By Justin Tucker
“Are you in an accountability group?”
A youth leader asked me this question soon after I came to know Christ at age 13. So many thoughts crossed my young mind: What is an accountability group? What happens in a group like this? Is it a secret society within the church?
Over the next 10 years I would attend many accountability groups in high school and college. I met lifelong friends and I grew in Christ, but I also found them to be lacking several things.
I believe the intentions were pure and even God-centered, but I often saw poor execution with accountability groups. These groups often turned into glorified confession times with no challenge and no movement toward God.
The conversation would often go something like this: “This is how I messed up this week…me too…me too…. OK, let’s pray really quick and go get some food.”
As a new Christian I thought this was normal, but the more I read the Bible and surrounded myself with godly leaders, the more I began to recognize missing elements in these groups. I experienced a lack of leadership, vision, and a call to repentance and faith.
Today, I’m a pastor overseeing small group ministry and discipleship. I’ve made mistakes and learned from great leaders along the way. Accountability groups are wonderful, and if you are in one, my goal is not to make you feel guilty but to help you think through ways to make your group more effective.
Our goal in any group should be the making of disciples, who then turn around and make more disciples. Here are five things every accountability or discipleship group should have to develop mature believers.
A Spiritually Mature Leader
Notice I didn’t say an older leader, but a mature spiritual leader. Age isn’t always an indicator of spiritual maturity. I’ve often seen young men and women who are spiritually mature and ready to lead others to look more like Christ.
My past accountability groups lacked this important element. Without a mature leader, a group can lack direction. Without a mature leader, others in the group will not be challenged. When someone falls into sin, the leader needs to be compassionate but also firm, exhorting that person to run away from this sinful habit and pursue Christ.
Leaders need to love those falling into sin by confronting sin and calling for righteousness. In the most valuable groups I have been part of, the leaders would lovingly call out sin and challenge me to live for the glory of God rather than for my own selfish desires.
A Vision for Disciple-Making
When companies around the world gather for major planning meetings, they ask, “Why are we here?” If organizations cannot answer this question, they often limp forward trying to find their purpose.
The same is true for accountability groups. If groups can’t answer this question they will not see the value in consistently gathering. So, why should accountability groups meet?
I think the most important answer is found in the words of Jesus: “Go, therefore, and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19). Or from the apostle Paul: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
This is why the church exists, and this is why we should form accountability or discipleship groups. Our hope should be the growth of disciples, who will become disciple makers.
Imagine what would happen if leaders cast this vision to people they lead in accountability groups. There would be a solid foundation to build a healthy group. A healthy group will have a clear vision, and our Savior has given us that vision.
This may seem obvious, but the Bible is our source for knowing God and understanding what it means to follow Him. All groups must have the Bible close by as they meet and walk together.
If we begin to remove the Bible from accountability groups, we can easily drift into the thoughts of man. When you meet, grab the Bible and make it the source of everything you say and do.
Why have an outward focus for accountability groups?
When people become too focused on their own problems, they can easily become selfish. Focusing outward on those who need service and the love of God will help take the spotlight off self and move it onto others.
Remember, our goal is to make disciples who make disciples. If we can’t get our people to look outward in accountability groups, they will never see the need to pour into other people.
The Love of God
The love of God is the greatest cure for sin. Most accountability groups I’ve been in are for people trying to fight sin they can’t seem to conquer. These groups get created for people to find a “cure.” People hope if they have to confront their group each week, they will be shamed out of their sin.
An accountability group alone will not fix your sin problem. However, if an accountability group meets to love God and pursue knowing God, then there is hope.
Thomas Chalmers, in The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, argues the way to remove the love of the world is to replace it with a greater love for God. If we place our affection toward God, only then does the love of this world grow weak.
This is a major element missing in accountability groups. Many groups expect the group itself to be the source of strength. Rather, the group should be the catalyst to help its members love God, so their sin will look less enticing. When one falls deeply in love with God, enjoying Him alone, then sin becomes weak and its grip is loosened.
If you’re in an accountability group or seeking to join one, these five elements could make for a fruitful group. The vision of disciple-making should overshadow the confession of sin.
Accountability groups can become weak because they forget their ultimate purpose. Rather than create something new, listen to Jesus and make disciples. If we look to our Savior, we’re heading in the right direction.
- Developing a Culture of Discipleship in Your Church
- Why We Gather: Three Points for Small Group Success
- Anchored in Community: The Essential Nature of Groups in Discipleship
JUSTIN TUCKER is pastor of adult discipleship and missions at Grace Community Church in Nashville, Tennessee.