We are commanded to grow in our faith and to look more Christlike as time goes on. However, this command was never meant to be something we just did by ourselves. The Bible constantly expects that we will be a part of a local community and that there will be people who know us and walk with us in our Christian life. In fact, churches where people merely attend and do not belong, where they sit in a big service, but nobody knows their struggles and issues is not really doing what the church was made to do. Discipleship is a community event. You are one part of the body—not the whole thing. With that in mind, here are some helpful tips on how to do accountability and confession within a Bible study, home group, or other Christian community.
1. Make Accountability a Priority
We are commanded in James 5:16 to "confess your sins, one to another." Without accountability people will not be able to work through their sins and their spiritual growth will be hindered. The church is not merely for Bible studies, but also times for community, worship, confession, and prayer. The easiest way to make accountability a priority is to set aside time for it as you meet together in groups. Meeting together should be done often (Heb. 10:25). You may not need to have a time for accountability every time you meet, but it needs to be done regularly.
2. Break up men and women
It is fine to hear Scripture taught, worship, and pray for each other together. When it comes to accountability, it is best to split up men and women. Not only is this extremely wise (you don't want woman who struggles with lust confessing to the man that struggles with lust, for example). It also allows for greater freedom with confession. The man who struggles with pornography will not confess that to a group of women. The woman who struggles with weight and body image issues will not confess that to a group of men. This allows people a level of comfort in dealing with their struggles that is good and appropriate.
3. Lead from the front
Your group will confess as much as the leader is willing to confess. If you want them to be honest and to lay their issues on the table, you have to start by doing the same in your life. When someone sees that a leader struggles with sin and is open and honest about it they feel freed up to do the same.
4. Request more mature disciples to participate
All through out Scripture the more mature are encouraged to lead younger Christians, so before you meet, call a few people who are mature disciples in the group. Ask them if they would be willing to confess sins and share how God has worked in their life when they repented of sin in this way. So, when you confess, you have a few other people who are willing to show how God works through accountability and repentance.
5. Give direction on how to do it
Let people in the group know that the accountability time is not just for personal prayer requests or for "how they are doing" but a time to be honest of where they are at spiritually and to be encouraged by other brothers and sisters in Christ. Also, let people know not to gossip about other people's issues. However, there are times to tell other people of something that is confessed. For example, a husband who has cheated on a wife and has never told her will eventually have to have his wife let in on this.
6. Overwhelm people with grace
Once someone has confessed their sin, there is a temptation to wallow in shame. Overwhelm them with grace! Encourage them in the gospel and in how much Christ loves them. In fact, I think this is the most important part of accountability. The focus is not on how bad we are, but it is on how much we have been forgiven. It's not about our failures, but about Christ's victories!
7. Follow up
After accountability you may have to meet with people to follow up. Some people may need to get into a recovery program or get plugged in with a counselor. Other people might have tried to make the time all about them and will need to be asked to try to be more considerate of the other people trying to confess as well.
Accountability is not easy, especially if you are new to it. Also, taking the first step to begin accountability can be tough. It is countercultural to express where you fail and struggle. However, the Spirit uses our weakness (Rom. 8:26, 1 Cor. 1:25, 2 Cor. 11:30, Rom. 5:6) to glorify Christ—so guide your community as they mature as disciples and rest in the mercy of the gospel. —