Thursday, November 1, 2007

Accountability in discipleship

Some thoughts on accountability in discipleship and the standard to which we are held when discipling. (And these are just that, my thoughts, mostly pulled from a conversation with a friend.)

First and foremost, I think accountability in discipleship very much depends on the relationship in question. Different relationships have very different parameters: one might be simply for the sake of learning about a particular aspect of faith, whereas another might be a complete spiritual submission one person to another.

I don't know that either of those is inherently better than the other, but they do differ. In the former case there will (somewhat obviously) be less emphasis on accountability than in the latter, and I think correspondingly less responsibility. At the same time, I think that anytime we're in a position of spiritual authority, if we see issues and do not hold people accountable, we are in a place of responsibility. Tempering that is the realization that it is not our job to fix people, but rather the work of the Holy Spirit.

For me, in the discipleship relationships I have, I know there's a fine line that really varies from case to case as to where I bring up issues I see and where I don't. With one hypothetical guy, if I see an issue, I might bring it up, within a few weeks if there's some concern as to how I need to handle it. With another hypothetical guy, I might not bring it up at all if we're simply not in a place in our relationship where he's willing to hear from me at that deep and possibly painful area. In that case, my responsibility is to ask questions to get him thinking, and to comment on areas God has convicted me, and to spend a LOT of time praying for him.

(That, by the way, is where I think our gravest responsibility is in the context of discipleship: prayer. If we are not faithful to pray for those we are leading, how will we ever be able to effectively pour into their lives? How could we presume to try to bring accountability or correction to someone we're not faithfully praying for?)

One thing I think is important is to establish at the beginning of any relationship of that sort what the ground rules/expectations are. I let any of the guys I meet with know that I don't see the meetings as just a time to hang out - though we do that as well - but as a time focused on spiritual growth. But, I also invite them to tell me what their expectations are, and I really try to work with that. So, if they tell me they have a big need for accountability, that'll be a much bigger emphasis, whereas if they say, "I'm really just looking to read the word of God and study it together," that'll be the focus. There would still be accountability, but it'd be a lot less a focus.

There's also the standard accountability relationship, where the whole point of the relationship is simply to stand beside each other, of course, and in that case all the emphasis would be there.

So far as I understand, the place where we are really accountable before God is where we lead people astray, or where we do not speak a warning when we have been clearly instructed to do so. That's a really fine line, in a lot of ways: what does "clearly instructed to do so" mean for us? We obviously don't have God speaking directly in the same way Ezekiel did. I think the Ezekiel example, though somteims taken out of context, is worth paying attention to: if the watchman doesn't call a warning when the enemy is coming, people's blood is on his hands.

In practice, for me at least, that means that if I've been down a path and seen it cause pain and anguish - and particularly if I know it's a sinful path - I will say, "Hey, I've been there, please don't fall into the same sin trap I did; don't make that mistake."

Another relevant passage that comes to mind is Christ's warning to those who would cause a child to stumble (which is probably applicable not only to children in the ordinary sense but also to those in the spiritual sense). I'm also reminded of His comment that we will be judged for every careless word we speak (Matthew 12:35-37), which, while not directly applicable, certainly speaks to the responsibility associated with our words. Last but definitely not least, there are numerous cautions to those in authority throughout the epistles to be careful in our handling of the word of truth - particularly in 2 Timothy and Titus. That doesn't directly speak to the issue at hand, but I nevertheless find it fairly relevant. Combined with the admonition that "Not many should presume to be teachers" because of the increased responsibility of that position (James 3:1-2). We will be judged more strictly. And we are explicitly commanded to deal with our brothers when they sin: see Luke 17:1-4 and Matthew 18:15-20.

All of that lays a foundation, but Scripture never explicitly says, "If you don't hold a person accountable for sins in their life, you will be held accountable for those sins." As such, we should be careful making sweeping statements of that variety. Of course, if we're in the position of teaching someone, we have a great responsibility for that person, because he or she (and God) has entrusted himself or herself to our care, and as such are somewhat relying on us.

The problem with following that argument too far is that, unlike in the Old Testament, each of us as believers has the Holy Spirit personally speaking conviction into our lives, and we are responsible ourselves for the way we respond to His correction: others' input is secondary to His direct work on our hearts.

The problem with not following that argument far enough is that it can really put us in the position of saying, "Well, it's not my responsibility to try to fix his/her sin," when very clearly that's part of the function of the body of Christ both corporately and on an individual level with one another. We are responsible for each other even as "regular" brothers and sisters in Christ; how much more so when discipling someone!

In my own relationships, I really distinguish not only between the relationships but also between the issues in a believer's life. I'm not responsible for every issue in the heart of a guy I'm discipling (that's crazy!). On the other hand, if I see a guy who is sleeping with his girlfriend, I had *better* say something - but I'm probably not going to be spending as much time worrying about relatively minor sins in his life at that point. If I'm dealing with a fairly mature believer who is largely doing well, but has niggling sin issues around the periphery, I'll be dealing with those more intensely. If I see a deep pride issue underlying those, I may address those issues and simply pray for his heart - or I may, after prayer, directly address the pride issue.

That's a long pseudo-answer on the topic of accountability in discipleship, and I don't know that it necessarily clarifies that much, seeing as it's something of a big, "Sort of!" I believe that we do have considerable responsibility toward each other, simply as brothers and sisters in Christ, and the more so in the case of discipleship relationships. We are held accountable when we are teaching for those under our authority. I think, however, we must be careful to judge whether another believer is or is not fulfilling their accountability responsibilities: that's really between them, God, and the person they're holding accountable. It's an issue we should teach on, to be sure, and one we should be mindful of - but not one we should let become an issue of contention. Ultimately, the responsibility is on each individual believer, because we have the Spirit speaking into our hearts. Any other culpability is secondary.

- Chris

1 comment:

  1. Excellent!

    We are not cookie-cutter people, so how we desciple one another should not be cookie-cutter, either.

    Haven't ignored your blog ... just needed to wait till I had time to read long posts ;)


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