The following guest article is written by Aaron Murray. Aaron serves as a pastoral intern at Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. At a recent men's breakfast, he and his accountability group shared how the Lord has used their times together to strengthen their walk with God. Their down-to-earth testimony encouraged and helped equip others in our church. I asked Aaron to summarize their presentation here as an encouragement to others looking for ways to grow in accountability too:
All of God’s people struggle with sin. There are numerous means that the church has used throughout the ages to combat that indwelling sin. Accountability groups have served the church as one of those means. The Lord calls his people to spur one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24).
It has been an honor and privilege to be part of an accountability group with three other men over the past year and a half. By God’s grace, we have seen much growth through our meetings. It is imperative to know Jesus as your Savior. He is the author and perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2). As important as accountability groups are, sanctification is not formulaic. While we do exert effort in our sanctification, it is ultimately the work of the Spirit that causes us to grow in holiness. Accountability groups are important, but they are not the end all be all to sanctification. Keeping each other accountable is important, but we are chiefly accountable to Jesus. In our group, we say with the psalmist, "Search my heart, O God, and know my thoughts" (Psalm 139:23). In their proper place, accountability groups can serve the believer in an unmistakably positive way.
As we have labored together, we have found these four components critical to our pursuit of holiness together:
Prayer is the foundation of all accountability groups. This is how our group started. We just started praying together.
As we pray, we see our sin in its proper perspective. Prayer lifts our eyes from our darkness and brings us before the throne of grace. It can be depressing to confess your sin to your brothers in Christ. It is not easy to talk about your struggle with worldly passions. Prayer lifts that depression from us and reorients our heart to our Savior who loves us. Jesus did not bring us this far in our sanctification just so we could rot in iniquity. He saves his people for holiness. Prayer reminds us of this.
Prayer also lifts our eyes off ourselves. Jesus saves a people for himself, not just individuals. Prayer gives us the opportunity to intercede for our local congregation. We pray for our elders, deacons, and fellow church members. We pray for the covenant children who have walked away from the faith. This “others” focused prayer reminds us that we are not alone in the battle for holiness. Go to your Lord in prayer! Plead for victory. The Lord has already given it to you.
Honesty and Trust
Honesty and trust are the bedrock for our growth. Over time our group has grown in brutal honesty with each other. If we hide our sin from each other we cannot expect the Lord to bless our fake, man-pleasing, pursuit of holiness. The Lord calls us to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). That means exposing the deepest secrets of our hearts. Trust takes time to build. There are few people I trust more than those in my accountability group. When one of us confesses his sin, the onus is on the rest of us to protect him from unnecessary shame.
As we confess our sins to each other, thing can get messy. We hear things that are uncomfortable and repulsive to God. We learned not to hold our sins against each other. We do not identify ourselves by the sin that we confess. We remind each other we are children of God.
Being honest about sin can be hard. When one of us confesses our sin, it is important we ask each other specific questions. As an example, if someone says they are struggling with laziness, we ask what that means. Are they sleeping in? Are they wasting time at work? What are the specifics of the sin? Ambiguity does not breed godliness. Vigilant, specific, laser-focused mortification does.
We are going to spend eternity with one another, so we might as well like each other. Friendship serves as the grease for what can otherwise be a rigidly formal and mechanical group. Friendships take time to build but the benefits are limitless. We make it a priority to meet with each other outside of our accountability group. Even within our group time, if the situation merits it, we make jokes and goof off. As we built our friendships with one another, our trust in each other grew and it became harder to conceal our sins from each other.
It is not uncommon to have a season of unrepentant sin. It can be scary, and difficult to confess that season to a whole group. Having an intentional friendship where we met outside of our formal group opens the opportunity for one on one confession. It's much easier to confess my sin to a group after I have confessed and prayed with another member about it privately.
One caution here. As our group grew in love and affection for each other it was very easy to devolve into a clique, especially within our local congregation setting. We enjoy our friendship. We laugh with one another and spend time with each other, but we have learned not to do it at the expense of ostracizing the rest of our church community.
We couldn’t have an accountability group if we didn’t meet regularly. As we took seriously the importance and blessings of our accountability group, we made it a priority to consistently meet every week. Consistency gave us a regular time to confess our sins to each other and to encouraged one another in our battle with the world the flesh and the devil.
There is no such thing as coasting into holiness. Either we are consistently making progress, albeit slowly, or we are sliding into apathy and sin. Consistently meeting with our accountability group encouraged us to vigilantly advance towards godliness.
Our group is not perfect. We are still growing in piety. We have seen the Lord bless us in our pursuit of holiness. I can say with confidence that every member of our group is more like Jesus now than we were when we first started meeting. The Lord has been pleased to use our accountability group to grow us in holiness.
If you want to start your own accountability group, start slowly. Find some people you trust and begin by simply meeting to pray with one another. Consider going through a book on Christian living together. Give some time for your prayer group to grow into an accountability group. Sanctification takes time, so does relationship building. Begin by praying together and see where the Lord takes you.