Intentional Friendships: When, Why & How to Start an Accountability Group
“I’m want my life to be consumed by God,” Lindsey confided to me, as she and I walked back to our cars on a beautiful, warm night last summer.
“I’m hungry for Jesus,” she continued. “I feel called to memorize scripture. I want to spend daily time with Him. I want Jesus to be at the front of my mind all the time –to pray continually.”
“Me too!” I burst out. “Yes.”
Listening to her that night stirred something within me. This was what I wanted, what I had known. Yet in the two years since having my daughter, I’d never really re-established a disciplined spiritual life, and it was wearing on me.
In the weeks that followed, I continued to think about that conversation. I felt encouraged. So, we talked some more, and eventually, we came up with a plan. We wanted to deepen our friendship, hold each other accountable to growing spiritually, and direct our conversations intentionally. [pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]If Jesus is indeed our life, why are we thinking and talking about so many trivial things but yet not about Him?[/pullquote]If Jesus is indeed our life, why are we thinking and talking about so many trivial things but yet not about Him?
For us, this meant setting aside Tuesday evenings to meet at a centralized coffee shop with two other dear friends, kid-free, to talk about Jesus and encourage one another.
And so, our accountability group was born. And my how we’ve all grown. One caramel steamer at a time, we’ve talked through deep truths, prayed through the deep struggles, and refreshed and encouraged one another in deep ways. There have been tears and many chuckles. And now, a year in, all of our husbands have noticed positive changes in our lives as a result.
Intrigued? You may be wondering what exactly I mean when I say “accountability group.” Let me explain further.
In my experience, there’s a marked difference between merely “hanging out” with other Christians, and deeply engaging and connecting with them on a spiritual level. There’s nothing wrong with the former, but it’s the deeper time that holds more value for the soul.
“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Proverbs 17:17
We are good for one another. In fact, we have a vital role in each other’s lives as Christ-followers. When one benefits, so does the other. That is the beauty of it all.
One of my favorite pictures of Christian community in action is of the early church painted in Acts 2:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42
These people let God truly consume their lives. They spurred one another on, studied the “apostles teaching,” or the Bible as we now know it, spent time remembering Jesus and prayed. They were devoted to these things.
Theirs is the reality that Lindsey and I longed for on that balmy summer night, still so vivid in my memory. And they made it happen together.
Here’s one last verse for you:
“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25
So meeting together is worth your time. Genuine, transparent community is beneficial and godly. So how might you structure that time?
Here’s how we do it. This is one format that will hopefully give you some ideas. You’ll have to figure out what works for your group.
- Pray, and as you feel God leading you, invite one or more like-minded friends to meet with you.
- Establish a regular time and place to meet. This could be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.
- Arrange somewhere else for your kids to be. In my experience, it’s easier to go deep when you’re not distracted by little ones. Think of this as your weekly “me-time” and realize how much more valuable it is than shopping or going out or whatever else you may have filled that bill with in the past.
- Decide together what your time will look like. What are your hopes and goals?
- Specify a facilitator or leader for each meeting. Otherwise it’s way too easy to spend the entire time chit-chatting. And in the end, that’s just not as beneficial. The four of us take turns.
- Be open. Be honest. Be raw. Encourage. Exhort. Love. Challenge. And watch God do amazing things in your lives.
What to Do Each Week
Here is an example “agenda” for one of our accountability meetings:
- Catch up. How ARE you, really? What’s going on in your life?
- Talk about spiritual things. Did you spend time with God this week (praying, listening, reading the Bible, reading a devotional book)? Consistently? What were you reading, thinking about, or learning?
- How are you struggling? Confess to one another. Encourage one another. Ask questions.
- Goals: Check in on goals from the previous week and set new ones. We have found it helpful to set specific goals from week to week. For example, “I will spend time reading the Psalms five days this week and write something in my journal each day.” These can pertain to absolutely anything, not just time with God. Perhaps we resolve to put a scripture up on our mirror or to reach out to a neighbor in some way.
- Scripture Memory: Recite the scripture we memorized from the previous week and assign a new one. We also periodically review past memory verses. For us, the leader selects the new one.
- Do other creative community building or spiritual growing exercises. These could be prayer exercises, letter writing, making something crafty. I plan to post ideas for this in the future.
- Pray together.
Sound doable? I think so.
There are some key cautions to be heeded if you’re thinking about getting a group together. While it’s an incredible thing to take existing friendships to a deeper level, these are some important pit-falls to avoid:
- Don’t gossip. This may be tempting and juicy, but it is not God-honoring or beneficial. In fact, it’s evil. Resolve not to do this and hold each other accountable.
- Don’t “husband bash,” complain or slander. This is not uplifting or worthwhile. Again, it’s sin. I suggest setting group norms and expectations from the get go and revisit them periodically.
- What is shared in the group, stays in the group. Make this a safe environment. Keep the things confided to yourself unless there’s a very important and specific reason to do otherwise.
- Listen A LOT before you offer any advice or suggestions. Listen, listen, and listen some more. Don’t be a “fixer.” Be wise in what you say. God might move you to speak into a situation, or He might lead you to keep silent, but either way, James 2:4 says, “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” and Colossians 4:6, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Another Model for Accountability
I also have the privilege of being in intentional accountability with my best friend Erica. We’ve been “accountability partners” for almost eight years now. We don’t live in the same city, but we will never drift apart. You see, when we entered into our accountability relationship, we signed a covenant together, and it’s something we take seriously.
What this means is, we have a phone date once per week (if possible this is while kids are napping). During that time we catch up, ask hard questions and share deep things. Her perspective is absolutely invaluable in my life. She is far removed from my daily situations and so can wisely speak into them. She’s someone who’s known me for a very long time.
So enjoy the fellowship of close friends regularly. They are a precious gift from God. Have a coffee together and talk about Jesus. Worship, celebrate and struggle for His Glory. Keep life simple by keeping God at the center and relationships with others second, third, fourth…and so on. That’s what really matters.
Do life together at the expense of secretiveness and pride. Bask in the joy God will bring as you do life His way. It’s good.