What keeps most small groups from experiencing real life change? The breakdown is application: the point where the rubber meets the road.
Expect People to Change
This is a small but significant point: We don’t expect people to change. John Ortberg tells the story of a curmudgeonly old guy in the church of his youth. Everyone knew this guy was irritable, stubborn, and unpleasant, and had been for years. But… no one expected him to change, and he didn’t. It’s easy for us to look at some individuals and fail to believe that Christ can change their beliefs and behaviors.
If the ultimate purpose of small groups is to effect life-change, to see people continuously morph into Christ-likeness, then they, and we, must believe that they can and will change. This will affect the questions we ask and the accountability we require. If people want to change and are serious about actually changing, we’ll need to get serious about accountability.
My first real experience with spiritual accountability began when my men’s small group attended a Promise Keepers event. Charles Swindoll challenged us to take seriously the practice of accountability, which he defined as “asking each other today the questions that Jesus will ask us someday.” Examples:
- Have you been with a woman anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?
- Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
- Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
- Have you spend adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
- Have you just lied to me?
We carried cards in our wallets with a variation of these questions. The last one was the hardest to answer truthfully.
No one has taken accountability more seriously than John Wesley. His “bands” were similar to our small groups in that they were small and met regularly. The similarity may end there, if you look at the steps they took to insure that they went beyond talk to application:
- Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home?
- Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you?
- Do you desire that in doing this we should come as close as possible, that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom?
- Is it your desire and design to be on this and all other occasions entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart, without exception, without disguise, and without reserve?
Compare your group’s “icebreakers” to Wesley’s… to be asked of each band member whenever they met:
- What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
- What temptations have you met with? How were you delivered?
- What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
Perhaps the ultimate accountability question is from Andy Stanley: “What question are you hoping I won’t ask?”
Imagine the transformational possibilities if we went beyond these hard-hitting but “generic” accountability questions to very specific questions demanding that we actually apply our latest learning to our individual situation? The underlying question that must inform all others is this: How will you live differently because of what you have learned?
A surprising and non-intuitive question is this: What might we learn by living differently?
Next: Act your Way Into Thinking