We’ve been blessed with two beautiful children: a boy and a girl. So whenever I conduct a wedding I intently observe the father walk his daughters down the aisle knowing I will one day fulfill that role. I try to put myself in his shoes: so many memories, so much emotion, such loving concern. She’ll always be “Daddy’s little girl” but now she’s about to become someone’s bride. In those moments I wonder: whom will I give my daughter to one day? What type of man will I entrust her to?
I’ll entrust my daughter to a follower of Jesus. I don’t mean convert to Christianity in the broad sense; I mean deliberate disciple – one who lives to emulate Jesus, obey his teachings; one who lives in relationship with him. Such a man, although young and imperfect, will continue to grow in grace – the Lord Himself forever shaping and helping that man. That young man is never alone as the Lord is always at hand. With him my daughter is safe!
I’ll entrust my daughter to a faithful friend. I don’t necessarily mean her friend although it would be nice. But there will be enough time to grow deep friendship after their wedding as marriage is per definition a promise ofcompanionship, friendship. But I will easily entrust my daughter to a man who has a track record of good, lasting friendships. Yes, I’ll look at his friends and consider his level of commitment, but in principle if this young man could show himself faithful in friendship to others for more than five years, he has proven his character to be devoted to my daughter. He has love for people that overflows in real relationships, and people respond and stick with him. God says if he was faithful with his friends he will be faithful with her. These solid friendships not only provide safety to their friend, but also to their spouse – there is accountability and support in those relationships. In such a relationship my daughter is not vulnerable and alone; these friendships will provide security and support and will keep them on track.
I’ll entrust my daughter to a courageous, humble person. I’ll gladly give my daughter to a man who lives not to please himself, but who considers and esteems others more than himself. A man who stands up for others even when it hurts himself. But humility is more than servitude; humility also implies being teachable. I’d entrust my daughter to someone who has this intellectually humility – someone who can acknowledge his wrong, who asks for help and takes the counsel of other people. God says he gives grace to the humble, and with such a man my daughter’s future will be secure.
I’ll entrust my daughter to someone kind. A kind person gives generously and forgives easily. A kind man responds to the needs of those around him by helping and blessing without obligation. This man is selfless and generous, and with such a man my wife will always feel loved, always feel cherished. With such a man her heart is safe. And God says that a kind, generous man will receive kindness and generosity from him.
I’ll entrust my daughter to a gentle man. Yes, it would be great if she marries a gentleman: a well-rounded, good-mannered person. But I mean gentle as in self-controlled, or meek as in older English, someone who has learned to remain calm and resist outbursts and retaliation. A meek man is patient, has the ability to control himself when provoked, can also resists temptations, and can take a step back to make room for others to grow. This gentle person is driven by principle and not by emotion; God promises to bless such a man with authority and entrustment. So such a person I can entrust my daughter knowing that his strength will provide safety and bring no harm.
Although I desire the best for my little girl, these qualities are what I pray her husband should be. A young man who fears and follows Jesus with his friendships. A man who has a gentle, kind and humble heart. Such a man is blessed by God and will be good to my girl. If she chooses such a man I’ll gladly hand her over at the end of the aisle.
I will always cherish the first 3½ years of planting and pastoring Shofar Pretoria – the time when I was still working as engineer in the Air Force. It was a busy time for me – I worked during the day, studied post-graduate engineering part time, and also pursued relationship with Magriet whom I later married. So my ministry in the church was really “part-time”: leading prayer meetings on Monday evening, teaching in Bible School on Tuesdays, attending small group meetings on Wednesday evenings, regular outreaches or discipleship courses on Saturdays, ending with Sunday services. The reason why I cherished this memory is for two reasons: firstly I did not get paid to do for a long time; I did it because I loved God and his church. And secondly this “part-time” ministry inspired everyone in church to value and participate in our times together. Since I did not “work for the church” everyone “worked in the church” – we all pulled together and shared responsibility. There was such a joyful, selfless spirit of serving in the church!
Also, the pastor who worked – as everyone else – meant there was no elitism, no class difference between the “spiritual” and the “secular” people. It made not just “volunteering” and “activities” in church normative – it made every type of ministry in church normative.
So the fact that the pastor worked inspired unreserved partnership in and ownership of the congregation – each pulled their weight joyfully. And this high degree of involvement and service set the tone for a growing, learning church. There were no passive, stagnant church members – every member was minister.
A warm environment
One of the key characteristics in Shofar Pretoria right from the offset was the warm and authentic relationships. It usually takes a while to cultivate such an accepting, loving relational environment, but this was true form the offset in the church.
