Many churches adopt forms of ministry that move people into smaller groups for the purpose of discipleship. These groups are sometimes men’s or women’s Bible studies that dive into a focused, in-depth study of a book of the Bible. Or perhaps your church has joined the ever-growing community group movement, wherein families, singles, young, and old alike meet in small groups to either discuss Sunday’s sermon, study a topic in the Bible, or reflect on a book you’d find in the Christian Living section at LifeWay.
The underlying principle of Bible studies, small groups, or community groups – whatever you like to call them – is that devoting ourselves to the study of the Bible and fellowship with other believers is essential to the life of the church. It is important that we do not expect sermons alone to satisfy this principle which is so clearly articulated in Acts 2:42. Luke tells us that the early disciples devoted themselves“to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). A healthy church will find its people meeting at times outside the main Sunday morning gathering, so that Christians can continue reading the Word, praying, and growing in Christ-likeness together.
One type of smaller group that is often overlooked is the accountability group. What is an accountability group? Though they may look differently from church to church and context to context, I’ll attempt to explain accountability groups by sharing the purpose and structure of a women’s group which has greatly impacted me for the last few weeks. It is precisely because of this group that I realized the lack of structured accountability in my own life and in other small groups I have attended.
- Gospel-grounding: Repeated grounding of our lives in the Gospel
- Accountability: Safety to confess sin honestly, coupled with desire to accept Biblical correction and take active steps toward change.
- Friendship: Dedicated time to get to know each other and enjoy each other’s company.
- Longevity: Growing and changing together over the long-term.
- Six accountability questions (three per week):Have you been reading and enjoying God’s Word daily? What hinders you?
- Who have you sinned against this week? Have you confessed your sin and sought forgiveness?
- What are the most pronounced patterns of sin in your life at present? What steps will you take to conquer that sin?
- Are you respecting and submitting to your husband (or loving and leading your wife well)? Are you being a godly parent? Where do you need to grow most?
- How are you sharing the Gospel? Who will you intentionally try to reach this week?
- How have you sought to actively love and serve the church this week? How can you grow in this area?
- I might add a seventh: How was your prayer life this week? What seems to be lacking, and what steps can you take to improve in this area?
- Following the same Bible-reading plan if any in the group do not have a current plan.
- Checking in with each other throughout the week with respect to each person’s answers to the accountability questions.
- Bible lesson incorporated, but not every week.
- Prayer requests and prayer.
In our experience, we have found that accountability groups are a gathering of six or less (preferably no more than 6), or simply a one-on-one relationship. The principles of accountability can be incorporated in a pre-existing Bible study group, or started in a separate group particularly dedicated to accountability. Accountability groups, or accountability partners, are just a part of the type of discipleship that should define the life of the church. That is, members who are holding each other accountable to Jesus, are encouraging one another as they confess and fight against sin, and are praying for one another, is what healthy Christianity and healthy church life looks like. Groups and structures may look different in different places, depending on what is most effective for each unique church. But accountability, however it fleshes out in your church, aims to help fellow believers faithfully follow Jesus and his commands:
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 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.”
If you want to begin an accountability group, perhaps you can start with a one-on-one relationship and grow from there. Or you can suggest incorporating accountability in your current community group. Whatever the case, do not forget this vital piece in God’s design for discipleship and growth in the church.
Michelle Meade is a Tennessee girl, but is currently transplanted in Louisville, KY. She received her A.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies from Northland International University and her B.S. in Humanities from Boyce College. She’s a member of Oak Park Baptist Church “across the river” in Indiana and currently serves as a teacher for its Women’s Ministry.