Accountability Groups – an update (1)


Just over a year ago I posted an article on this blog about Accountability Group Questions.

The main purpose of the original post was to summarise some of the lists of accountability questions that have been used over the past few hundred years within a small group discipleship setting, because, at the time, I was investigating lists of questions that could be used to foster accountability within my own discipleship group.

The questions that I decided to use were the Church Multiplication Associates ten questions listed on the Life Transformation Group (LTG) ‘red’ card, which are as follows:

1. Have you been a testimony this week to the greatness of Jesus Christ with both your words and actions?

2. Have you been exposed to sexually alluring material or allowed your mind to entertain inappropriate thoughts about someone who is not your spouse this week?

3. Have you lacked any integrity in your financial dealings this week, or coveted something that does not belong to you?

4. Have you been honouring, understanding and generous in your important relationships this past week?

5. Have you damaged another person by your words, either behind their back or face-to-face?

6. Have you given in to an addictive behaviour this week? Explain.

7. Have you continued to remain angry toward another?

8. Have you secretly wished for another’s misfortune so that you might excel?

9. Did you finish your reading this week and hear from the Lord? What are you going to do about it?

10. Have you been completely honest with me?

The LTG approach focusses on what is catagorised by Neil Cole as the ‘DNA‘ of the gospel – Divine Truth (D), the repeated reading of 20 to 30 chapters of the Bible on a week-to-week basis in order to hear God speak through scripture, Nurturing Relationships (N), accountability with one or two others in a small group setting and Apostolic Mission (A), prayer for others with the deliberate expectation of sharing the good news of Jesus with them through ‘incarnational’ witness.

I will openly admit that adopting this approach has revolutionised my Christian walk, brought me closer to my Lord on a daily basis, and made me much more conscious of my selfishness and sinful motives and actions.  It is actually quite amazing that it does this – and this is not only my experience but also the experience of a number of other people I know who have subsequently started or joined LTGs as a result of our first group a year ago.

One thing, however, that I want to highlight is how, between us, we have ‘developed’ the questions to fit our own use and purpose.  We haven’t changed them, as such.  This was a deliberate decision, mainly because we knew that we would be tempted to change or remove the more challenging ones.  However, we have developed or more specifially, embellished how we ask the questions in order to make them more wide ranging and all-encompassing.

Most of the people who have joined or started our LTGs, so far, are more mature Christians, or at least have been Christians for a number of years.  As such, the feedback is that although the questions are all relevant, most of them seem to have a negative (or at least neutral) rather than a positive slant ie checking to make sure you haven’t done something bad rather than encouraging you to do something good.  This is fine, and certainly from my own experience the questions have become a constant reminder for me to stop and think before I act, making me much more aware of what I do and how I treat others.  But, as I and others with me have realised, they end up acting as a buffer to stop destructive and sinful behaviour rather than a springboard to enourage constructive and compassionate action.

Therefore, for each of the questions we have added a counter-question to spir us on to perform ‘good deeds’ through active forgiveness, mercy and grace, generosity, and deliberate compassion and encouragement etc.

For instance:

1.  Have you shown a spontaneous and/ or unwarranted kindness to someone this week?

2.  Have you valued female contributions in your life, and deliberately shown love, physical affection and care towards your wife this week?

3.  Have you been generous in your financial dealing this week, and given to others as you have seen need?

4.  Have you spent time with people you love, listened to them and valued their company this week?

5.  Have you gone out of your way to encourage someone this week?

6.  Have you celebrated overcoming addictive behaviour this week?

7.  Have you show grace and mercy to another this week?

8.  Have you blessed someone that you find difficult this week?

9.  What did you learn about Jesus this week?

10.  Is there anything we should pray about this week?

These counter-questions are not to replace the accountability questions but to add to them and encourage us to live out a life of incarnational love as well as mission – and although it’s early days, they do seem to add to the overall positive nature of hte LTG format.

What do you think?  Would you consider using similar counter-questions in your accountability groups?


The ‘weak ties’ of social networking

Mark Sayers has posted an excellent (or molte bene to use his parlance) reflection on the Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article mentioned in my previous post:

“This molto bene article from Malcolm Gladwell … has solidified a lot themes that I have been talking about on this blog for ages. Gladwell speaks about the relative weakness of social networking as a tool of social change versus the tied and tested methods of believing in something passionately and being really organised. Despite reading Clay Shirkey’s Here Comes Everybody and getting slightly excited, I have had this funny feeling for a while that what we are seeing a lot of hype over ways of reaching people with a lot of breadth but not a whole lot of depth.

