Think about the last time someone made of confessed of sin in your community group meeting. What was the reaction by you and the group? What did it do to the feel of the group dynamic?
If you’re still trying to remember a time confession happened in your group, you’re not alone. Let’s be honest, the very idea of public confession has become such a foreign idea that to expect that it would happen in a group setting is almost unthinkable! Yet James clearly commands believers to confess our sins to each other (James 5:16). So how did we get to this place? I think there are at least two reasons we’ve missed the boat on public confession.
I believe the central reason we shy away from confession in community groups is that we have misunderstood the role of confession. When we hear the word “confession” our thoughts often jump straight to a tear-filled press conference revelation of another scandal. I’m pretty sure this kind of Gotcha! confession was not what James was referring to. But still we’ve somehow come to equate “public confession” with “huge moral failure.” Because of this stigma, both consciously and sub-consciously, we steer away from anything that even resembles confession in order of avoiding the risk of any hearer associating us with a huge moral failure. Confessing is then viewed exclusively as an admission of failure, acknowledgment that I’m not as “committed” as I should be, or disclosure of scandalous living. The logical conclusion to this thinking is to assume that if I don’t have anything to confess, then it must mean I’m doing pretty good in my relationship with God! I’m winning, right?!
In many groups, maintaining a comfortable distance from inside problems is strongly encouraged. The result of this thinking is superficial relationships, “going through the motions” of being a community, and acceptance of denial as a way of life! But it never actually addressed what’s really going on in the hearts and lives of those we lead!
This kind of thinking is the exact opposite of what James had in mind when he instructs us to confess our sins to each other. Confession is acknowledgment of an inner wresting—a wrestling that is reflective of a believer’s growth in greater surrender to Christ’s Lordship in his or her life. It’s the wrestling produced only as part of real transformation into Christ-likeness—the very thing we strive to see happen in the lives of those we lead.
The gospel narratives are full of people making public confessions of their sin as a direct result of their encounters with Christ. Confession, when understood and handled properly, is actually evidence of God’s active work in our lives. Confession should therefore be celebrated and encouraged!
A second reason we’ve missed the boat, no doubt influenced by the misunderstanding of it, is that we’ve seen the mishandling of confession. We have to acknowledge that a certain level of awkwardness exists when someone share very openly about their struggle to become more like Christ. Why is that? And how should we appropriately handle confession in a group setting? Click here to read Part 2.