The Nuts and Bolts {Accountability Groups, Part 2}

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Accountability QuestionsYesterday we talked long about my sweet group of six "sisters" and how we have formed a monthly Accountability Group (AG). If you haven’t read that post, you really should go back a day and check it out. Why? Because the practical suggestions I’m about to give won’t make much sense if you haven’t heard the heart motivation behind such an endeavor. In order to give you some practical tips, I’m going go with a Q&A format. These are the questions that others have asked me and seem to come up most often when I talk about my AG.

Q: Do you use a curriculum or a book? How is it different from being in a Bible study?

A: Our AG is not a Bible study. All six of us are in Community Groups within our church where we study the Bible with others several times a month. As well, many of us are in some sort of weekly Bible study with other women during the school year. Because we have great preaching at our church and these other offerings to keep us in the Word, our greatest need as an AG is not for more Biblical knowledge. It is to apply the things we’re already learning. Sometimes we’ll read an article or a short book, but only if it meets a specific purpose and all of us feel the need for more input on that topic.

Q: So, what, exactly DO you do?

A: A typical Wednesday night includes all six of us around one large table. We spend the first part of the evening chatting and catching up over coffee or tea and some simple munchies. We have a tendency to talk and talk; so, we have to keep a close eye on this time.

After a half-hour or so of chatting, we transition to an accountability time where we discuss one topic or a couple of questions that everyone has to answer. The questions require a level of depth and transparency that we have worked into over time. Then we share prayer requests about our specific lives (not about our neighbor’s dog’s toenail issue). Sometimes we pray for each other, right there; sometimes we take the requests and pray throughout the month. We have tried different approaches to prayer like partnering off or doing group emails all month long. Here is a pdf sampler of questions that we have drawn from over the years. As well, you might like this list that my husband, Rick, recently developed for our church staff to use.

Q: Whoa, whoa, whoa! How do you get to a point where you feel so free to be vulnerable and honest with each other? Some of those questions are tough!

A: It took some time. We took the first several months to build up to a place where we could trust each other. We also all agreed to a “covenant” that included things like keeping our discussions confidential. Even my husband doesn’t hear about things others in the group have said. We also committed to always speak with honor and respect for our husbands and family members – even if we’re being vulnerable about a hardship there. And, of course, we are slow to judge and quick to listen. But, at the same time, we’re not easily offended by each other. We’re committed to being open to having Biblical truth lovingly shined on our failures. That’s the whole point. I can remember at least one time where one woman had to follow-up with another member of the group because she was too quick to judge. The two of them worked it out and God was honored by their growth with each other. Lastly, you have to keep in mind that this is a time for you to find accountability and prayer about your own weaknesses and goals, not a time to gossip about someone else who has irritated you!

Q: Is there one leader?

A: Yes, it’s best to have a point person. But she really acts like more of a facilitator than a leader/teacher. She's not a mentor. She's a fellow group-member.

Q: What is a good group size?

A: I suggest four to eight women. More than eight and you won’t all actually get to share. Someone could “hide” in a larger group.

Q: Where and when do you meet?

A: We usually meet in a home. It has to be somewhere private so that you’re not afraid to be overheard. We’ve gone out for special occasions to a coffee shop or restaurant but that’s the exception.

We have picked a regular time and we stick to it, no matter what. Even if someone has to miss. I suggest monthly because weekly is just not feasible for most people. We see each other and talk at other times, of course. Email and sharing in church life together can fill in the gaps.

Q: Do you meet indefinitely?

A: Our group has agreed to continue meeting for several years but I do think it’s best to have an exit strategy so that no one feels bad if they need to stop being a part for some reason. Maybe start with a commitment of two years and then reevaluate yearly. One of our "sisters" just adopted and we've designated ourselves Josiah's aunties. So, I guess that means we'll have to keep meeting for the next 18 years. {wink}

Q: Could a virtual or online community serve the same purpose? 

A: Technically, I suppose it could. For some women, that is necessary. Like if you're the only Christian in your town or something. But, I don't think it's usually best. Because there is no way that women who are far away can see you living life and actually call you out. I have dear, godly friends all over the country from our days serving with Campus Crusade. I would certainly call them for advice anytime and feel a kinship with them. But, they could never hold me accountable the way that these five local women can.

Blessings,

Shannon