When I was a young boy, there were certain questions that I always hoped my parents would never ask. Even as a child, I knew that they asked these questions for my own good but I still dreaded the questions.
One of our neighbors had an apple tree on her property. I had convinced myself that taking apples off that tree really wasn’t stealing. It wasn’t quite the right thing to do but it wasn’t as if I had gone into a store and stole some candy off the shelf. I had decided that it probably wasn’t the thing to do but the adventure of sneaking up to the tree and taking the apples without getting caught made it okay.
One night, along with a few of my siblings, I had helped myself to a bag full of those apples and was headed home to enjoy them. We walked in our driveway just as my parents got home and before we could hide the evidence, they saw what we were carrying.
The moment that they stepped out of the car, they asked the question that none of us wanted to hear.
Where did those come from?
Caught almost in the act, we had no choice but to admit what we had done. I tried all the rationalizations that had worked for me on them but they didn’t buy any of it. Stealing was stealing and it was wrong and that was all there was to the discussion.
My parents were pretty wise in the punishment that they handed out. We were told that we had to walk back to the house where we had stolen the apples. We were to knock on the door. Then we were to tell the person what we had done and apologize for our actions.
As a young child that was one of the longest walks that I ever took. In fact we might have set a record for the slowest half-mile walk in history. We discussed what we would say all the way to her house and then we looked at each other to see who would knock on the door and do the talking. The lot fell on me.
The person who answered the door was much too forgiving. She probably should have made us squirm a little more than she did. In fact she not only gave us the apples that we were returning but she told us that we could help ourselves to the apples whenever we wished. I don’t think that I ever took another apple from a tree without the permission of the owner.
My parents could have punished me in a variety of ways but having to return to the scene of the crime drove the lesson home in a way that I never forgot. They weren’t concerned about punishing me. They were concerned about teaching me that stealing was wrong and no amount of rationalization could ever make it right. Their question was one that at the time I didn’t want to hear but one that I am so glad now that they asked.
Asking the right questions in the church
We would all be better off if some difficult questions were asked within the church. Too often our main concern in our churches is that we keep people happy because happy people don’t leave and go some where else. Our goal becomes meeting people’s perceived needs so that they don’t wander.
The goal of every church should be helping people grow into mature, passionate followers of Jesus Christ. Often that requires challenging people in some area of their Christian walk.
One of the exciting aspects of being a Christian is that we never arrive this side of heaven. As long as we are here on earth there will always be some weak area in our lives in which the Holy Spirit needs to do his transforming work. From the pastor down to the youngest child, there is no one who doesn’t need to grow in some area.
This is why accountability needs to be an important part of church life. We need to be part of each other’s lives in a way that the difficult questions get asked.
We often don’t take sin very seriously. We get excited about the “serious” sins but we don’t worry very much about the others. Someone can struggle with anger without anyone ever confronting him. Someone else might struggle with hurtful gossip but no one ever comes along side to help her master her tongue. Other people might be failing as parents but no one challenges them to become better. Our churches are filled with people who are failing in some aspect of living and help is never offered.
Accountability would probably take a different form in different churches but we are failing our people if it isn’t happening at all. None of us are equipped to grow into mature followers on our own.
So what kind of questions need to be asked? The following are just samples but they convey the point that I want to make.
- How are you doing in your walk with God?
- What aspect of character is the Holy Spirit working on at this point in your life?
- Have you shared your faith with anyone lately and how did it go if you did?
- What has God taught you lately?
- Is there anything in your life that you are struggling to get victory over right now?
- How are you doing as a husband/wife?
- What is frustrating about your children right now?
- What practical lessons have you learned from the Bible lately?
- Have you had any God experiences lately?
- Is there anything that you would love to do for God if you had the chance?
These aren’t easy questions to ask and they are probably even more difficult to answer but they could be an important part of your people’s growth and ultimately that is what the church is all about. God wants each person to become a mature, passionate follower of Jesus Christ and that is much more difficult to accomplish if there isn’t some aspect of accountability in a person’s life.
We live is a very individualistic society in which we have bought into the idea that each person’s private life is his or her own business and we have no right sticking our noses into it. That is not a biblical principle although we have accepted it as such. My devotional life is my own business and no one has the right to ask me about it. My witnessing is my own business and no one has the right to challenge me if I don’t do it. My serving others is private and no one should ever ask me what I am doing for others. Those statements are not Christian and they are not biblical.
As part of the body we have a responsibility to every other part of the body. As part of God’s family we have a responsibility to each of our brothers and sisters in the faith. As part of the building every stone is in relationship with every other stone. As part of our life together some times we need to ask the hard questions. As part of our life together we need to have other people ask the hard questions of us.
The goal is not to be part of a happy contented group of Christians. It is to be part of a group of people willing to pay the price of asking difficult questions in order to become mature, passionate followers of Jesus Christ.