We’re talking about friendship and authentic accountability. I trust that it will serve you well as you think both in terms of friendships in the church as well as how those friendships transition into meaningful accountability.
I want to start us off just thinking through a few things before we jump in. When we think about biblical counseling, often we think about conversations that have a purpose. It’s a conversational ministry. Often, the goal of the intentional discipleship that we talk about is for people—whether they’re in the nursery working together, or they’re standing out in the parking lot of a church, or they run into each other at Walmart, or wherever that particular place is—to have a conversation in the process of engaging with one another that leads them down the road toward Christ-likeness. It’s this mutual walk. It’s companionship. The goal is that people would grow together in Christ. We know in Ephesians 4 that the way that they grow in Christ is through speaking the truth in love with each other. Friendship provides that foundation from which you can have those types of conversations. As people talk, our goal is not just to speak the truth, but to help each other both at the level of encouragement as well as to support each other in the midst of life’s deepest struggles.
One other note is something that has been on my mind a lot. Probably every person reading this knows of a pastor or two, possibly even a biblical counselor, that somewhere along the journey has lost his or her ministry. As we listen and consider what happened and when and where it happened, I’ve often asked the questions: Who was the friend who should have been helping? Who is the person who needed to speak up? Who is the person whose silenced voice kept the pastor or counselor from getting the help that he or she needed?
I think one of the most sobering portions of 2 Samuel 11-12—and there are many—is in 2 Samuel 11. I’ll just read three verses. In verses 1-3 it says: “It happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house. And from the roof he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, ‘Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?'”
From verse 3 all the way to the end of chapter 11, as we follow the narrative of this very sad story, we never see whoever it was that asked that question actually go to David. We never see that question come up again in conversation. As you read the story, more and more people get involved in this circumstance, but no one is David’s friend to the extent that he or she says to David, “David, what are you doing? Why are you sending for someone else’s wife?”
We recognize that friendships are essential. God has given us people in life to be a voice for truth, to speak the truth in love, and to help us stay on the right path. We need those people and we need those voices. With all of that said, let me jump into this sense of accountability. Here are two questions to start out.
- What kinds of accountability typically exist in a person’s life?
The reason I ask this question is because sometimes when we mention accountability—especially to a counselee, but it could be to a pastor or someone else in the church—often that word “accountability” prompts all kinds of reactions. They think, “Oh, accountability. You’re one of those people. What are you thinking or what kind of accountability are you talking about?” So they start asking questions. But when you look at life, there are all kinds of accountability. The fact that we’re suggesting in Christ and in the church that there ought to be some kind of relationship that provides this sense of accountability really isn’t different than any other aspect of living. We have professional accountability, legal accountability, personal accountability, vocational accountability, familial accountability (could be parental or spousal), governmental accountability, and of course, we have spiritual accountability. We could keep rattling off all the places in life where we are held accountable. Sometimes we don’t even know the people that are holding us accountable.
The other night real late, I was driving by a semi just a couple blocks from here. The light turned yellow, and I was just far enough away that I thought “I’m going to stop,” but the semi was going fast enough, he didn’t stop. As he went through the intersection, lights flashed all around the intersection. I hadn’t been paying attention, but it was an intersection with cameras. Therefore, that driver is going to get a reminder that when the light turns yellow and then red, you have to stop. It’s accountability. We can’t escape it. But somehow in life there are times, at least as Christians, when someone mentions accountability and we get the sense of, “I’m not sure about that. I’m not sure I need it.” I’ve heard men say that or say, “Oh, that’s good for somebody else.”
- What is our typical response when we think about accountability?
Again, there are a variety of responses. In Psalm 139, David wasn’t that hip on accountability when he says: “Where can I flee from your presence? If I go as far north as I can go, I can’t flee from you. If I go south as far as I can go, if I go east, if I go west, no matter where I go. It can be in the middle of the night, and it’s just like the middle of the day to you. I can’t go anywhere.” If you understand the kind of psalm this is, at that particular portion he’s not saying, “Oh praise God, you’re everywhere. I love Your omnipresence.” No, he’s saying, “Where in the world can I hide from you?” He wasn’t that much into accountability.
Sometimes we’re not much into accountability as well, there are two questions for us to at least consider when we think of accountability:
1. Are you doing these things—when you think about accountability—in order to be God-pleasing or God-glorifying or God-honoring (whichever of the terms you appreciate)?
2. What motivates your accountability?
At the end of the day, this is what we know:
- We can know about accountability.
- We can teach people to think about it.
- We can encourage them to make it a part of their typical daily living.
