or men to generate a conversation about meaningful things for the purpose of stirring them up to love God more and to follow Him in obedience. Ask yourself, “What can I do to point them to Jesus?”
But we may groan, thinking, “Great, another thing to add to my to-do list: find something to encourage others.”  This shouldn’t be a burden if we are pursuing the Lord ourselves.  we will inevitably come across something in our own devotions that we can use to encourage our conference group.
Second, come prepared to converse about what the others in the group bring to encourage you.  In other words, when others share what they have brought to encourage the group, engage with them on that subject.  Let it grow into a larger consideration of the things of the Lord.  These are conversation starters, not conversation enders. 
Third, come prepared to find out how you can help them with their struggles.  What do they need you to pray about?  How can you come alongside them to help them deal with a particular sin?  This is where accountability fits in.  Accountability is a way of helping a brother stay on course.  Ask them explicit questions about how they are doing fighting sin.  Ask them how they are bringing the Word and prayer to bear in that fight.   
Fourth, come prepared to share freely about yourself and your struggles and allow them to “one another” you.  As we are pursuing fellowship with the Lord throughout the week, we should be thinking about what we can share with our conference partner(s).  Thus, the group becomes less about how we keep ourselves from sinning and more about how we can stir others up to love and good deeds.  Amazingly, this helps in our own struggle with sin.  Out of love for God and others, we are doing the good deed of considering how to help others grow in the Lord.
So many of the sin problems we all struggle with are nothing more than complications caused by acute self-centeredness.  By focusing on helping others, we somewhat inadvertently kill the habit of self-focus and replace it with service.  In these ways, conferencing is others-centered and service-minded.  It’s about giving, not receiving.  
With conferencing we take the concept of accountability and add to it stirring one another up to love and good deeds.  Conferencing focuses as much on positive growth in the worship of Christ as on recent successes or failures in overcoming temptation.  So we’re not throwing out accountability; we’re fortifying it with Christ-centered encouragement.
I’ve heard frequently in recent years that “accountability doesn’t work.”  I think conferencing, by being others-focused, could help to correct this belief.  Next time, we’ll consider why accountability often fails and how conferencing could help prevent this failure from happening.  In the meantime, is there a person or two at PBF that you could ask to conference with you?  Who are they?  Why not talk to them about it?

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