“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” James 5:16
It could be easily argued that the greatest spiritual problem many of us have is the discrepancy between our talk and our walk. Even the Apostle Paul had this deficiency. He wrote to the church at Rome,
“We know that the Law is spiritual, but I’m made of flesh and blood, and I’m sold as a slave to sin. I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. . .The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do. (Romans 7:14-15, 18b-19 CEB).
For many years now I have served as a church pastor. However, even before I became a pastor I observed this discrepancy between our talk and our walk that exists in all of us. This was true of Paul and other Christians in the New Testament. And yet the Christians I know, including myself, seem to fall far short of the ones in scripture who were willing to die for their faith. We certainly fall far short of the example of Christ.
Jesus gave his followers the Great Commission–make disciples. But how do you make disciples who seriously follow the example of Jesus like the apostle Paul and others in the New Testament? How do we overcome the human condition Paul described so powerfully and become the person God created us to be? I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to discover the answer to this question.
We’re talking about transformed lives. Of course, Christians believe the first step is to surrender our lives to Jesus and invite him to become the Lord of our lives. This first step is referred to by theologians as justification. Some call it “getting saved” or being “born again.” But this is just the beginning of the process of sanctification or spiritual growth. Our goal is not spiritual birth but spiritual maturity.
In my search for a better way to help people grow spiritually into mature disciples of Jesus Christ I began to look around to see who or what organization was experiencing transformed lives. The place I found was not where I expected it to be; it wasn’t even a church. It was Alcoholics Anonymous. Now, I have some issues with this organization. I’m afraid it may have gotten away from its Christian roots in many ways. However, when I investigated this organization’s ministry I discovered the key that makes it so effective for so many.
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are based on Jesus’ Beatitudes. It outlines very specific steps of repentance, forgiveness, and commitment to changed behavior (what Christians call justification and sanctification). But AA also has a very powerful strategy to implement this process.
I believe the key to the success of Alcoholics Anonymous is the way they use sponsors. An AA sponsor serves as a spiritual coach (mentor) and accountability partner. Of course AA is not the only organization to use this strategy. History gives us other examples of what some call “obedient-based” discipleship. One from my own tradition is that of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement. Wesley organized small groups he called societies and bands throughout Great Britain and Ireland. In these groups there was a high degree of accountability, regular spiritual assessments, and a strong expectation for obedient discipleship.
The Spiritual Assessment
The new Spiritual Life Assessment on this blog site is designed to be used as a regular spiritual “check-up.” You will want to complete it on a regular basis, preferably once a week. You can print the results for yourself. However, the real power of this assessment is implemented when you email a copy of your answers to your spiritual coach, mentor, or accountability partner. He or she should read the results and respond to you with an email, phone call, or personal meeting when possible.
The significance of a spiritual partner cannot be overemphasized. This is the key to our spiritual growth. You and your partner may share your results with each other or the person who serves as your coach, mentor, or accountability partner may have someone else to whom they are accountable. I encourage you to read the blog posts on this site to learn more about the role of accountability partners. The following posts will be particularly helpful:
Take a bold new step toward mature discipleship by filling out your first Spiritual Life Assessment.