“. . . I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” –Corinthians 9:22b
After a decade of working as a professional speaker/trainer, I continued to rack my brain as to why there were always at least a couple of negative comments in the evaluations of the presentations I gave. Despite receiving many positive responses, that little bit of negative feedback just continued to bother me.
Thankfully, one day God provided some insight that forever changed the course of my life. First, while reading Stephen Covey’s book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” I came across this key phrase: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Next, while I was studying the Pastoral Epistles, the Lord brought two Greek words to my attention. The first word, σώφρων, means correct, balanced & sound mind. The second, σωφρονίζω, means to exhort a person to Christ’s mind in a way they understand or to their “nature.”
Despite years of education, business achievements and speaking experience, the most important aspect of human interaction had evaded me. In my approach to others, I had talked the way I wanted and about what I thought was important. While that may have helped some, it left many unable to “hear” the message I was trying to convey. To be honest, I thought everyone thought and reasoned the same way I did. Oh, how naïve! I began to realize that in order to effectively share with others, I first needed to understand their needs. Only then would I know how to better communicate with them.
Before this realization, my messages lacked two critical factors: (1) an understanding of the uniqueness of others and (2) a pathway to understanding what was most important to them. In today’s multicultural environment, that is a recipe for problems. Not to mention a disregard for what The Holy Spirit may be trying to tell us about how to develop and grow meaningful relationships.
If we take Covey’s concept of “seek first to understand” and put it in the simplest terms, it means we must gain clarity before trying to persuade another person of anything. We must ask questions, rather than make statements. Questions provide clarity while statements require agreement or disagreement. If there is not clarity and understanding, then it is often not possible for the message you are trying to communicate to be acceptable. Paul understood and communicated that in our context verse (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Jesus ministered to the masses, but He narrowed his focus from the 72 to the 12, and then to the inner circle of 3. Only then could he have the kind of relationship that really mattered – one of “accountimacy.” To explain what I mean let us combine the two words accountability and intimacy. It is “an obligation to exchange satisfactory reason, or explanation for one’s actions with one who knows and understands you, your innermost character and empathizes with you in a way few people can.”
Accountimacy requires us learning about an individual, their priorities and their needs. Only then can we speak to them and exhort them to live a Christ-like life in a way that we understand them and can therefore be understood.
Years ago Howard Hendricks taught on the concept of each believer needing three key people in our lives: (1) a mentor, (2) a friend (who loves us enough to tell the truth) and (3) a student. Each of those people provide us with opportunities for spiritual growth and development. Without each, we lack opportunities for enlightenment and the experience for progressive sanctification. We can see each of those three roles fulfilled in the lives of Peter, James and John with Christ, the Disciples and those they taught.
Today’s hectic pace of life almost precludes us from establishing those kinds of relationships. Raising children, working and church commitments can easily take all our time. We forget that we were created to be interdependent, not independent. Therefore, we must make it a priority to be discipled and disciple others. Sounds simple enough, but life gets in the way, causing us to wish there were more hours in the day.
The only way accountimacy will occur is if it is intentional.
We are fortunate, in today’s society, to have technology that has provided the opportunity to stay in contact with others whether we leave our homes or not. With platforms like Zoom, Messenger, WhatsApp, etc., there is no real excuse for most of us not interacting with, encouraging and learning from other believers – whether that is individually or in small groups. We must keep things in proper context by recognizing that the eternal is more important than the temporary.
To engage in a disciple’s mindset, you must develop your own inner circle the way that Jesus did. Seek out and ask – and don’t be afraid that others might say “no.” Here’s an example of steps you can take to engage others and develop an inner circle of your own:
- Make a list of believers you most admire. Narrow the list down to three or four and pick up the phone and call them. Tell them of your respect and admiration for the way they conduct their lives before the Lord and ask them if they would consider spending time with you as a MENTOR. Set up regularly scheduled times that work for both of you. Have an agenda ready before each meeting of areas you would like their opinion or advice on.
- Make a second list of those people who you see on a regular basis. Narrow it down by noting the people who are the most frank and honest with you, are trustworthy and have a sound faith. Call each of them and explain that you would like a deeper and very transparent FRIENDSHIP that can be used as a sounding board for each other’s benefit. You should also have a couple of topics to discuss, based on life experiences or current events, that will guide your interaction. If you already have access to a small group or discipleship group, that’s a great place to start. The key is ensuring that the group is not purely for fellowship, but provides a private, trustworthy place for accountability and prayer focused on needs.
- Look around you for people who are drawn to you. People you see in your daily life, including at church. You will find that there are people who are always glad to see you and that often ask you questions about God, families, children and life. These are potential DISCIPLES. These can often come from within small groups or discipleship groups, or God may bring someone in from nowhere. You may have to pray specifically for this person or persons (depending on your stage in life), but God will bring them to you, I promise.
- In each case, take the time to learn about them personally – the good, bad and ugly parts. Most importantly, ask the Spirit of God to provide the insight you need not just to listen, but to HEAR them. There may be aspects of their lives that bother you – but you must remember that there are aspects of all our lives that bother God! Your role is to be there and let God order the steps of each relationship so that you can be what they need “for such a time as this.”
Remember, there can be no discipleship without an engaged relationship, no discipleship without accountimacy. It won’t always be easy, but it is attainable through the Holy Spirit’s network. “Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9)
Special Guest Writer Dr. Charles Coker
Chuck Coker led both national & international companies as an Executive, served for 7 years as Department Head at Westminster Theological (UK), and presently serves as a consultant to Megachurches, parachurches and multiple denominations. He has authored 100+ articles for publications nationwide like The Woman’s Digest, America’s Business Journals, and Worksite Solutions. Additionally, he has created multiple assessments, written 8 books and 40+ training manuals.