If you haven’t yet read Here Comes Everybody then I would still recommend that you do – but must admit, as Sayers does, that Gladwell’s observations definitely throws new fuel on to the discussion about the weakness of wide but shallow social networks over ‘face-to-face’ relationships.

As Sayers observes:

“What loose, organic networks provide is breadth, a scope for communicating information across a broad spectrum of people. But as we all know the more invites you get on facebook the more you ignore them, the larger and looser the network the less effective it becomes. Real social change as Gladwell remarks is borne out of a deep commitment to the cause, and thus a deep connected engagement, something facebook activism, and ‘come as you are’ networks don’t provide.”

The contrast in both articles, therefore, is between ‘strong tie’ and ‘weak tie’ relationships, and, as Gladwell so eloquently illustrates, high-risk activism that catalyses real change is a “strong tie phenomenon” that is unlikely to appear through social networking:

“The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties …. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvelous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.”

Gladwell also makes the observation that high-risk activists are often organised hierarchically, which is not what social media is about:

“Facebook and the like are tools for building networks, which are the opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies. Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures, networks aren’t controlled by a single central authority. Decisions are made through consensus, and the ties that bind people to the group are loose.”

This doesn’t mean that loose networks are bad, just that they won’t, in Gladwell’s opinion, produce the type of relationships that facilitate hard social change:

“There are many things … that networks don’t do well. Car companies sensibly use a network to organize their hundreds of suppliers, but not to design their cars. No one believes that the articulation of a coherent design philosophy is best handled by a sprawling, leaderless organizational system. Because networks don’t have a centralized leadership structure and clear lines of authority, they have real difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals. They can’t think strategically; they are chronically prone to conflict and error. How do you make difficult choices about tactics or strategy or philosophical direction when everyone has an equal say? ….

The drawbacks of networks scarcely matter if the network isn’t interested in systemic change – if it just wants to frighten or humiliate or make a splash – or if it doesn’t need to think strategically. But if you’re taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy….”

As he concludes his article, Gladwell makes the observation that social networks are, ultimately:

“….a form of organizing which favors the weak-tie connections that give us access to information over the strong-tie connections that help us persevere in the face of danger. It shifts our energies from organizations that promote strategic and disciplined activity and toward those which promote resilience and adaptability. It makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have any impact. The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo.”

This makes sense, and must be taken into account, but is not necessarily all bad.  However, it does highlight the limits of social media in our contemporary culture.

Sayers takes this a step further and puts it into a discipleship context:

“What Gladwell is saying is that ultimately the methods of creating social change has not really changed that much. Commitment to a cause is infectious, but it is hard to catch across a computer screen or at a large event. It is caught in person. Therefore at the end of the day it is about discipling others …. Jesus was born into a culture where the apprenticing model of the Rabbis was normative …. Jesus’ statement that his followers must hate their families’ in order to be his disciples, so deeply shocking to our modern sensibilities, was actually not so shocking to Jesus hearers because it was a well know Rabbinical saying, underlying the importance of apprenticing yourself to a spiritual guide. Thus the challenge for us is to meld all of the tools which give us such breadth, with a challenge to go deeper. Screens – both on our laptops, iphones and stages can transfer important information. But the task of discipleship, of creating passionate followers prepared to die for a cause can only happen face to face.”

Ultimately, discipleship must be done face-to-face – and to be most effective, inevitably, on a one-to-one basis or in small groups of two or three – but the challenge is how to do this and still take advantage of the strengths of social media, primarily the easy transfer of information and ideas, and the fueling of innovation through collaboration with others outside of your normal circle of contacts.  Somewhere there must be a ‘sweet spot’ – to use Brafman and Beckstrom’s parlance – a place of best advantage between a centralised hierarchy and totally decentralised social network – where our discipleship focus is a hybrid of face-to-face apprenticing backed up and enhanced through networking with other disciples – both locally and across the global church.

The problem for me comes about when we put the responsibility for ‘discipleship’ exclusively in the hands of a local church hierarchy.  So often in such a situation ‘discipleship’ ends up becoming programme driven, legalistic and overly contrived rather than Jesus focussed, organic and natural.

