If you attended church any time from the 1990s to today, I’m sure you have heard the term “accountability partner” thrown around.
Growing up in the early 2000s, I was told by several of my youth pastors that I needed an accountability partner. That sounded great and all, but I had no idea what an accountability partner was or what they were supposed to do. The only picture I received was that you pick a person who you regard as spiritually mature and you meet together a few times a month to confess all of your sins from that week. You may have received a different picture, but this is how an accountability partner was conveyed to me. Don’t pick a friend, but pick someone spiritual who can ask you hard questions.
That didn’t settle well with me.
So…We Just Confess Our Sins?
Like many Christians, I thought the idea of having an accountability partner was awkward. To clarify, the awkwardness didn’t come from the added level of accountability and support to grow spiritually. Don’t get me wrong, we need people to help us establish guardrails in our lives. The Old and New Testaments talk about establishing guardrails and seeking after wisdom. The prophets preached repentance and guidance. Proverbs instructs us to walk in wisdom. Paul reminds us in the Book of Ephesians to walk as those who are wise.
I’m not against a person needing transparency, accountability, and correction. I simply believe there is a better way to go about this than establishing an “accountability partner.” I didn’t want to have an extra person in my life who wasn’t my friend but got access into my life. I didn’t need a fake friend. I needed true friendships. Gaining an accountability partner felt like I was settling in my friendships. Separating deep conversations from my current friends and only discussing that with an accountability partner felt like I was missing the point of true friendship.
Build Biblical Friendships
When I moved to college I realized that the need for an accountability partner could be fulfilled by having biblical friendships. You need real friends. You do not need “yes men” who will not question your dumb decisions. You do not need hype people who only exist to make you happy. You need gospel-centered friendships with people who are growing in their faith.
True friends are better than accountability partners.
True friends will help you grow spiritually. True friends will ask you hard questions. True friends will encourage you to take steps of faith.
Many young adults make the mistake of surrounding themselves with hundreds of shallow friendships and fail to develop a few deep friendships. There isn’t anything wrong with having plenty of friends. Problems arise, however, when you don’t have a few key friendships that are strong enough to look out for your best interests – even if it means having difficult conversations. Biblical friendships are better than accountability partners because your desire is to see both of you grow in Jesus – not just keep you from a specific sin.
Proverbs repeatedly teaches about the benefits of quality friendships. And Proverbs Chapter 27 is a goldmine of wisdom about friendships.
Proverbs 27:5-6 “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
Proverbs 27:9 “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.”
Provers 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
Gospel-centered friendships will serve as a guardrail in your life in ways an accountability partner can’t. How? Your friends see you more than an accountability partner would. It is easy to lie during one monthly meeting. On the other hand, you can’t hide your behaviors and struggles from close friends. The closer the proximity, the greater potential for accountability and discipleship to occur. We all need people who can speak into our lives on a day-to-day basis. Those true friendships will shape our lives more than an accountability partner ever could.
So, How Do I Create Gospel-Centered Friendships?
1. Strong friendships are built on trust, proximity, and common beliefs. You can’t talk to a person once a month and expect to be close friends. Friendship is stronger as you spend time together. And as a guy, we are the worst at this. Once we graduate college we forget how to hang out with other guys. Start looking for ways to invite friends into the activities you are already doing – eating meals, watching sporting events, weekly small groups.
2. Begin having deeper conversations with your friends. You will notice if these friends are open to talking about real issues and struggles or if they shy away from being real. By all means, slowly walk into deeper conversations – you don’t have to air all of your laundry and beliefs at once. But be intentional to bring up faith topics. Start by getting involved in a small group in your local church and see what friendships develop from there.
3. Realize not all friendships will be deep friendships. Some have a hard time with this truth. It is OK to have surface-level friendships. That is the world we live in. Certain co-workers will never become deep friendships. Don’t stress about that. The key is to have a few deep friendships in the midst of the various levels of acquaintances and other friends you have.
Obviously, this list isn’t exhaustive. The older we get the worse we are at making friends. Remember the elementary school version of you? Most of us were comfortable enough to walk up to another kid and ask them if they wanted to be our friend. We weren’t nervous about the prospect of meeting someone new.
Along the way we have been burned, backstabbed, and ignored more times than we can count. The mess of relationships has caused us to avoid being transparent and honest with people for fear that they will one day use our vulnerability against us. We need to return to the elementary school days of seeing people as potential friends, not potential backstabbers.
What If I Can’t Create Gospel-Centered Friendships?
An accountability partner is better than no accountability. I don’t know your situation, but I know that I operate better when my friends are asking me hard questions and are pointing me to Jesus. Your season of life may be full of transition and new opportunities which moved you away from your solid friendships. In the between time, you still need people to act as guardrails in your life.
The bottom line is that friendships don’t magically develop. Having Gospel-centered friendships takes intentionality and transparency. Those can be hard, but the end result is worth it.
How do we start to feel as if we are in fact “brought to fullness”? Colossians 2:6-7 gives us the answer a few verses before.
