“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
To really grow spiritually it takes more than a teacher teaching and a hearer listening. Ideally, for mind renovation and behavioral change to take place, accountability to another person or persons is essential. Small group and personal mentoring are sub-authentic if they end in teaching/learning, let alone if they end in no more than warm fellowship and encouragement. Accountability within the group or in the mentoring relationship should be a part of the relationship if true growth and discipleship are to take place.
There is an important part of discipleship that must be present in a congregation whether or not ideal of personal accountability structures are provided. We call it church discipline. The church must faithfully deal with sin in its members if spiritual growth is to take place. How this is to be accomplished is so important and we must note that any serious attempt to “make disciples” must include holding all members accountable. When a member fails in moral dereliction (as in the church of Corinth) it not only means the sinning person becomes ever less a true disciple of Christ, his failure, unchecked by the body, affects all other members. This is a major theme of Paul in both letters to the church at Corinth. It is obvious that one who teaches heresy is not a true disciple. But it must be emphasized that his teaching also holds back the rest of the body from advancing in discipleship, in right thinking and right behavior. Responsibility relationships in the congregation, however, go far beyond those two “disciplinable” behaviors – unrepented moral dereliction and teaching heresy. We must hold one another to the highest standards of Christian behavior, not just in those major matters that demand church discipline. For true growth in discipleship ALL that Jesus taught is included (Matthew 28:18). And for that we really do need one another.
It won’t do merely to proclaim the truths of holiness from the pulpit. In some structured relationship-small group or one-on-one – all of us, including leaders, need to have accountability partners. That’s what “small group”, “mentoring”, “pastoring” are all about! When we are to take action and how it is to be done have everything to do with success in the making of disciples.
My seat mate on the flight into Atlanta turned out to be a high-ranking Air Force officer who had just returned from his third tour of duty during the Viet Nam war. He had flown over 300 sorties over North Viet Nam and had returned unscathed. The average hit on American planes was one every 12 sorties! I asked if it were scary when the ground to air guided missile came after him. “No,” he replied, “those big ones are easy to evade. They are the size of a telephone pole. When they come up you just dive and they miss you.”
“What about air-to-air missiles from behind where you can’t see them?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s why we always fly in pairs. Your buddy alerts you. If he fails, you are dead meat.”
So, I concluded, he wasn’t the ace I thought, he just had a good buddy. That’s why he came home safe every time. And so it is with church. The big ones you may be able to dodge on your own. But those that slip up from behind, you need a faithful buddy.
Family solidarity is the least experienced of the God-designed purposes for his church, at least in American congregations. Most churches do not have a program to monitor, let alone proactively care for members’ spiritual, emotional, physical, and material welfare. And that’s sad because what’s a family for? And family was Gods’ design, the blood ties of Calvary binding us closer than human blood ties. Who can be your wing man, looking for the incoming attacks that can bring you down?