It’s a Group Effort

This is our final post in our 4 part ‘Judgement’ series.  Be sure to check out the other 3 here:

Part 1: Accountability in a Judgmental World

Part 2: Spiritual Partnership or Spiritual Police?

Part 3: Redefining Judgmental

Over the last few weeks we have been navigating what accountability looks like with students that seem all too quick to pull the ‘judgement card’ whenever you call them out on something going on in their life.  We’ve talked about a new perspective on what accountability looks like and how to find the balance between challenge and encouragement in the relationships that we have with our students.  In this post we will discuss where we go from here in these conversations with students.

I find it interesting that nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus hold his disciples accountable in a one on one setting.  If I were preaching I would repeat that and make you write it down.  Even when he tells Peter to ‘get behind me Satan’ he does it in a group context.  Those might be some of the harshest words Christ could say to one of his followers and he did not do it in a one on one conversation at Starbucks.  But why is it that Christ never practiced accountability in one on one settings with his disciples?  If Christ never practiced accountability in one on one settings with those he was in a relationship with, then why do we primarily view and practice accountability in a one on one, intimate relationship?

The Role of Personal Space

Feel free to check out our friend, Alex Absalom’s post on the four spaces.  Sociologically, there are four spaces that people instinctively function in.  One of the spaces is referred to as Personal Space and occurs when people find themselves in settings of 3(4)-12 people.  In church world, this often takes the form of small groups.  What typically occurs in Personal Space is that the people experiencing it tend to share more private thoughts and feelings.  What’s interesting is that, scripturally, this is where we find Jesus both challenging and encouraging his disciples; practicing accountability with them.  Just look at a few examples found in the Gospel of Matthew: 8:18-22 (cost of following Jesus), 9:9-12 (Jesus questioned about eating with sinners), 14:15-18 (Jesus feeding the 5,000), 15:12-0 (Jesus calls Peter ‘dull’ for not understanding), 16:13-20 (Peter’s confession – encouragement), 18:1-9 (Disciples asking who is the greatest), 19:13-15 (The children coming to Jesus), 26:6-13 (correcting the disciples while the lady washed Jesus’ head), 26:25 (Jesus calls out Judas at the Last Supper), 26:31-35 (Jesus tells Peter that he will deny Jesus).  If Personal Space is the setting that we find Jesus practicing accountability with his disciples in then shouldn’t we model the same with those that we are discipling?  Not in a one on one setting?

Why Accountability in Personal Space?

  • There’s something to be said about the Gospel authors revealing Jesus’ practice of accountability in a smaller group size (personal space).  If Jesus modeled accountability in this manner, then I believe that we should practice it this way.
  • Authentic accountability happens in community.  In personal space, the person becomes accountable to everyone in the group, not just an individual.  They feel the challenge, as well as the encouragement, of everyone that is there.  Because of this they are more likely to act on the thing(s) that God is speaking into their life.
  • Everyone speaks.  Everyone receives.  This is connected to the point above.  If someone in the group is wrestling with something in their life, maybe there is another individual in the group who has been through the same, or something similar, that can speak into that situation.  This way everyone is learning and every is growing, even if the focus of the conversation isn’t them.

Moving Forward

It’s worth a shot.  Both John and myself have found doing accountability with our students in the personal space setting extremely effective.  In fact, we have seen much growth in our students from doing it in this manner.  It is also important to keep in mind the other points that we brought up in the previous post: accountability is spiritual partnership – not spiritual policing, there needs to be a balance between the relationship and the degree of accountability, find the balance between challenge and grace, and to come alongside students.

Anyone else have stories or experience with accountability in Personal Space?


Redefining Judgmental

If we are to help students become more like Jesus then we must learn to navigate in a world that thinks accountability is judgmental. So, how do we navigate?
1. See the Opportunity:  We have a great opportunity, we really do. Each and every time we confront or encourage students we have a chance to teach them about the God we love. Their view of Him is that of a policeman who is only concerned with them when they fail. So when students fail, the way we respond has the potential to absolutely blow their mind, and help them see Jesus. After all, the grace we are given is mind-blowing.
2. Build a Relationship:  In our last post, Mike Suit  made it very clear that  when we are in healthy relationships with students, accountability becomes a partnership to become like Jesus.  Therefore we need to intentionally give time to cultivating healthy relationship with students.  Relationship is the platform from which we challenge and affirm.
3. Redefine Judgmental: Even after hundreds of hours of video games, pizza and Mountain Dew, even after we wait with a student because their ride is 45 minutes late, even though we have invested in them and have a good relationship, we are still going to hear students say “Stop Judging Me! It says in the Bible not to judge”. When students say this we need to be able to correct them  clearly, quickly and with grace. We have to help student’s redefine judgmental.
  • Judgmental is Self-Righteous: The infamous verse in Matthew 7:1  is what students quote when they are confronted about behavior. The problem is that we should never pull out just one verse and build an entire argument on it.   In context, what Jesus is teaching us is that we are not meant to be self-righteous, overlooking our own faults and seeing only the failures of others. Instead, we should remove the logs in our eyes and then we can be more helpful.  We are not meant to elevate ourselves above others.
  • Pointing out the inappropriate stuff is healthy: Followers of Jesus should care enough about each other that we correct each other.  The other day I had a conversation with someone who posted something inappropriate on Facebook.  I know that sounds really farfetched, but it honestly did happen. Anyhow, I confronted this person and basically said “hey, I love you, this was not ok, maybe you didn’t realize it, so I wanted to help you see it”. In fact, this person did not see it. When I realized this I said “we all have blind spots, I have some too, so when you can see what I can’t, please care enough about me to let me know”.  Which brings me to the next idea.
  • We are all in this together: Disciples of Jesus are willing to help each other and are open to accountability. On the other hand when we are judgmental and self-righteous, we are not open to accountability because we are above everyone else. Students need to feel like you are in it with them. Do not be a leader who simply points the finger, instead do everything you can to come alongside of students.
4. Realize that students struggle to separate: Students often have a hard time separating their failure from who they are.  For example, if they fail a test in school they think “I’m a failure” when the truth is that they really only failed a test. This is important to keep in mind when challenging students. When we point out their failures they can easily begin to believe that we think they are a failure as a person. When we disapprove of their actions students make the jump in their minds to us disapproving of them. So our response to students should always include huge amounts of affirmation. In fact we should intentionally allow our challenge to lead right into encouragement.
Helping students to re-think “judgmental” is no easy task.  Do not be discouraged when students do not respond favorably. Some students have open, teachable hearts and some do not.  In the moment, it can be very difficult to know the difference. So be encouraged, keep seeking Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and trust that the grace and love you show through both encouraging and challenging students will bear fruit.