But unless someone chooses to take it seriously and chooses to actually engage, what will happen is that you can have all kinds of accountability structures and still people choose to sin and to hide. They choose not to be apparent and open with people whom they talk with. I think one of the things that help us get past that potential poor reaction to accountability is just the necessity of understanding friendships.
Key Characteristics and Benefits of Friendships
There are some key characteristics that relate to friendships. I think these benefits of friendships are helpful to all of us. Let’s first define the terms.
Friendship would be companionships or friends walking down the road of life with you. They’re important for each one of us. We need those kinds of people that as we live, they live with us; as we go, they go with us; as we strive, they strive with us. Sometimes it’s in text messaging, sometimes it’s in conversation, sometimes it’s actually physically and they go somewhere, but the reality is we go and we go together. Again, some of the most important benefits of my life and some of the most important contributions made by people in my life were made by friends who were with me who were companions in life.
- Companions help live life with joy and endurance. (Ecclesiastes 3:22-4:12)
We see this concept in Ecclesiastes 3:22-4:12. When you’re looking at that particular portion, you understand that he says, “You know, two are better than one.” He gives some very specific examples. If you fall, it’s kind of nice to have somebody else pick you up. That’s kind of hard to do if you’re by yourself.
I was out this weekend in the Ozark Mountains. We were out at this particular place that was a forest when we finally got to the sign that said, “You are entering the wilderness.” That was a little bit disconcerting. What did that mean compared to where we had been? I had this little guy with me named Jojo, and we continued our journey on this seven-mile trail. He’s not little anymore, but he was about 12 years old at the time. Back when he was two, ten years prior, he had brain surgery to remove a tumor. They didn’t know if he’d ever walk again.
On this particular day it was my joy to hang out with him, and we were going on this seven-mile trail together. He has a hard time with balance and all of those things. For the majority of the trail, he did just fine. But as we got to this one portion consisting of an old riverbed where there were little rocks, big chunk rocks, and various elevations, I noticed that he was really struggling and that it was hard for him to get through some of those particular spots. I grabbed him and I said, “Hey, you know, Pastor Kevin is getting old, why don’t you help me get through all these rocks?” He did. He held onto me. I said, “You’re strong. I need a strong guy with me.” He said, “I’m not really strong, but I’m tough.” I said, “Perfect. I need a tough guy with me too. Strong or tough, I’ll take it.”
We started going through these rocks. It would take time for him to evaluate it and judge it. I said, “Okay, let’s jump together.” At this one spot, we went from a high range to a low range, and then there was another big chunk of rock with gaps a couple of feet wide. I said, “Okay, Jojo, we’ve got to jump. You have got to help me get to the first rock, but we have to land it because we have to get to the second rock and we don’t want to fall.” Sure enough, we jumped and hit the first one. He didn’t have any brakes or something and he kept moving with his weight, so we went jumping for the second one. I landed, but he didn’t land and started going down. I grabbed him, pulled everything inside of me I think, and as I held him and pulled him back up he said, “Oh, that was close.” I was thinking, “Yes, it was close. Your dad doesn’t know how dangerous this is.”
Here’s the point: two are better than one. I walked in a different direction on a different path a little bit later in the day with somebody else. At the end, that person said, “You know, this journey has been better because you slowed down to walk with me.” Ecclesiastes makes it clear that in life, there’s more joy and more benefit when we walk with someone.
- Companions help us get wiser or destroy us. (Proverbs 13:20 & 1 Corinthians 15:33)
Listen to Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed.” It sounds like Paul when he says in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” Companions are either going to help raise you up and give you wisdom, or they’re going to help you live more like a fool.
- Companions love us and are with us through life. (Proverbs 17:17)
Proverbs 17:17 says: “A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity.”
Early this morning, I received a call from a long-time close friend of mine from a family associated with the church because his father-in-law had died. As this man was walking through the death of his father-in-law, his own dad had died just a little bit ago. He was on the phone and he said, “You know, I know you’re busy. I know you’re at a conference. I just need to talk to somebody.” All he really needed was just somebody to say, “Hey, I love you. We’re with you. I’m not there in presence but I’m praying for you.” He got his wife on the phone. I had the privilege to talk to her. Within just a few moments we were both crying and I started laughing. I said, “You didn’t know you were going to get to talk to a pastor,” and all of us just cried together.
Walking down the road of life with people is just part of loving them. We do that because we understand that it is one of the roles of companions. It’s a benefit.
