Friendship and sanctification

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A quote and a few thoughts about this article by Michael Spencer, on "Christian Community, Friendship, and the Quest for Accountability":

It is certainly true that most of us avoid accountability relationships because there is no one we would trust with our secrets, failures and struggles. Contemporary evangelical spirituality values outward demonstrations of piety, not interpersonal honesty where we confess our sins and ask for advice in our struggles. We are supposed to confess our victories over sin, not our struggles with sin. Holiness, for most evangelical Christians, is a state of arrival, not a journey of response to the Gospel. We want triumph, not lessons. Abiding in Christ is supposed to result in “victory.” The “fruit” of the Christian life is suppose to come in lives where all the major problems have been resolved, and we gather to pray for further victory, for strugglers and for what Joel Osteen calls “God’s Favor.”

The focus of evangelical spirituality in America works against accountability relationships, and even when those relationships occur, it works against true honesty, repentance and the pursuit of humility.

There's much more to Spencer's article, and I encourage you to read the whole thing. In addition, consider the impact of modern city life on accountability. In a small town, accountability is unavoidable, as the people you see at church on Sunday are the same people you deal with at work, at school, in civic groups, and in your neighborhood. In a city, we worship with one group of people, work with another, and are neighbors to yet another, with very little overlap between communities. It's easy to go an entire week and not see someone from church. Even if one is involved in a small prayer group or Bible study with friends from church, that disconnect still exists.

Spencer writes of accountability relationships, "Such relationships can’t be easily constructed. They can’t simply be scheduled or assigned. In a very real sense, they must be born of the Holy Spirit and the providence of God." Trust is something that takes a long time to develop. At least, it should take a long time to develop. There are lots of reasons why it's easier to build accountability relationships in the context of a campus ministry than in the context of a congregation, but one reason is that college students are less wary, quicker to trust, because they haven't been burned enough times or badly enough.

When a small group of adults does gel, when the members feel comfortable enough to trust each other, the group ought to be left alone, but often it's broken up by church leaders. The usual reasons are that the group is becoming "ingrown" or cliquish, that more successful groups can be created if the group members are spread out to different groups, that group members need to be challenged afresh to build new relationships. There may even be an unspoken fear that a cohesive group of laypeople is a challenge to the authority of the leadership. The result of breaking up and reassigning the members of such a group is that new friendships and trust have to be developed from scratch, and the friendships nurtured in the old group fade without that weekly scheduled time to spend together.


Dan Paden said:

I've thought often of this sort of thing lately; it has seemed to me that I never, or so close to never that it makes no difference, hear people talking about how they are struggling with some horrible issue. Oh, we'll admit that we're struggling with, say, gossip--but how many will admit to struggling with flat-out lust, or with same-sex attraction? or that they are tempted towards substance abuse?

One of our local Baptist pastors fell in a particularly spectacular manner not too long ago. I have often wondered how he was supposed to deal with his same-sex attractions (I am not conceding for an instant that such things are determined genetically, btw). If he went to people in his church, or higher up in the BGCO, and said, "Guys, I've been struggling with this a long time, and I really need to be able to talk with some people on a regular basis to keep overcoming this," I wonder if he would have had a reasonable chance of staying in the pastorate--even before he'd actually committed the sin!

OTOH, had this sort of accountability and openness been as regular a part of church life as it is supposed to be, perhaps he never would have fallen in this manner at all.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 29, 2006 6:57 PM.

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