Spiritual Partnership or Spiritual Police?

I think this photo is hilarious on a number of different levels.  It’s definitely one of those “insert caption here:” photos.  However, I can’t help but wonder what this Santa is feeling at this moment.  Probably the same feelings that many people who get arrested feel. Guilt. Shame. Embarrassment. Hopelessness.  If these are feelings that coincide with getting in trouble, then why are they the same feelings that we often have in our accountability relationships?  There’s something wrong here, isn’t there? On a personal level, I tend to stay away from using the word ‘accountability’ because I think it’s become distorted in Christian circles.  The way accountability occurs needs to change. It needs to be redefined.

The people of Wayfarer’s ministry (student and young adult ministry in partnership with 3DM) say that, “accountability is about Spiritual Partnership and not Spiritual Police.”  One of the biggest differences between the two is in the relationship.  You can police without having a relationship.  A partnership is only a partnership if there is a relationship.

There are 2 implications of viewing accountability in light of partnership:

Accountability without Relationship = Rebellion.  Think about it.  If I randomly confront a student that I don’t know about smoking weed, they will most likely use some choice words with me and walk away.  I shouldn’t be surprised by that reaction because there’s no relationship.  Whereas, if I have a relationship with that student then I have more of a right to speak into their weed smoking habits.  If we are to challenge and confront students with difficult conversations then the relationship has to exist!  One phrase that we often use is “earn the right to be heard.”  You have to spend time with students in order to get to a place where you can speak into their life circumstances.

Relationship without Accountability = Apathy.  It’s fairly easy, over time, to develop a relationship with a group of students.  If you tell a group of guys that you are going to have a night of pizza and video games at your house then you can count on them being there and your relationship with them advancing.  However, turning the corner from your relationship being about hanging out and playing video games to having intentional conversations dealing with life and God can be one of the most difficult transitions for leaders to make.  This transition is crucial.  If playing video games and eating pizza are all you do with your group of students then the relationship only rests on the surface; there’s no depth to it.  You will see your students become apathetic and asking the question, ‘What’s the point?’.  They will realize there’s no substance and they’re not being discipled.  There needs to be times of intentional conversation and direction with your students when you are asking them, “What’s God saying to you?” and “What are you going to do about it?” – discipleship questions.  Don’t be afraid to dive into the difficult conversations that need to take place in your students’ lives.

With accountability there is confrontation.  In fact, there has to be.  However, accountability is NOT beating the person up or constantly coming down on someone.  Balancing those moments of confrontation and encouragement is key to effectively have a healthy accountability with students.  If we are to effectively make disciples who make disciples then we have to intentionally pursue and build the relationship, while not being scared of the difficult conversations that the Spirit is leading us in.  When you have a relationship with a student then accountability becomes a partnership where you are challenging and encouraging them to become more like Christ.

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Accountability in a Judgmental World

Chances are that if you work with students and you are serious about making disciples then it will not be long until you hear the phrase “Stop Judging Me!”  If you haven’t had a student yell this at you, text it to you, post it on Facebook or tweet it, just know, it’s coming.

The culture we find ourselves in does not want to be challenged about what it values or how it lives and it certainly does not want to be confronted about issues of morality. God’s Kingdom works the opposite. Discipleship without accountability is fruitless. Disciples hear what Jesus is saying to them and then act in obedience. The lynch pin between hearing from Jesus and doing what he says is accountability.  Without it we find ourselves stuck. Accountability is vital for disciples to move forward. So what do we do when we are in a culture that is opposed to being accountable? As missional leaders who have a passion for empowering students to be like Jesus this presents quite a challenge.

Over the last few months I’ve had a number of normal but difficult conversations with students about all kinds of stuff, from sexual sin and addictions to suicide and bullying. I am generally pretty positive about talking to students about rough stuff, viewing them as opportunities.  What surprised me this time was the number of students who said in one way or another “stop judging me”.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to hold students to an account or even point out behavior that is destructive.

The next few weeks Mike and I will be digging into this subject and will be sharing some practical ideas of how to engage students in healthy accountable relationships.  If we are to help students become more like Jesus then we must learn to navigate in a world that thinks accountability is judgmental.  If you have some experiences or insights of your own on this subject please share them with us. We are all in this together.