Ultimately, the discipling of others must be driven from a grass roots change in the life of a church body – rather than a leadership directive – and that requires catalysts – people who have the passion and motivation to make change happen through influencing and encouraging others into action.

And as for me, my passion to disciple others, as a ‘catalyst’ in my home church, has been revived over the last eighteen months primarily as a result of my contact with key influencers, such as Mark Sayers, Alan Hirsch and Neil Cole – often through the use of social media.  The ties might be weak, but the influences, trust me, are strong!

Read Mark Sayers’ full article here.

Francis Chan – BASIC series


A friend drew my attention to the new Francis Chan DVD’s called the ‘BASIC series’ – being produced by Flannel, the same crowd that produced the NOOMA videos with Rob Bell:

Check out the BASIC series website here.

Trends come and go in our culture and the church seems to follow.

Francis Chan asks these questions about the church. Francis puts it this way:

“If I only had this as my guide… if all I had was the Bible…and I was to read this book and then start a ‘church’ what would it look like? Would it look like the thing that we’ve built here and all refer to as church? Or would it look radically different?”

BASIC is a seven part series of short films – from Flannel, the award winning creators of the NOOMA film series – that challenge us to reclaim the church as Scripture describes it to be. This series will speak to those who have questions about the church and to those who may have lost interest in the church.

What is church?
You are church.
I am church.
We are church.

Here is the series trailer:

…and the trailer for the first DVD in the series, Fear God, which is available now here.

I have just bought it and will review it next week once I’ve received it through the post and watched it 🙂



The church and culture contextualisation


What is the right way for the church to engage with its contemporary, surrounding culture?  Should we engage, or should we be distinctly separate?  And if we do engage – in what form should that engagement take?

These are big questions that we need to get a hold of if we are to be effective disciples.

To this end, Ed Stetzer has posted a number of articles on his blog recently about the ‘contextualisation’ of the church within contemporary culture:

The call to contextualize is not a call to gospel compromise and syncretism, or living thoughtlessly and recklessly. The call to contextualize and engage the culture is simply an implication of being called to preach the gospel and make disciples.

Read the articles in the series – Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here.

Any thoughts?

Knowledge accumulation or heart transformation?


Some recent thoughts from Jeremy Berg:

So long as we save our best spiritual energy for the Sunday morning classroom and make Bible memorization or doctrine our primary homework assignment, we will continue to encounter many folks who have a lot of the right information but show little evidence of heart transformation.
So, this begs the big question: Where does deeper, personal formation take place?  For starters, may I suggest that it takes place outside the Sunday school classroom.  The problem with viewing Christianity as a classroom education is that it allows us to detach ourselves from the subject matter.  We casually discuss Bible stories, lessons, ideas and doctrines, and then go home feeling quite alright having had our neurons tickled a bit.  Yet, we managed to keep ourselves out of the curriculum and our focus on something else.
A survey of the Bible will demonstrate quite clearly that when it comes to faith and Christian discipleship it is everyday life that is the true classroom and the transformation of human hearts the universal Christian assignment.  But, most importantly, the God who is our great Master and Teacher is also our lab partner working alongside us in our group project of gently, patiently, gradually reordering our desires and turning our hearts toward His kingdom by the power of His Spirit.

Read the full article here.

Photo by David M. Goehring

8 ways to make a disciple

Here’s a good reminder about how to go about making disciples – from Jon Swanson’s Levite Chronicles blog:

A disciple is a person who chooses to allow the life and teaching of someone to shape his/her own life. There can be an invitation from the teacher or a request from the disciple. (Apprentice is one of our best other words for this, a person working with a master.)
Maybe you want to help other people take your business and replicate it. Maybe you want to help other people understand how to be an entrepreneur like you, like you learned from someone else. Maybe you want to help people understand more about following Jesus.
You can’t do this with everyone in your life……
Here are 8 simple ways to make a disciple.
1. Invite people who you see have potential, whether they see it or not.
2. Spend lots of time together in a very small group out of the spotlight.
3. Let them see the cracks in your life.
4. Let them know the pain and struggles that comes from being like you.
5. Show them the infrastructure behind the scenes.
6. Trust them with your identity.
7. Trust them with their project.
8. Bless them.
(Actually, there is only one way. Show them your life.)

Read the article here.

(RT: ‘Making Disciples’ Facebook page)