Very early in the church plant I boldly approached six of my very close Air Force engineering friends (who served God and studied with me in Stellenbosch) to help us in the church plant. One by one they agreed and came in to help with the church plant.
Our friendship was cultivated over a period of six years by that time, having gone through Basic Military Training, Officers Course and engineering studies together. Our friendship was robust and sincere, having been forged in good times and hard times. By then we really knew each other well and loved each other sincerely. That meant there was no pretense among us; we were well aware of one another’s strengths and weaknesses and we had the habit of watching out for one another.
So when these young men joined the church they did so exclusively to help build the church – they “came not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). When I asked them they were already attending other congregations, but they came over to help build a church in which a friend – whom they knew well, fully aware of all his flaws and mistakes – was pastoring. Their loyalty and devotion to a friend caused them one by one to prayerfully join the church to help build the church.
Another man is worth mentioning here: my brother Conrad van Niekerk. When we started with services in Pretoria Conrad served as Lieutenant in the Military Medical School in Pretoria. He was frustrated with his work, not really seeing a future career there, and not in a good space. He was on the point of leaving for greener fields in the UK when he made a vow to God to put his career and life on hold to serve and help me, his younger brother, to build the church.
I must mention that most of the initial church planting team also knew each other really well from our days in Shofar in Stellenbosch from years together in campus ministry and medium term outreaches. But when these men joined with their tight working relationships and the sole motive to help build, it added much momentum.
The coming of this “band of brothers” early in the church plant set the tone for the culture in the church: a warm relational culture of loyalty, service, transparency and accountability was formed. From the offset these Christian values were visible and normative in the relationships of the young congregation. And because they were a relatively large in the beginning the new members who joined the church were disciple in this warm, honest and selfless culture.
In the next post “the blessings of influence” I will reflect on my insights gained as I reflected on how the church grew, and it might challenge some people’s view of church-growth a little.
During a relationship seminar some time ago, my wife was asked why she felt safe to marry me. She answered that my close friends gave her assurance for two reasons: I had the ability to maintain long-term relationships, and secondly she felt safe because if I lose my mind one day, she knows my friends will bring me back on track – she is not alone in our marriage. I smiled that day realizing that my friendship with these men will not only preserve my marriage, but also my faith, character and reputation since they will call me to account to my promises, beliefs and values.
Accountability friendships acts as an anchor for a ship, preventing one from drifting slowly with the current of sensuality or heresy by keeping you on course, or like that voice in your car’s GPS that tells you have missed a turn and helps you to recalculate a route to your original destination. Like that voice, accountability friends will not keep quite until you return to the original path. But accountability relationships can do much more than that voice.
I cherish accountability. Being in ministry for more than 12 years I learned of so many godly, anointed people who fall into sin or go astray in some strange path or get derailed because of some immorality or harness of heart, having no-one to call them to account. On the contrary, I have also seen marriages on the brink of divorce turned around because friends intervened – holding the couple not only accountable their vows but also to their hope, faith and values. And this intervention is necessary every so often since both seduction and pain make one act hastily and irresponsible, steering one of course. Adam and Eve, our perfect parents, show us that no-one is immune to seduction or deception – we all need someone to speak into our lives.
Sadly, accountability is not popular or easy in our intensely individualistic society. We value autonomy and cherish privacy and the freedom of choice above everything else. “It is none of your business!” and “I have the right to be happy!” are the creeds of our time. To make matters worse our society also values tolerance and therefore have a distaste for confrontation. Thus we tend to keep quiet about matters that might ruin our friends’ lives.
What does it mean to be accountable? It literally means “to give account” like an income and expense statement, or to be answerable for what was entrusted to you. Phrases such as “bring into the light” or simply “to make known” are synonymous to accountability.
The concept of accountability is not foreign to our society. For example, someone will willingly submit himself to an alcohol rehabilitation center makes himself answerable to the staff of the facility for the professed desire to be free from the substance and it’s destructive effects on his life. How? He gives permission for the staff of the facility to do random and scheduled urine tests and inspections, and invites accountability questions in the hope to be delivered from the addiction. Or one who signs up for WeighLess receives a prescribed diet and is answerable for compliance to the diet, while progress is measured with scheduled weighing. An athlete must give account to her coach for her adherence to a summer exercise program and performance is periodically measured in accordance to her goals for the season. Students who enroll for a course get tested academically in exams. The store manager, human resource manager and finance manager give account of what is entrusted to them both formally in audits, and informally in meetings. In these spheres our society know the value of accountability; it is not a strange concept for us.
