How to Find Spiritual Support Partners

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Everybody needs a few good friends. And everybody especially needs good friends who support your key values and believe in your potential. If you’re a Christian, this means friends who are also Christians; who hold you accountable for living as a Christian under pressure; and who also respond with Christian grace when you make a mistake or expect too much of yourself.

Many believers find this works best with a formally organized “accountability group,” where two to six people meet regularly for the specific purpose of “encouraging one another and building each other up.” They share prayer requests, prayer time, and candid assessments of their personal struggles. They focus on how each member can help all the others grow into the most effective Christians they can be.

If this approach appeals to you, here are a few ideas for starting and maintaining a group:

Keep It Small

There’s a reason for limiting accountability groups to no more than six people: larger groups hamper ability to make time for, and keep track of, everyone as an individual. Groups of seven or more are best kept in Bible studies and general fellowship events.

Choose Your Fellow Members Carefully

An effective accountability group can’t be built by inviting just anyone you enjoy spending time with; your “accountability sessions” will soon become casual socialization sessions with little real spiritual-growth benefit. And probably the group itself will end in a mass falling away or, worse, a mass quarrel.

Choose people who meet all the following criteria:

  • Can be trusted to keep intimate confidences.
  • Are willing to speak even hard truth in love, and have discretion to know when it’s needed.
  • Are able and willing to be at every meeting–exceptions made only for the most serious emergencies or for occasional occasions planned weeks in advance.

Have a Firm Agenda

A “be at every meeting” rule may sound harsh in an age when every unexpected business call or exhausting day is considered cause for cancelling plans on the spot. But if you’re serious about growing spiritually and supporting your friends in doing the same, you can’t treat it as a low priority to be dropped when something better comes up. (Incidentally, the same can be said for attending church and having personal quiet times. The Western church is full of well-meaning believers who are “too busy” to grow their relationships with God, then wonder why God seems distant and they feel like spiritual failures.)

Other principles for an effective accountability-group agenda:

  • Have a set meeting time and place. If you’re rotating your meetings between members’ homes, have a set order.
  • Appoint a leader to keep things on schedule. You may want to rotate this responsibility; in any case, emphasize taking a kind but firm hand.
  • Allow some time for socializing and refreshments, but keep that time limited. Don’t let it hijack the majority of the meeting, or it will soon become the meeting’s primary focus. The bulk of the meeting should be share and prayer time.
  • Don’t let the “share” time steal from the prayer time, either. All too many “prayer request” sessions take the following route: one member describes her current struggles, others start offering on-the-spot advice in their own wisdom, the conversation deters into a long side route; and after this has been repeated with everyone in the circle, there’s “no time” left for real prayer. This way may be better than nothing, but it’s hardly the best way to nurture everyone’s connection with God and not just fellow believers.
  • Everyone takes a turn at prayer, either in each meeting or as a specific meeting’s prayer leader.
  • Everyone keeps notes on her fellow members’ concerns; prays for them regularly up to the next meeting; and is prepared to give an update, at the next meeting, on progress in her own areas of concern.

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As with spiritual growth itself, maintaining an effective accountability group isn’t easy. But for those who are willing to commit, it can lead to miraculous results in confidence, personal effectiveness, and closeness to God.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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