- Companions help mold us. (Proverbs 27:17)
Proverbs 27:17 says: “As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
We need that person who can walk beside us. We need the person who can ask us the right question. We need the person who can help give a word that is needed.
One of the joys over the last 15 years or so of my life is that this particular lady only has to say, “Pastor Kevin,” and that’s when iron begins to sharpen iron. I can be talking with a bunch of people and when she says, “Oh, Pastor Kevin,” I hear the tone and I know her love. The moment that I hear her say that I realize I am on shaky ground somehow. Somewhere, somehow I have gotten too close, and either I’m being ungodly (I hope not but she may think so), and the reality is that I’ve walked into something unwise. I’m so grateful for that. I’ve talked about that all over the country. I’ve said that there are some voices in my life that in just saying my name, I know that I need help, that I need to pay attention, or that it is a warning.
This morning, I went out for coffee with some people and we were talking through some of Chris’ teaching. Then Chris and I were in a room together and I said, “Oh Chris, I’m glad I saw you. I just had a conversation about everything you taught.” We really needed to switch places I think, but the reality is, it’s iron sharpening iron, and I very much appreciate the fact that somebody loves us enough to speak and to be clear and to try to help us and push us.
- Companions provide us comfort and they edify us. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
First Thessalonians 5:11 says: “Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.”
It’s the words. It’s the help.
- Companions help us identify sin and protect us. (Hebrews 3:12-13)
This is such an important concept in Hebrews 3. It says, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief….exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today’…”
It’s that daily companionship. It’s the voice we need. It’s that extra set of eyes. It’s the fact that someone needs to be speaking and in the process of speaking, I can check my own heart carefully. I’ve sat with friends who are close to sin or have entered into sin, and I’ve been the one with that word of advice. Then they’ve said, “Thank you, I needed that.”
I’ve also been the one at times where someone has come and said, “Hey, have you considered this?” I’ve needed that help to identify sin. There really is a joy in protection. I have a family. I have church. I have people that I love all around me. The reality is that I need that protection because I don’t want to do something that would distract from the name and reputation of Christ and would somehow hurt one of those people.
- Companions help us do good deeds and/or do better. (Hebrews 10:24)
Hebrews 10:24 says: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works…”
We need someone in our life who is actually agitating us and pushing us forward, who is asking hard questions, and who we know is going to push us to places where we may be uncomfortable. It’s such a joy to be with those people, and not because we want to be uncomfortable. If you’re like me, I don’t like being uncomfortable. But I know that this person loves me enough to not let me sit still, to engage me, to ask if I’m being creative, and to ask what I’m doing specifically and intentionally to move forward in this particular area or to do something that’s going to honor God. These people help us do good deeds and certainly help us to do better.
- Companions help us spiritually. (James 5:16-20)
In James 5, it says that when we serve our brother or sister, it benefits that person and it benefits us as well. It says in verse 19: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way, will save a soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” In verses 16-18, it’s talking about this prayer ministry that we have to each other and with each other and the opportunity to say a word and to benefit. Companions along the way help us spiritually.
- The many one-another commands help us understand our responsibility to each other.
As we try to participate in those almost 50 one-another commands that we find in the New Testament, it is through those commands that we are being pushed, helped, loved, and served.
Friends, I’ve really just cherry-picked some general ideas here. But I hope that when someone comes to you and says “You know, I’m not sure that I want to do this accountability thing. I’m not sure that I want to take that step. I’m not sure that this will benefit me,” that you would say, “Yes, not only do you need friendships, but that kind of friendship will benefit you in a way that you won’t be benefited by anything else.” As Christians, we were never meant to live on an island. We were never meant to live alone. It’s not a one-person sport. In Christ, we are responsible for our position and for our behaviors, but God has given us a multitude of people that should come around us and be with us and walk that journey with us. Again, when we think about companionships, we think about friends who are walking down the road of life and that walk provides many benefits.
Standards for Friendship
I think standards of friendship are important as well. Again, if you go to the concordance to look for standards for friendships, you don’t find that specifically. But I think there are a couple of key passages that help us. I’ve just cherry-picked a few. You can pick your own and add to this list.
- Someone who fears God/respects God and obeys God. (Psalm 119:63)
There are multiple potential authors of Psalm 119—I think seven if my memory serves me correct. One of those potential authors is Daniel. If it’s Daniel, it’s especially fascinating because we can consider the narrative about Daniel and think about his particular friends from that narrative. Regardless of who the author is, listen to what Psalm 119:63 says: “I am a companion of all who fear You, And of those who keep Your precepts.”