For the Christian, at conversion (and more specifically at baptism and public confession of our faith) we sign up for a life of allegiance to Christ our Lord. This is called a life of discipleship: a commitment to be trained in and live a life based on the teachings of Jesus, as well as participation in his mission in this world. On of this we must give account – today, as Paul demonstrated when he confronted Peter for “not acting in line with truth of the Gospel” (Galatians 2:12-14) and when Christ returns to judge the world. And to that end accountability relationships must keep us on track.
Accountability in practice
Ultimately, “each of us will give an account of himself before God” (Romans 14:12). This includes both our public actions and personal thoughts and desires (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). The result will be rewards for the good and punishment for the wicked (Revelation 22:12). We cannot escape this Day of Accountability (or Judgment) – our actions and inner thoughts and motives will be clear to all. It is with this Day in mind that the apostles urge us to “work out [our]own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) and “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).
God appoints leaders to whom we must give account (Romans 13:1-2; Hebrews 4:13) – this includes parents of children (Psalm 127:3-5). These leaders must also give account of your soul to God (Hebrews 13:17) as Jesus did at the night of his arrest saying: “while I was with them, I kept them in your name… I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except [Judas]” (John 17:11-12).
But this concerned accountability of one another is not only the responsibility of leaders. Each of us should willingly give an account to one another – to “walk in the light” (1 John 1:7). We do so because we “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2, 5:16-20). Therefore accountability requires honestyconfession (1 John 1:6-9; James 5:15-20; see also Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:25) – an honest revealing of our thoughts, desires, habits and behavior, including confession of sins and failure (James 5:15). The response of the hearer must be loving correction and support in restoration of the ones who are caught in sin (Galatians 6:1-2).
Similarly, each of us are tasked to be your “brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:9) – meaning to hold one another accountable for our behavior seeing as we ought to “be doers of the word” (James 1:22) and “walk worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10; compare Ephesians 4:1), meaning to representing Him well. We do this to help one another walk in integrity – to ensure our confession and actions line up.
Accountability requires encouragement and exhortation (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13) to stay faithful to Christ in allegiance to him and not drift away (Hebrews 2:1-4), to continue to grow spiritually (Hebrews 6:1-2) and to faithfully continue doing what the Lord had commanded (2 Timothy 4:2,5). We are instructed to “consider how to spur one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). From this text it is clear that we focus not on sins, but on growth in Christ-like love and goodness. And this takes creative thoughts.
Accountability also requires admonishing and correcting one another (Colossians 3:16) where there is a sin or character weakness to “shape the face [read character] of a friend” (Proverbs 27:17). This must be done in wisdom (Jude 1:23), “in gentleness” (Galatians 6:1-2) and “in love so we all can grow up in every way into …Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). But is must be done! Do not avoid speaking of the sins.
Elements of accountability friendship
A lifestyle of accountability requires a loving, trusting relationship. This does not need to be a “fuzzy warm friendship” – simply a relationship where two (or more) friends agree to pursue Christ-likeness and agree to walk together (Amos 3:3). This leads to a discipline of confession and a culture where we ask each other what the Lord is doing in one another’s life or what is the state of our finances, calendar, heart, mind, and relationships. A commitment to transparent and truthful conversations. These conversations will result in applauding, admonishing and affirmation, or said in another way complimenting, comforting and correcting. The most difficult of these three is the humility for correction. Being open to receive correction means we must maintain a humble, teachable mind (1 Peter 3:8), not despising corrective counsel (Proverbs 25:12). But this must always be coupled with encouragement. The aim is always to help one another grow in the likeness, knowledge and obedience of Christ our Lord.
Suggested accountability questions
In closing I suggest some questions to use in your accountability friendships. Use them, tweak them, add or replace according to the needs in the relationship.
Devotions: “Did you pray daily and read your Bible daily this week? What is God saying?”
Thoughts: “What habitual thoughts are worrisome to you? Tell me about your day-dreams.”
Conduct: “In the last week, was your behavior in any way not worthy of the Lord?”
Obedience: “What has the Lord commanded you to do? When will you obey Him in this command?”
Temptations: “In which areas are you being tempted most these days? Let’s pray for you.”
Witness: “To whom have you shared your testimony this week? Tell me about it! Who did you invite to church or small group?”
Relationships: “Tell me about your key relationships – in which ways are your growing?”
Fellowship: “What did you experience during your Church and cell attendance this week?”
Find a friend (of the same gender preferably) and invite him or her to ask you these questions, and see how the relationship grows in purpose and godly intimacy.
One last thought: who would the Lord ask you about like when he asked Cain “Where is you brother/ sister…?” (Genesis 4:9). Who will call you “brothers-keeper?”