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)
(This is the third in a short series on the vital necessity of meaningful relationship in the church. You can read the earlier articles here and here.)
A common objection to the kind of relationship that I’ve proposed in earlier articles is that “accountability doesn’t work.” I think conferencing, by being others-focused, will help to correct this belief. But we also need to keep in mind why accountability fails when it fails. We need to know these dangers so that we can combat them. There are at least a few:
Lack of honesty. Accountability is only as useful as we are transparent. If we’re holding back or hiding something, it’s a complete waste of time in overcoming sin issues. If a the person you’re meeting with tells you he or she is not struggling with anything, that is almost surely not true. Press that person and help them recognize where they need help.
Letting each other off easy. Frequently, people in accountability relationships accept vague answers from one another. When we are really struggling with a sin issue, we are often not forthcoming about. And so in response to accountability questions, we give vague answers. “Did you give into temptation this week?” “Not really.” And since we don’t like confrontation, we accept these kinds of answers from each other. But it’s not loving or helpful to do so.
We need to pry a little: “What does ‘not really’ mean?” We are not doing each other any favors by letting one another off easy. Sin that is kept in the dark is deadly. Drag it out into the light and it dies. We can help each other by probing. We need to put each other in a position to be either completely honest or completely dishonest. “So are you saying that you didn’t give in to that temptation at all?” “No.” “Then what are you saying?” Just gently, lovingly probe.
If the person confesses sin, encourage them to repent and seek forgiveness. Ask them what you can do to help beyond that.
Lack of consistency. It’s a common pitfall to depend upon the other person to keep the ball rolling. One week one partner cancels and then nobody takes the initiative to reschedule. The next thing you know it’s been months since you met. Understand that it is your responsibility to obey the Scriptures, therefore it is your responsibility to make sure that these meetings happen. If you have a tendency to rely on others to lead, recognize that tendency up front and resist it. Don’t wait for the other person to schedule a meeting. Take it upon yourself.
Lack of confidentiality. I’ve heard numerous people talk about how they’ve become disillusioned with accountability groups because an accountability partner shared their secret with someone else. This happens all too often. Person A shares his struggle with Person B. Person B decides she has a good reason to share it with Person C. “But only with Person C. I wouldn’t want this to get out. Person C won’t tell anybody.” Person C almost always shares it with Person D. It doesn’t take long before Person A learns from Person M, N, or O that Person B spilled the beans. In that way, Person B destroys Person A’s trust and Person A will likely never trust person B ever again.
We should consider anything shared with us in a conferencing group to be on lockdown…with only one exception. If that person is unrepentant sin, doing nothing to fight that sin, a loving brother or sister must obey the Scriptures (Matthew 18:15-17) and bring a third party into the situation for the purpose of helping the unrepentant person reconcile with the Lord.
If you break confidentiality for any other reason, you will destroy that group and render it all but useless. Proverbs 17:9 reads, …he who repeats a matter separates close friends. Don’t share sensitive information with anyone. Not your spouse. Not your dog. No one.
If we can recognize each of these dangers and consciously work at overcoming them, conferencing can be a framework that very affectively facilitates stirring one another up to love and good works. Next time we’ll complete this series by considering why these relationships are so important and how to overcome our own internal objections to them.