I’ve taught this verse to my children, and I teach it whenever I go and speak to youth groups. This is one of the places I like to land because I want them to understand that those are two key components of godly friendships. When you say, “Who do I want to be my friend?” my mind immediately goes to one who fears God or respects God and one who obeys God. You think about Ecclesiastes 12:13 when he says, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments…” It’s very similar.
I grew up in a country church where we used to sing a hymn called “Trust and Obey” that says “For there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.” Friends, when you trust God, you are respecting His character and you understand who He is. I would suggest to you that the key standard of friendship is to find a friend who fears God above every other thing in life (therefore has respect for God) and who strives to obey God.
Again, let’s think about Daniel. When Daniel was taken out of Jerusalem, he was put in Babylon and was educated in the Chaldean language by the Babylonians. During that time, he had these various opportunities that are described in the narrative. The first, of course, is with his diet and only Daniel and his three friends (Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah) were willing to say, “We’re going to choose God and choose obedience, not fear the king.”
Then as the story goes on, you know about the three Hebrew children, and they were the ones who said, “We’re not going to bow down.” The king replied: “But you don’t understand. We’re going to play the music again. You’re going to hear it. Everybody’s going to bow down. That’s your opportunity. Somehow you misunderstood the directions the first time we went through this, so get ready.” Then they reply, “Oh king, you don’t need to play the music. Don’t be confused. We will not bow down.” What is that? That’s someone who fears God and keeps His commandments.
When they said to Daniel, “Hey, you can’t pray. You’ve got to pray to the king. You can’t pray to your own God.” What does Daniel do? He says, “No, I’m going to continue praying to my God.” He continues praying, so much so that he gets thrown into a lion’s den, and that’s someone who fears God and obeys God. Friends, when you think about friendship, and as you teach and counsel, I would suggest to you that in my mind this is one of those anchor verses. He chooses companions who fear God and obey God.
- Someone who stays away from the wicked/sinners/scorners. (Psalm 1:1)
I like Psalm 1 because it describes a person who stays away from the wicked, sinners, and scorners and who, instead of choosing the world’s system, meditates on God’s word. Remember it says, “Oh the happiness of the person who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly nor stands in the way of sinners nor sits in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law does he meditate day and night.”
When we look at our friends horizontally, at some level we have to say, “Well, what is their relationship vertically?” It calls for discernment, not criticism nor critique. We have to live out and teach our counselees and our young people to apply this sense of discernment to say, “How is this person in relationship to the world as it pertains to their relationship to God?” The best, wisest friends are not ones who are drawn away by the world’s system, its values, or its activities. They are people who are consecrated to God. According to Psalm 1:1, that’s the person who will be happy or blessed.
- Someone who honors God in life lived. (Psalm 15:1-5)
You may ask why Psalm 15 is an example of a standard of friendship. Psalm 15 is unique because God basically says, “Hey, who can hang out on my hill?” if you’ll allow me to translate it just a bit differently. It says: “LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” As I’m reading this text, I’m thinking, “Wait a minute. It seems like if I’m supposed to be Christ-like and these are the kind of folks that God doesn’t mind hanging out with, maybe this would be a good list for me to consider.” As I think about friendship, verses 2 through 5 give this whole list of behaviors and attitudes of people who honor God simply in the way they do life. Those verses describe such a person like this:
“He who walks uprightly,
And works righteousness,
And speaks the truth in his heart;
He who does not backbite with his tongue,
Nor does evil to his neighbor,
Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend;
In whose eyes a vile person is despised,
But he honors those who fear the LORD;
He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
He who does not put out his money at usury,
Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.”
Those are the kind of people that will always be welcome in God’s presence: people who are engaged in living life for His glory. Maybe that would be a good standard.
- Someone who is a wise person. (James 3:13-18)
In the middle of the book of James, right in the center, he says, “Hey, who is the wise person who is skilled in living? Who is that person?” He answers, “Well, let that person show [his wisdom] in the humility or the meekness of his lifestyle.” Then the next set of verses starts working through wisdom from below (which really isn’t wisdom at all) and wisdom from above (God’s kind of person). In verses 17 and 18 he describes the wise person where he says: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
Essentially in this text, we learn that when we consider what and who a wise person is, that particular individual is motivated by purity and essentially lives out Philippians 2 in life with others. This person is concerned about the people around them and has the kind of life that produces the fruit of righteousness and peace.
