I recently made a new friend. She’s been struggling with finding real, authentic community. One night I hung out with her and her boyfriend, and we had a great conversation. We did the whole “get to know you” thing: How old are you? How many people are in your family? How long have you and your boyfriend been dating? What part of town do you live in? Do you have roommates?
It was all fine and dandy until that last question. The night was coming to a close, and she told me she didn’t have any roommates. As it turns out, that wasn’t exactly the truth. After we parted ways, she called me to tell me she hadn’t been honest about her living situation. She does have a roommate — her boyfriend. During the hour-long conversation to follow, I was able to share my thoughts on God’s heart for purity, holiness and marriage. I shared some scripture with her and some revelations I’ve received from observing different friends’ relationships. Though my advice wasn’t condemning in the least, the Holy Spirit was convicting her. She talked about her conflicting feelings regarding the situation, confessing how hard it is to follow Christ in this area.
The next day, I texted her several verses; they were only meant as an encouragement, a prompt for her to consider and pray through. A couple of days later she texted to tell me she was offended by the Scriptures and felt I was judging her and her boyfriend. I apologized if she received it that way (but I will never apologize for speaking the truth of Scripture).
The whole situation reminded me not everyone wants true community — and with that, accountability — regardless of how much they say otherwise. And that’s okay. I wouldn’t force someone into that type of relationship. But it did get me thinking about the many misconceptions regarding community. Accountability, that dirty A-word we all cringe a little upon hearing, has been used and abused so often in Christian culture. Most of the time, we do accountability wrong, far from the way God intended for us to be responsible to each other.
“So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Romans 14:12
Accountability: (n) the quality or state of being accountable, liable, or responsible; an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions
As Christians, we realize we’re accountable to God. We come to see our sin, and then we confess it. True repentance keeps company with accountability — the need to acknowledge the wrong we’ve committed. Grace is empty without realizing why we require it.
Community Requires (More Than) Confession
So many people forsake accountability because they believe it begin and ends with the confession of sin. This misunderstanding loses the heart of what accountability and community truly are. With accountability comes honesty and grace. Some of us have been lucky enough to find these kinds of relationships, and we’ve never once use the word “accountability” to describe them. These connections are so strong they withstand the weight of sin, insecurity and fear. There’s not blind acceptance, but in these relationships there’s a Christ-like grace that says “I see you, even in your sin, and I recognize that none of this is too messy or unspeakable for Jesus, so let’s seek Him together.”
Strong community also serves to call out gold in people’s lives. It’s about seeing the possibilities of who God’s calling them to be. It’s about viewing them through the eyes of Christ. It’s about about speaking to the unlimited potential in their lives.
When I’m 100 percent honest with my own failings and successes, I trust you when you say I’m lovable. When I’ve told you the worst things I’ve done (and thought), your affirmations of my strengths mean that much more. But when we dilute our community with shallow conversations and a handful of half-truths, we can’t rely on the advice or encouragement that’s given because we know that person doesn’t have all the facts. And, I know, it’s scary to give people permission to see the dark corners of your heart, but when they choose to make a home there, that feeling is so much sweeter.
We don’t live on islands all alone. We live in a world with billions of people. We go to school and work with people. We shop, eat, workout, travel — all among people. We can’t escape them. God was and is ridiculously intentional with this set up. We all have strengths and weakness. We have clear perspectives, and we have blind spots. His design is for us to be in communion with each other bringing prayer, support, guidance, wisdom, truth and at times correction to each other’s lives (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
Start cultivating a community that’s build on honesty in all things (including the confession of sin). And these sin-sessions don’t have to resemble going into a confessional. More often than not in my own relationships, the confession of sin comes out with a sigh, quickly followed by “I know I shouldn’t be doing that, and I’m sure it traces back to fear that God will provide, but I keep letting it grip my life.” Being vulnerable about weaknesses and needs is great, but being vulnerable about where we’re screwing up? That’s pretty great too. We’re not perfect, and we don’t have this following Christ thing all figured out. That’s why we need each other.
In community we’re better able to both serve and see God, and that means our relationships are conduits for growing our faith. If we’re limiting ourselves to being in relationship with people who never really see us, we’re limiting how God can use and shape us through those channels. There’s a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit and a strength in community that builds us up and enables us to live lives that are being transformed from glory to glory, and I’d hate for us to miss that out of a fear of confessing sin — or worse, a fear of being known.
Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in 2016.