In any group where people are serious about growth there is always that difficult question that needs to be asked, “How did you go with what you said you were going to do?”
All good groups seek to implement what they are learning. There is little point in studying about loving one another if there is no effort to change throughout the week. It really doesn’t matter how much we know about Jesus or the commands of Jesus or anything else the Bible has to offer if we aren’t seeking to live it out. I’m not talking about getting it right the first time we try but I am talking about making progress. Jesus didn’t say in the Great Commission “teach them to know everything I taught you”. He said, “teach them to obey all that I taught you.” We are supposed to be on a journey of becoming like Jesus. That implies progress of action and not just thought.
If you are going to ask the group, “What are you going to do this week given what we have been learning?” then take the time the following week to ask them how they went with it. If they know you won’t ask them then there is a good chance they won’t bother trying. When people know that you are going to ask they are more likely to try. Call it laziness, call it busyness call it apathy. If they know you are going to ask then they are more likely to do. So make sure you ask. They want to grow. Honour that desire and make sure you ask the question.
In many groups this time of questioning is called “Accountability”. It’s a horrible word though. It’s a confusing word. Who are they accountable to? The group? God? You? It’s a horrible word because it doesn’t really explain what you are trying to do. If you aren’t careful it degenerates into law. Law is where you state the standard and if they fall short you reaffirm the standard and send them out to try harder. The law is useless when it comes to change. Encouraging someone to do something they can’t is soul crushing. Please, if someone has tried something and they can’t do it then, please, discourage them from trying harder. Trying harder is rarely the answer (admittedly it is the answer when people didn’t really try in the first place but most people who are serious about change are trying really hard).
Instead of applying the law you want to apply grace. Grace is where you state the standard and if they fall short the group, together as a community of God and with God, seeks to help them to grow beyond this sticking point. Grace is receiving something you don’t deserve. That’s what this time is about. Receiving from the community. Allowing their love and acceptance to help you move forward and to change.
What does law and grace look like? Imagine a person belonging to discipleship group who wants to stop yelling at their kids every night trying to get them to bed. In the law group they confess that they yelled 3 times during the week. Their confession is heard. The group prays that they have more strength and self-control next time. That’s the law. In the grace-filled group they confess that they yelled 3 times during the week. Their confession is heard. The group asks how they can help? They decide to call just before bed time to help prepare for the evening routine. They discuss different strategies for motivating the children instead of yelling. They find one new method and take time to practice that in the group so the person feels more competent and confident to try it during the week. They pray together for growth in self-control.
In my groups, to be really clear about what we are seeking to do, I call it grace time. It’s a time where I am going to ask, graciously, the tough questions about an area they said they wanted to grow in. It’s not a time of condemnation. It’s not a time of law. It’s not a time of waving the disappointed finger at them. It’s a time of grace. It’s a time of receiving the support and love of the group to help them become the person they want to be.