- Someone who serves well and has a heart of service. (1 Peter 4:7-11)
When you ask, “Who is a good biblical friend?” or “Who is someone that I should consider as a friend?” I would suggest that it’s someone who has a heart for serving God and others. It’s the first and second greatest commandments lived out. It’s understanding and being motivated by the love that Christ has for us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) and letting that move us to serve others. I think the particular paragraph in 1 Peter 4:7-11 is excellent.
|Verse 7: “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers.”||These people are engaged at the level of praying for other people.|
|Verse 8: “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins.”||These people are creatively loving the people around them.|
|Verse 9: “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.”||These people are living saying, “I’m going to take the resources I have and invest those and share them with other people and I’m not going to be grumpy about it.”|
|Verses 10-11: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies…”||Here he’s saying that you are a steward of God’s grace and as you receive that grace, make sure that both what you say and what you do honor God. The rest of that verse highlights that all of this is by Jesus Christ for God’s glory.|
I would suggest to you that when you put these five things together, you get a small picture of the person who is walking with Christ and who is living the kind of life that would make you say: “That’s the person I want to be my friend. That’s the person who will be benefited both by me and that will benefit me as I seek to live for Jesus Christ.” Again, I would suggest those five standards. You could say, “Oh man, you missed the most important verse in the Bible.” Okay, maybe I did, but those are at least five that I try to live by. The first one is the one that I speak about the most as I work with people.
- You need friends.
The potential benefits to you are incredible and God never intended for you to live without them. God did not intend for you to live in a way that did not have the voices of people who love Him and who love you and who have your interest at heart. Some of you are pastors and missionaries and full-time workers in the church, and at least in my own training I have heard at times people say: “Oh, you have to be careful with how many friends you have. You have to be careful. Pastors really can’t have close friends.” I would suggest to you that this mentality is not biblical, although it comes from a practical sense of the fact that you can’t show favoritism. You need friends. If you’re a counselor, you need someone who can speak into your life. You need someone who will love you enough and who will look you in the eye and say, “What about this?”
We have multiple levels of those friends. There’s a bunch of them that I could mention, but let me just mention Amy Baker. If you know Amy, she’s just the sweetest person ever. Amy and I actually had a conversation months and months and months and months ago, and something about that conversation bugged her. She was interested and prayed about it for months. She and I see each other a couple of times a year. The very next time she saw me—which was the last time we saw each other and was in a setting where there were people everywhere—she said, “Oh, Kevin, I’m glad you’re here. Come over here. I need to talk to you.” We got over on the side and she said, “You mentioned this in our last conversation. I want to know what you’ve done about it, how you are doing now, and what you are going to do about it because it has been on my heart that long.”
Friends, that is invaluable that a friend would love me enough to say, “This is something you said, just a side statement, but I want to make sure that you’re right with God and you’re right with everybody else.” That’s biblical counseling. But it’s more than biblical counseling, it’s biblical friendship.
We need each other. We need the extra pair of eyes. We need someone to watch our backs. We need someone to help us say:
- “You know, I hear what you’re saying.”
- “I see what you’re doing.”
- “Have you considered this?”
We need that extra question. I need the encouragement. Recently somebody asked me, “So, are you like a ‘words-of-affirmation’ guy?” I said, “Every person I know is a ‘words-of-affirmation’ person.” Do I love encouragement? Absolutely. It would make my brain hurt to think someone doesn’t want to be encouraged. The issue isn’t whether we enjoy it. The issue is whether we have people in our life that are actually walking in Christ that provide it. I know I’ve mentioned Amy, but there are so many people that I love dearly and with whom I appreciate lengthy friendships.
We need benefits of the community, and the local church is the absolute place where those things take place. Now, we enjoy it because we have a family. Last night when I was talking with Heath, I asked him, “What are you thinking? You’re transitioning. You’re leaving as executive director. You’re going to have one job. That would be crazy to think about one job.” I also mentioned something about our family as biblical counselors. As we were talking about that he said, “Kevin, this is the thing I rejoice in as I leave and that is this: when I leave, I don’t leave this family, I’m just leaving a job.”
We have something sweet. It is a joy to spend time together annually, to talk on the phone, send emails, read each other’s blogs, to do those things where we can engage with each other. But it’s not just enough to have a biblical counselor friend. We must have those same people in our churches who are speaking into our lives with words that are true, right, and helpful.
- You need to be a friend.
You don’t just need friends, you need to be that person.
There are other people in and around your life who need you.
Just as a word fitly spoken has been God’s grace to you, you need to be God’s words to other people. Like 1 Peter 4 said, “Speak as the oracles of God.” Use your voice to build into people and to serve those people.
Do not minimize your potential role in the lives of others.
