I’ve talked a lot about community on this platform.
Whether in terms of Christian friendship, the stretching of community that we have seen in the pandemic, or just how much I believe in the power of relationships to change the world, I think it should be pretty clear by now how highly I value our various attempts to know and love each other better together.
Likewise, I’ve never been shy to talk about how much of an impact community has had on my personal walk with Christ. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain just how much you have all meant to me–especially my church family at St. Andrew’s, my colleagues at Youth Unlimited, and my Christian friends from all walks of life, but also all of those who have been lights in my life only for a short time.
Unfortunately, I’m also all too aware that some of the communities that would welcome me have turned away others, by both word and deed. I don’t think I need to list the many ways that the community of believers has fallen short of its founder and perfecter; ask any non-Christian friend and they’ll surely be able to tell you at least one thing that, if it didn’t scare them off of Christianity entirely, has certainly helped to do so.
Come to think of it, I wrote that rhetorically, but maybe it’s not that bad an idea.
And it isn’t limited only to our churches. Our governments, organizations, institutions, and even families and friend groups all have areas in need of change to be more loving, healing, and sustaining–ergo, Christlike.
As Christians, we are told that we are ultimately accountable to God, and that, when we inevitably stumble as humans are prone to do, we have Christ as a gracious mediator, demonstrating his power and willingness to forgive and redeem, even on the cross. However, as Jesus’ life and ministry clearly demonstrate (see Matthew 18:15-17 or Matthew 7:3-5 for example), if we are to claim that the Kingdom of God is here and is coming, we also have to make ourselves accountable to each other here on Earth.
As serious as it is, accountability doesn’t have to be scary, because it’s more than just having to give a record of your transgressions–or at least it can.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes that “if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:1-2). Yes there is some caution involved–in stressful situations it can often be tempting to fall into behaviours that prioritize our own fears over the needs of others–but overall, it is a message of grace and restoration.
Accountable communities can help one become more Christlike. They can be places of encouragement. They can be validating outlets for service, using your spiritual gifts to serve one another. They can be opportunities to co-construct knowledge and skills. They can also be places, sometimes, to follow Jesus’ example to share in one another’s suffering and pain, and just as often (sometimes at the same time) to share in joy.
Kamal, my girlfriend, is one such person who helps keep me accountable. When I share my goals, she will not hesitate to help keep me on track by following up with me, checking in on me, and motivating me to keep moving in the right direction. All the while, I know her efforts don’t come from a place of condemnation, but of confidence; she cares about me for who I am, and desires, as I do, for me to continue to grow, and, in this case, keep my commitments.
While each of us has our own choices, responsibilities, and weights to carry, and at certain times, we will have to carry them alone, but one goal of an accountable community is to lighten the burden for all. As the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline puts it, “support without accountability leads to moral weakness; accountability without support is a form of cruelty.”
Ultimately, the key to accountability is direction–what is the agreed goal of the community? Though Christians may differ on understandings and styles of worship, our direction as a church should always go towards Christ, and through Christ to the world. Likewise, as followers of Christ who participate in other communities in the world–whether they be nations, businesses, advocacy groups, families, workplaces, classrooms, you name it–we have a responsibility to model and advocate for a Christ-like love–in policy, behaviour, representation, speech, and character.
How would our churches, nations, and other communities be changed if we not only modeled a love that includes the marginalized, clothes the naked, cares for the sick, and stands with the disenfranchised, but also held each other in correction and encouragement to this kind of love? How would we be changed?
We need relationships that lead us to purpose. We need relationships that guide us by the love of Christ, not only our own interests. I personally think that to have a Godly community means to have people who aren’t perfect but their direction is set towards Jesus.
Fundamentally though, if our goal is restorative accountability, where we address issues head on before they can fester and do too much damage, we need to lead from a place of love and grace.
Our communities can be a place for fear, punishment, and isolation, or they can be a place of hope, growth, and communication. If we want the latter, perhaps we can follow the model of our Lord, who asks people from all walks of life to follow him, calls for righteousness nonetheless, and paves the way with forgiveness.
It takes a village to raise a village.
Editorial assistance provided by Laura Goslinski.