Several days ago, many of us became aware of the tragic situation unfolding in Wake Forest, NC involving criminal charges and shattered lives at Southeastern Seminary. I want to write about something that has struck me in all of this, but I want to do so carefully and graciously. As we comment and think about this, I think we should stick to the subject here, accountability, and try to step back from the situation that prompted these thoughts.
I was riding home from class the other night with a classmate from one of my classes. He’s staggering through the material about as unsteadily as I, so we have a lot in common. He mentioned his church accountability group, something he mentions frequently, so I posed the following question:
Would an accountability group be able to help avoid the kind of thing that seems to have happened in Wake Forest?
His response, in essence, in quotes:
“Yes. Well, maybe…I think it would have helped. It depends both on the group and the individuals. I was part of a group back when I lived in Durango. I attended faithfully and talked a lot. But, my comments were shallow and I was not open with the other guys. In fact, while I was attending this accountability group, I was truly, deeply involved in porn. I was sunk into it and had no regrets, all while attending church, being involved in various departments, and making comments during our accountability meetings.
“After I moved here to this area, I joined a church and signed up for a brand new group. I walked in and the first guy to talk, maybe the leader, opened with a story about how many of his struggles link to his abusive parents. The next guy gambled often. Another one had anger issues. And on, and on, and on. I sat there and realized that these guys were totally open. Completely. They were saved, but they struggled with the scars left by their past sins, scars that led them down dark pathways and dead-end streets. They were unafraid of their scars. And I decided to be open, too.
“In a quality accountability group, once you open up, people can tell if you start closing yourself off from them. Once you’ve shown them you, they know you and will call you out when you start faking it. I’ve been porn-free since I joined that group and couldn’t go back to it now, and still be a part of this group. They would catch it. In a heartbeat. So in that other situation, it only would have helped in an open group that allowed or even required him to be open.”
I’m an IMB guy. I work with nationals more than with company people. As a result of my relative isolation, I could skip church, use porn, have a mistress, drink heavily, neglect my duties, falsify expense reports, inflate baptism numbers, cheat on my online seminary classes, beat my kids, neglect my wife….and no one would ever know. What’s more, a lot of IMBers are in this position. What keeps us on the path when we enter those spiritually dry times? How do we address our pet sins and problem areas?
Pastors, how do you? Deacons, who have you invited to look over your shoulders? Lay church members, how open are you with people who can help you see your missteps and foibles?
We are getting ready to head back to the field soon, and I think I’m going to do something different. I’m going to choose personal accountability. I’m going to contact some new missionaries and say, “Hey, let’s help each other.” I’m going to send video messages to other friends around the world, people I know who work alone, and say, “Let’s do what we can to keep each other on the right path. Let’s be honest. Let’s build trust and then rely on that trust to push each other to greater holiness and better moral living.”
You, my brothers and my sisters, get up and grab someone and say, “Help me, and I’ll help you. If one falls down, the other can help him up. Let’s be a cord of three strands, that we might not break.” It won’t be easy, because you’ll have to be honest; and if you are leader, you’ll have to lead the way to honesty by setting an example. Lay it out there, men and women. Don’t be afraid of admitting that you are flawed. It takes bravery, yes. It takes confidence in your status as a flawed yet saved child of God. It requires trust, and the ability to survive if that trust is ever broken.
There’s a reason that the church was always a community in the New Testament. There’s a reason Jesus sent the disciples out two-by-two. There’s a reason man and woman join. There’s a reason for all these things: it is not good to live our lives all alone.