Sometimes, people say, “Well, you know, I don’t really have much to say,” or “It’s not that important for me to go hang out,” or “We don’t really need to go to coffee; I’m kind of busy and it’s kind of hard to schedule all of this stuff.” Friends, people need your voice. Don’t minimize that. It doesn’t make you have a sense that you’re better than you are for me to say to you that they need to hear your voice. It’s not prideful to think people need to hear your voice. No, the Bible says that people need your voice. Speaking the truth in love, we grow up into Christ, all of us together.
Consider who may need a word of encouragement, then give it.
I can consider a lot of people. In the middle of the night, I’m thinking, “Oh man, I needed to talk to that person. I’ll try to do that.” Then, if I don’t write it down, it’s not going to happen. Therefore, I have actually to write it down and then the next morning, I put it in my calendar. Then later in the day, I get a reminder that says, “Okay, don’t forget to send something kind to this person” or whatever the word is. Then I send that out. I love most of my friends enough not to do it in the middle of the night. Some of them whose phones I know will be off, I’d go ahead and send it in the middle of the night.
Consider how God could use you in community.
- How should you respond now?
Don’t delay in considering your own heart.
If there’s parts of what we’re talking about that potentially you haven’t engaged well, then I would encourage you not to delay. You want to be involved. You want to take the next step.
Question your qualifications for being a friend, then pursue change for God’s glory.
Look at those standards of friendship. You might say, “Well, really you’re talking to me and this is for my counselees.” That’s cool. Then go talk to your counselees about it, but in the process consider your own heart. Potentially you need to be challenged to ask yourself, “Am I the kind of friend that God wants me to be to the people that are around me? Where am I a bit self-serving? Am I a bit self-centered? Do I allow my schedule to dictate my friendships more than allow God’s Word and a concern for others?” These are questions that we need to ask. We need to ask if there is something in our lives that we need to repent of.
Walk with Christ who is our best friend and the best friend.
You might be saying, “Okay, Kevin, I’m with you. At this point, I think it’s important to see that it could be helpful, so what am I going to do about it?” Let me give you just a handful of practical implications.
- Be the kind of person that you would desire as a friend.
When you talk to counselees, this is a good first step. I had this one case where a girl came to me for counseling and she said, “Well, no one will be my friend.” I said, “Well, you know, I’ve thought about this a little bit. Let’s talk about what are good qualifications for friends.” Then we went through those qualifications and I said to her, “Okay, this is what we’re going to do this week. I want you to be that kind of person. I want you to not think about the people who aren’t serving you the way you want to be served, but instead, let’s flip the script and I want you to think about the question, ‘Am I being the kind of person who walks in wisdom, who walks in the Spirit, who worships Christ, who has a sense of the presence of Christ? Am I that person? Because someone else is going to need that from me.'” We start there.
- Cultivate these kinds of friendships in daily living.
Don’t keep records of how people respond to you.
Again, let’s go back to that illustration I was just giving you. This particular person said, “You know what, I made cookies for that family; they didn’t send me a thank you note; they didn’t send me cookies back. I invited that person to our house; they’ve never returned; they’ve not invited me to their house.”
I said to her, “Well, there’s your problem. For one, you’ve got a wrong motivation. For two, why are you keeping record? You don’t have any idea what’s going on in that person’s home. You don’t know why they haven’t done all those things to you. For heaven’s sake, for the glory of Jesus Christ, why are you keeping track of that so that you can sit in my office and go through a whole catalog of every lady in our church and tell me whether they’ve sent you a thank you card or not.” There’s something wrong here. We can’t live that way.
Serve often and creatively.
We need to serve so often and serve so creatively that we lose track of all those receipts. My secretary hates me—I say this kindly—because I’m horrible with receipts. She will say to me, “You were on a week-long trip, where are your receipts?” I’ll respond, “Well, you know, I do remember I bought coffee. You’ll see it on the credit card, I’m sure.” Where are the receipts? Who knows. That’s because I buy so many things when I’m out that there’s no way to track that stuff.
This is the bottom line: we ought to be serving people so often and so creatively that there’s no way we can track it. That ought to just be part of everyday living.
Check your motivation for why you are seeking friendships.
Are you doing this for Christ or are you doing it for yourself? Are you doing this for Christ or because you just want to have a bunch of friends? What is the reason? What’s motivating you?
Be others-centered as a daily lifestyle.
When you wake up, you get engaged and you start seeking to serve.
- Be intentional to seek accountability.
