Spouse As Accountability Partner

I recently read an excellent article about marriage ministry by Todd Olthoff. He was passionate about marriage ministry in the church. He suggested that marriage ministry needs to be viewed as an integral part of the discipleship process at church rather than being something that falls outside the heart of church life. Perhaps, he suggests, this would help eliminate the temptation to compartmentalize our family life as separate from our spiritual life.

He also stresses the need for the church to encourage spouses to be the primary spiritual partners. Let me share an extended quote from the article:

“At a recent men’s retreat I had the opportunity to talk to the men about marriage. I asked how many of them wanted to see their character molded to look more like Jesus Christ’s. Of course every man was fired up from the retreat, so I got a resounding cheer of agreement. Then I asked them, “Why is it then that we go out and find a group of guys who don’t know anything about our wives or families and ask them to help us grow as we practice ‘controlled disclosure’ and only share what we know at some level is acceptable?” The group fell silent. Then I asked them when was the last time they asked their spouse where they needed to grow their character. I got a loud agonizing “Ohhhh” because each of them knew how real they would have to be and how painful true accountability is.

If we want to see couples in our church view marriage as vital to their spiritual health, we need to encourage them to see their spouse as their primary accountability partner and give them the tools they need to begin to help one another to grow to be more like Jesus Christ.”

Skyline’s marriage ministry has really impressed upon my heart the need for my wife to be a spiritual partner. Every once in a while there will be a day when Lourene and I can’t or don’t start our day together in prayer. I hate it when that happens. My day just doesn’t feel complete. If you don’t pray daily with your husband or wife, let me encourage you to begin today. There is nothing like it to join your hearts together in love.

Real Church

“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

So what kinds of people are in your church? Wherever your church home, I bet I can give you a pretty accurate guess. How? Because the church is a collection of people and every collection of people includes a cross section of personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. So wherever your home church — Thessalonica, Jackson, or somewhere in between – you probably have the same kind of people in the membership.

Some will be idle. Do you know anybody at your church who just can’t seem to get his life in gear? Maybe she seems to lack purpose and motivation. As a result, these folks, while brothers and sisters in Christ, may appear to be “lazy” (NLT) or “freeloaders” (The Message).

Some will be timid. Do you know anybody at your church who just seems hesitant or fearful about her life, even her faith? Maybe he seems tentative about using his gifts or apprehensive about opening up his life enough to experience real fellowship. As a result, these people, while brothers and sisters in Christ, may appear to be “fainthearted” (NRSV) or “stragglers” (The Message).

Some will be weak. Do you know anybody at your church who just seems both physically and spiritually frail or drained? Maybe she is so anemic that she comes across as fragile or delicate. As a result, these individuals, while brothers and sisters in Christ, may appear to be “exhausted” (The Message) or ineffective to the point of being more trouble than they are worth.

The idle, the timid, and the weak are everywhere! So how does the church respond?

Warn the idle. The church has a responsibility to do more than provide handouts for those in need due to their idleness. Throwing money at their situation, while the much easier option, will not bring improvement. Words of warning are sometimes required and that means hard work. While idlers love handouts, they often are less than receptive to counsel.

Encourage the timid. The church has a responsibility to provide more than sweet talk to those paralyzed by fear. Just throwing compliments at the person, while the easier option, will not bring improvement. Useful words of encouragement cannot be empty. They must be full of truth to effectively inform or motivate.

Help the weak. The church has a responsibility to do more than offer criticism or provide excuses for those who are worn out to the point of being useless. Throwing either words of condemnation or justification in their general direction, while the much easier option, will not bring improvement. Helping the weak can’t be accomplished by taking a hands-off approach. “Pulling them to their feet” (The Message) usually means getting your hands dirty.

These needy people — the idle, timid, and weak– are everywhere. The church must not fall into the temptation of taking the easy road of hand-outs, flattery, or judgment. Rather the church must get involved in the real lives of real Christians with all of their real problems. This is a difficult path. It’s a good thing that Paul reminds us when we do get involved; we must remember to be patient with all of them.

The Blessing of Accountability

“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Church leadership is hard work. Watching the flock requires constant attention. Searching for strays demands energy and endurance. Feeding the spiritual family means hours spent in preparation through prayer and study. Taking responsibility for souls can be a huge load to carry. Being out in front of the church means walking closely with God because you cannot lead people where you haven’t gone. Admonishing people requires thick skin to go along with a loving heart. And through it all, fostering a peaceful environment can be difficult.

Keeping peace is easy if by peace you mean just avoiding conflict. To maintain this brand of peace you turn the other way when someone is drifting away from the flock. You let go the strays since they might kick and run as you try to bring them back. You wash your hands of any responsibility for the stubborn in the waters of “that’s just the way she is, nothing we do is going to change her anyway.” You find it much easier to keep this kind of peace when you walk behind the flock with a shovel rather than walking in front with a staff. You dismiss admonishment as kind of an old-fashioned approach that just doesn’t work any more.

But peace, real peace, is so much more than the absence of conflict at any cost. The peace Paul calls the church to experience is in the context of a leadership devoted to watching, searching, feeding, leading, admonishing and taking responsibility. All this and peace, too? No question about it, church leadership is hard work.

While this passage reveals a lot about the difficulties of leadership, Paul’s primary purpose here is not to instruct leaders on how to lead. Instead, he is instructing the followers on how to follow. What is the responsibility of the church to their leaders? In a word, respect. Paul asks the followers to respect the work of their leaders.

How does a church show respect for the leadership? Maybe the best way to get started is to understand what hard work is involved in leading a church. Respect may well be the reaction when the hours required and the energy expended are calculated and understood. But there is more to it, I think. Respect may best be shown by following the leaders: remaining in the fold, grazing in the green pastures, listening to direction and instruction, paying attention to warnings, and living in peace. I do not know of a church leader who wouldn’t appreciate that kind of respect.

But the responsibility of followers goes beyond mere respect. It means loving the leaders. Look at how Eugene Peterson has rendered the beginning of verse 13 in The Message. “Overwhelm them with appreciation and love.” That raises the bar for followers.

So we might need to evaluate how we are doing as followers. Are we showing respect for church leaders? Are we giving them our wholehearted love? Remember, leading a church is hard work and accountability is a real blessing.