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)
Your fullness depends on your rootedness. We settle our roots and become rooted in things when we look to areas to bring us life and fulfillment. Prestige, power, money, careers, and sins are a few spots we try to root our life and schedules hoping those things will bring us life.
Maybe a summer camp or incredible worship gathering stoked your fire for Jesus like never before. Chances are, there is a time where you have felt closer to Jesus.
One Saturday evening, not too long ago, Molly decided her life would never be the same. For the first time, she was truly excited about God.
During an amazing weekend retreat Jesus seemed to be closer to her than ever before.
She finally felt God’s love.
She let go of her guilt over past decisions and embraced what Jesus did for her.
She developed new friendships with strong Christians.
When she headed home, she was ready to make drastic changes in her life, friendships, and habits.
But by midweek, she felt herself slipping away from Jesus.
Once full of hope and excitement about what Jesus could do in her life, Molly had now settled back into her old habits and friendships. She knew life could be different. However her old habits caused her passion to burn out.
Her passion for Jesus slowly burned out.
Have you ever met someone like Molly?
Perhaps you have had the same experience as Molly – during a retreat you experienced God like never before, but shortly after your passion seemed to slowly burn out.
From my vantage point as a pastor and former staff member at a Christian camp and retreat facility, I have seen tens of thousands of people draw near to Jesus – and subsequently I’ve seen hundreds of people fail to stoke that passion once they returned home.
But why did that passion fade?
Was it your schedule? Perhaps your habits? Or what about your relationships?
Every student leaves an event ready to passionately pursue Jesus, but many fall back into the passion-smothering routines that await.
How do we continue to stoke the coals of our souls?
After working with thousands who have attended camps, retreats, and events, I knew that I had to encourage people to stoke their passion for Jesus in their day-to-day lives.
Stoking your fire for Jesus is easier than you think.
These six simple questions will enable your passion to burn brighter for the glory of Jesus.
The times when I was isolated, spiritually burned out, or tired were the times I made decisions that I regret. Stoked asks pointed questions that will lead students away from the habits and situations that are extinguishing their spiritual fires.
Stoked is designed to be either a stand-alone book or to be used in a small group setting. Each week explores one question with a core session and five daily devotions to spark conversations and habits.
Students are able to work through the book on their own as a six-week devotional, or small groups can study it together as a six-week small group study.
In John Chapter 8, the religious leaders of the day devised a plan to trip up Jesus and undermine His ministry. Why? Because Jesus was threatening their way of life.
Jesus’ teaching exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. They considered His teaching as an attack against their identity, their career, their livelihood, and their power.
So the religious leaders devised a plan to make Jesus pick between extending grace or fulfilling the Law.
3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap,in order to have a basis for accusing him. (John 8:3-6)
The religious leaders thought they had won! If Jesus sided with the Law, this woman would be killed on the spot. If Jesus picked forgiveness, Jesus would be guilty of breaking the Law.
Obviously, Jesus didn’t fall for the trick.
7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stoneat her.” (John 8:7)
The men began to leave one at a time, oldest first, until the youngest man finally left.
Only the woman and Jesus were left. Jesus gave her an option.
10“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”(John 8:10-11)
He gave her the option of repenting from her sin and accepting forgiveness or continuing the empty pursuit of sin.
This woman, who was used by the religious leaders as an object lesson, was extended the opportunity to repent.
Most of us (I hope all of us, actually) wouldn’t actually throw a stone at someone in an attempt to kill them. But we drop “stones” in the form of comments and jokes that are meant to tear down. These “stones” sit on others’ shoulders, weighing them down.
As Christians, we shouldn’t be like the religious leaders in these verses. We shouldn’t use others’ sins or circumstances to make ourselves feel better.
Instead, we should be like Jesus. We should give others the opportunity to meet Jesus, repent, and walk faithfully with Him.
Maybe you aren’t quick to spell out a well-written statement on what you believe will make your life better. I bet you have some ideas, hopes, and beliefs that are shaping your decisions.
We have formulas that we have bought into that promise to produce a better life.
More money + Better friends = Better Life
More flexible job + More obedient children = Better Life
More degrees + Nicer iPhone = Better Life
Less arguments + More sleep = Better Life
More BBQ + Banana Pudding = Better Life
I don’t know the formula that you have bought into, but, when we are honest with ourselves, we all have a formula for success.
Is your hope for a secure future in your degree. Is your hope for acceptance wrapped up in your dating relationships? Are you convinced that more money will bring more happiness?
We are quick to finish this statement:
“Things will be better if…”
Things will be better if I have more money.
Things will be better if I have a different job.
Things will be better if I get this degree.
Things will be better if my wife would listen to me.
Things will be better if we have a different house.
Things will be better if they saw it from my perspective.
We rattle off these statements everyday. Some pursuits are noble and not necessarily sins. Others are lies we have believed because they promise life but lead to our demise. Either way, nothing in these statements will bring us lasting joy, comfort, and peace. Everything will leave us wanting more.
The Creator > The Created Things
Instead, I would love to offer a different statement up.