If you say, “I’m just going to trust that we’ll talk about it sometime” “when we can” or “when we get together” (whatever that looks like), you’ll never talk about it. Instead, you’re going to have to follow up with each other often and potentially you have to be the instigator. Now, I do have a busy schedule. I have a couple of jobs. I have a busy family. We have four children ranging from 7 to 17. They are active in everything. It keeps us active. As a result, sometimes what I have to say to people is, “I want you to call me back because I don’t want to miss what you have to offer. I want you to text me and if I don’t respond immediately, then text me again. Don’t think, ‘Oh man. He just isn’t going to return my texts.’ No, just send a second one. You’re not going to frustrate me. I’m inviting you to do that.” Why? Because I know sometimes I need to be an instigator in their life, but I certainly want them doing the same thing for me. Take your time and gauge it.
What Does Accountability Look Like in the Church?
I’m just going to give you three quick answers to this particular question.
- Emphasize the one-another ministry in your church.
If you’re here and you say, “Well, I’m part of a church and a part of a church team. We want to do this in our life groups (or whatever area of the church).” I would suggest that has to be done church-wide and it begins with the one-anothers. It’s important for those in our church to understand—like Ephesians 4 says—that if I’m not speaking the truth, then the church isn’t going to grow into Christ-like God intends. In verse 16 of Ephesians 4, it says every part, every ligament, and every person is needed in order to speak the kind of truth that’s going to benefit the body.
Galatians 6 is one of my favorite passages in the Bible and I would go back to Jay Adams when he taught it. That particular passage says that, as brothers and sisters in Christ who are walking in the Spirit, our responsibility is to restore each other, to bring each other back to a place of usefulness, and to carry each other’s burdens that are more than what each person can carry on their own, while in the process carrying our own backpack and helping other people learn to carry their backpack. Your church needs to be passionate about Galatians 6 ministry. That will build and fuel this sense of more and more friendships as well as accountability.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, it says to warn the unruly, to comfort the feeble-minded, and to help the weak. But the reality is, if you go back to verse 12, it says that the pastors are demonstrating that kind of lifestyle and as they do, the people appreciate the pastors’ work, love them in the midst of their work, and are accountable to them. Then, the people go out and do the same thing. In some churches, the issue isn’t why the people aren’t doing it, but the issue starts in verse 12 with why the pastors aren’t doing it. We can’t be so engaged with the business that we forget the people.
- Move your model of care down to life groups and the small group level.
Make it part of your leadership training. Make this one of the specific intentional goals of your life groups or your small groups. Understand that counseling and discipleship are co-equals and ought to be happening in that level of ministry.
- Use advocates where you can.
There are a number of ways to use advocates. An advocate is essentially someone who comes alongside the person receiving care and helps provide a relational, 360° assessment to the person in the process of doing life. In our book, Biblical Counseling and the Church, Garrett Higbee has two chapters that would be very helpful that can help you think through advocates as it relates to accountability and as it relates to this kind of friendship.
Just a couple of details as we wrap up.
- What is an accountability relationship?
Let’s define it this way: An accountability relationship is one in which a Christian gives permission to another believer to look into his life for the purpose of questioning, challenging, admonishing, advising, encouraging, and otherwise providing input in a way that will help the individual live according to biblical principles in a way that honors God. That’s almost a Pauline sentence.
Basically, it’s someone you invite into your life and you live life together. You say, “let’s have intentional conversations.”
- What is the best structure?
The best, ideal structure is face-to-face, regularly scheduled times when you can get together. Usually, it’s best with two people, though you can invite more than two people. Some people have groups that are accountable. Sometimes it’s a meeting of a group of people who get together once or twice a month and then follow each other on GroupMe-type apps so that they’re constantly with each other and trying to think through those things. But the best structure is face-to-face meetings as often as possible.
- How should I select an accountability partner?
Someone of the same sex
Let me just mention this at the top: it should be someone of the same sex. I am a proponent that, yes, a husband and wife are there for each other and they’re there to walk through life together as one covenant relationship and one flesh of people. But when it comes to the specific sin level, I encourage a husband to have men and a wife to have ladies that can help engage them at the heart level. There are some things that a man is going to have a hard time understanding with his wife and some things that a wife is going to have a hard time understanding with her husband, and it’s best to have people and voices in life that can dig into those situations. Sometimes a wife may be intimidated to ask. Sometimes she may not know to ask. Sometimes she may say, “Well, my husband is so godly and wise, he would never do that” when another man would say, “Hey, I just caught you do that with your eyes and I’m interested in other places in your life where you may be doing that.” A man can ask a question to a man that a wife is going to have a hard time asking. A wife can talk to another lady and have a much better conversation. Therefore, I would suggest somebody of the same sex.
