Amber Wackford writes a three-part series on friendship, accountability, and the Fruit of the Spirit. If accountability is unique to spiritual friendship, then it must reflect or bring out the fruit of the Spirit. If it is not kind, it is not accountability. If it is not gentle, it is not accountability. If it does not promote peace or inspire faithfulness, it is not accountability. Because the point in anything we do in the community of the Church is to get each other closer to God.
This Part 2 of a three part series on accountability in friendship. Access the rest of the series here:
If you ask me, one of the biggest problems facing the church today is that we don’t know who our “opponents” are anymore. We make a lot of guesses, and most of them are wrong because most of the time we’re picking fights with people who are just like us—a little lost and confused and fumbling through life counting on prayer and the grace of God. I suspect this is why Paul tells Timothy to “be kind to everyone.” Most people aren’t the enemy. Most people could use a little kindness. Just like us.
But I think we forget that we’re more alike than we are different, and we make opponents out of each other. We decide that because someone thinks differently about women pastors, or creation and evolution, or wine with dinner then they are out of step with God and an opponent of all things holy.
But what if they aren’t? What if they’re people whose study of the Bible and wrestling with faith has just simply led them to a different conclusion? And what if the challenge of that different perspective were actually able to encourage us into more study and deeper faith? What if the people we think are our opponents are actually people God put into our lives to be our friends?
We’re never going to figure any of this out, though, if we can’t be kind. In church, this means we have to play nice even when we’re talking about our screw-ups and fumblings and sin. It’s a basic kindergarten rule that in Jesus-language sounds like, “being of the same mind” and “maintaining the same love” and being “united in the Spirit” (Phil. 2:2). This doesn’t mean we agree with each other on every point of theology or issue or that we sit silently while someone makes a harmful or destructive decision. Rather, it means we remember that every time we do speak, we do so because of love and because we need each other to get closer to God.
And because if we respond to each other in a way that is anything but kind, we drive each other further away from God.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was teaching Sunday school to middle school and high school girls at the same church I had grown up in. Every week, twenty or so of us would cram into a third-floor classroom and talk about Jesus and faith and what it looks like to be a Christian person in this world. We would pray together and share stories, and we developed together a safe place to be for an hour, week after week, when the world felt especially brutal. And as their teacher, that hour every Sunday was often the best part of my week. Because they were—and still are—smart, thoughtful, beautiful young women who weren’t content to simply be told how to be a person of faith. They lived—and still live—engaged in the world with a wide openness that sets them up to experience real pain and real beauty. Because it was never enough for them to hear about God, they wanted to see Him at work in their families, and schools, and jobs, and sports teams. They wanted to know that all the stuff we talked about on Sundays had real significance in their real lives Monday through Saturday too. I loved them for that because, if I’m being honest, I was looking for the same kind of things in my post-college, twenty-something, grown-up life too.
Which is why it was so devastating to make the decision to leave teaching and youth group and that home church I loved so much.
But I’m not sure there’s another choice when months and months of sitting in meeting after meeting with church leadership is more about gossip than God. I’m not sure there’s another choice when the most fruitful and mature conversations are not with the grown-ups and leaders of a church but with teenagers who are desperately looking to see God in life’s messes. I’m not sure there’s another choice when the way of “accountability” starts to sound less like the fruit of the Spirit and more like an assassination of character.
Still, I wonder how different things could have been at my home church in a really hard season if we had all just remembered to play nice. I wonder what would have happened if we’d remembered Paul’s words to Timothy and we’d never made enemies out of one another. I think maybe we could have, in a time of chaos and change, walked each other closer to God—together, as a church, as a community of faith, as servants of the Lord.