While confession has a number of facets and unique expressions in Scripture, at its most base level, confession means: to be in agreement with God; to take ownership.
Two Primary Biblical Applications
There are two primary Biblical applications of confession.
First, confession of Christ/the Gospel, confession of our sinful nature and Christ as Savior, so as to lead to salvation (Rom 10:9,10; 2 Cor 9:1; 1 Tim 6:12; 1 Jn 1:4:1; Heb 10:23; Rev 3:5).
Second, confession of transgression/sin against God, so as to receive mercy, forgiveness, and restoration of relationship
- Psalm 32:5 = confession as “acknowledgment of our sin, and this being the key to forgiveness.”
- Proverbs 28:13 = the danger of concealing our transgressions, and the key to mercy being confession.
- 1 John 1:9 = Confession for cleansing, forgiveness and right standing before God
- James 5:16 = Confession in a corporate setting, connection to prayer and healing
- Ezra 10:11ff = Confession in a corporate setting, specifically of corporate sin that led them away from fellowship with God.
Confession Applied in a Group Setting
Keep in mind that there are at least three potential layers, or contexts, for confession in group life. The size of the group will dictate the amount of structure needed to appropriately practice confession.
- The Large Group. Probably your regular group meeting, but not always. It could be a group social event, retreat, or other example of when the group as a whole is together.
- The Sub-Group. The sub-group is any smaller group within the large group. For married or mixed groups, that may likely be a Men’s or Women’s Accountability group. The amount of disclosure should increase in a gender-specific sub-group.
- One-to-One. Don’t forget the one-one-one! This two is a layer of group life. Whether it is an intentional encounter or not, be sensitive to the opportunity for confession in the one-on-one. This context provides the most margin for open disclosure, discussion and exploration.
Four Principles for Handling Group Confession
While there are other tips we could mention here, these principles should be universally applied in any of the three layers described above.
- Create the Expectation.
Because confession in group life is such a foreign concept, we need to begin by establishing the expectation that confession should be part of the experience of transformation into Christ-likeness. It may be necessary to spend some time looking at what the Bible has to say about confession and the necessity for it. Then begin to foster an environment where confession is encouraged and appreciated.
Don’t just open your next group meeting with something reminiscent of the Inquisition! Work up to public group confession. Start by designating a portion of your group time for personal reflection and silent confession. Use some guided Scripture reading to attune your hearts and minds to what God is saying to you about things in your life you need to confess to Him.
- Seize the Opportunity.
Once you’ve created the expectation, don’t be surprised when it happens! There will no doubt be a level of discomfort or awkwardness—this is uncharted territory, after all. Dr. Larry Crabb advises that almost always when confronted with something quite beyond our natural capabilities to handle, we instinctively have an urge to run, help, or refer. Resist the urge! Seize the opportunity to see what God is doing in the life of the individual and the group. Help others make the connection between the confession and God’s active work of transformation.
Don’t allow others to respond until the one sharing has had adequate time. There may be some awkwardness that others may not know how to handle, and therefore respond inappropriately in an attempt to deflect–humor is often used this way. As the leader, you need to help manage this to ensure the group responds appropriately to the one confessing.
Don’t offer pat, easy answers. This is not what they need or are looking for. Confession can often be a call for help. But the response they need is, “Yes, I will help you,” not, “All you need to do is…”
- Come Alongside.
This is a group journey and we want to come alongside the one who has confessed. Point out that the sin in our own lives ought to spur a response of compassion. The goal of confession is always to draw nearer to God. Make sure the focus of your response is on God and His forgiveness, not merely on the individual and their sin.
End a time of confession with a time of thanksgiving for God’s forgiveness and cleansing. Pray with (not just for) the individual. Speak God’s forgiveness over them. Hearing their forgiveness actually verbally expressed by another person can often help a person to receive it.
- Move Forward.
Encourage and support them in taking the next step toward the necessary healing. Identify some clear next steps for the individual and the group.