Someone other than your spouse
Someone with whom you can have two-way accountability
Someone who will benefit you in wisdom (seek this as much as possible)
Someone you respect and like and who is a brother or sister in Christ
What are some ground rules?
Let me just suggest a couple.
- Agree on the parts of your life for which you’ll be accountable.
You don’t have to be accountable to everybody about everything. I have people in life that specifically speak to certain areas. I have one man that came to me and said, “You know, I’m really struggling in my business with integrity. Would you help me through that?” I said, “You know what, as a pastor, as a biblical counselor, I have to be very careful with my integrity too. Let’s be accountability partners together for integrity.” That’s a narrow accountability. It’s one primary issue that bleeds into other things, but that’s something we agreed on. It is something that I think that we’ve helped each other with.
- The objective is to humble yourself and to be honest about an area of life usually accompanied by deceit and to give the accountability partner an accurate understanding of your struggles.
I mentioned this already, but accountability will only work as you are engaged in the process and willing to engage in the process. Just because you have an accountability partner isn’t going to keep anybody from sin. It’s not going to keep anybody encouraged. It’s not going to necessarily do anything that’s helpful biblically. You have to have people who are going to be honest, are full of integrity, and are willing to have that real conversation.
- Agree to pray together.
Pray often together. You can pray at the beginning of your time of accountability, at the end, or in the middle as you talk about certain circumstances.
- Both parties must agree to love each other and Christ enough to not participate in gossip.
This avoids what a lot of times people say, “Oh man, think of all the gossip.” You have to protect someone else’s story as much as you would desire your story to be protected. You’ve got to be committed to the truth and committed to integrity so that you don’t share what you hear except for those certain instances where it must be shared.
- Agree to ask each other direct questions.
Here is a sampling of some questions that you could ask:
- What was your attitude this week about becoming more like Christ? How did your behavior display that attitude in your daily walk? (This is an inner man-outer man question.)
- Have you consistently and specifically confessed and sought forgiveness from those applicable? If not, what’s your plan for doing so? (This question is asked for insight and then it develops a plan so that you can come back to it.)
- What are the areas of growth (i.e., opportunities, pressured situations, temptations) in your life right now, and what are the most pronounced patterns of sin at present? What are you going to do to help you respond more godly?
- Where do you need help or advice to respond godly? (That’s a wisdom issue.)
- Have you recognized an opportunity this week to share Christ? How did you act upon that? What’s your plan moving forward?
- Have you creatively loved and served others this week? What creative things have you done, have you seen done by someone else, or has someone else done for you?
That’s just a series of questions that are just a sample. There are hundreds of questions. Right now though, in my accountability, we have three simple questions. One question relates to God; one question relates to others; and one question relates to self-counsel. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. For a long time we used the question, “Are you honest?” just as one more reminder.
Lastly, there’s a diagram from the Journal of Biblical Counseling, way back from ’99. Inside the big circle would be everybody who is saved. When we think about those people who should be our friends, it comes out of that group. The very middle, of course, is yourself. The diagram suggests that there are these four primary relationships that you have. The first one would be a discipler who is building into your life, someone who speaks to you and from whom you’re learning so that you’re growing as a Christian. Then what you learn, you are giving to somebody else (a disciple), somebody who’s walking with you and that you’re choosing to build into. Then, for accountability, it would be these two peers (in this illustration there is one on the left and one on the right). Notice around the edge of those four categories is a dotted line. That’s because there are going to be people moving in and out of your life in the regular pattern of the ebb and flow of life who all belong to the group of all disciples of Christ. I thought that would be helpful for you to think in your mind, “Who am I learning from? Who am I imparting life to (who am I helping)? As I walk, who am I walking with in terms of accountability?”
Back to our original question: Are there people that we know who, along the pathway of life, have somehow done something that’s wrecked life or ministry and who are not serving Christ? Who should have been talking to them?
2 Samuel 11: “And someone said, ‘Isn’t that Uriah’s wife?'” Then we have scores of people who become part of the plot and yet not one more person says, “David, what are you doing? You are wrong.” We have to get to chapter 12 where Nathan has to creatively come to David a year later. Friends, people knew that story. Nathan wasn’t the only person who knew that story. People all over the palace knew that story. But it took a year before someone else was willing to come and say, “What are you doing about it?”
We can’t be sloppy when it comes to friendship and accountability. We need to understand what a biblical friend is and then invite others to participate in our lives and do the same in their lives. Then help your counselees do the same. In the process, we are going to help them be counseled.