6 Ideas to Bring Healing Through the Practice of Confession

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The practice of regular confession is largely lost in our religious circles. Protestantism, during the breaking away from the Roman Catholic church in the age of the reformation, rightly departed from the idea of penance, but lost with it the institutionalization of confession in the life of a church. We did away with the priest, the confession box, and in turn we lost the practice of confession.

And yet we find in James 5:16, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (NLT)

It’s in confession and prayer that we find healing. Healing cannot take place without confession and prayer for one another.

It’s about time that confession is reinstated in the life of the Church. I shudder to think of the countless moral failures that will happen from a lack of personal confession. The marriages that will fall apart because of private sins. The job loss, the interpersonal pain, and the damage to one’s own soul.

And yet, as small group leaders, we have been given a wonderful privilege to lead our group and our friends into a safe place, where healing can take place…maybe for the first time. Here are…ways to Leverage your small group time on a regular basis for the practice of confession.

#1. Be Up Front (Lay the Roadmap). Come out with it. As the host or leader, don’t surprise your group with this information. Don’t show up on Wednesday and announce that everyone will be confessing their sins tonight. Take 15 minutes to unpack some teaching around confession. Unpack James 5:16, 1 John 1:9, Hosea 14:2, Psalm 32:3-5.

Then let them know that next week we’ll be practicing confession as a group. Then, give them a roadmap. Detail how things will work. Here’s some ideas.

#2. Split the Group. If you’re a mixed or married group, you shouldn’t be surprised that guys will share things they wouldn’t normally when their wife is in the room. Or that girls simply share things differently when guys are absent. Go ahead and split the group for confession. Go to separate places in the house, create safe and quiet spaces.

#3. Keep it in the Group. Lay the groundwork for everyone that this is a safe place. What you share in the group stays in the group. Confession is not for posting on your church bulletin board or gossiping to your neighbor. As a leader, you have to establish confidentiality, security, and honesty as your highest value.

#4. Don’t Ask Follow-Up Questions. Set this as a rule. You will regret it if you don’t. When a member in your group is confessing something, it isn’t the time to solve their problem. We all have that over-intentional and caring friend, but this isn’t the space for counseling. “How does that make you feel?” “Why do you think you did that?” “Well that was dumb, don’t you think?” “Well what did she say when she found out?” “Oh, does your wife know about this?”

This is simply not the place for those questions. You have to be strong enough in your leadership to stick to this rule for the sake of every member. Let them share, and let them end where they want.

#5. Start with Yourself, and Fill with Prayer. As the leader of the group, you should be ready to set the example for everyone else. Showcase in your own way exactly what you want this time to be for everyone else. Be vulnerable. Be honest. Don’t have all the answer figured out.

If nobody wants to share, then use this time to pray for one another. As it says in James 5:16, the prayer of the righteous has great power.

#6. Pray and Follow-Up Privately. After everyone has shared if they want, end the time in prayer. Pray for healing, pray for brokenness, pray for God to radically move through his Spirit in the life of each person in your group.

And then, follow up privately. If someone shares something deep and troubling, take them out to coffee and learn more. If someone shares their marriage is failing, follow up later with some resources or counseling referrals. If someone is having trouble parenting, send the parents to a seminar next week while you watch their kids. The point is this, you will do damage in your group if you try to solve or address all of these issues during your meeting time. Don’t. Prayer for them, and follow-up next week.

There is a reason the Puritans considered repentance a doctrine of the Church, and I think it’s about time we reinstate this practice in community. And it starts with us.

Further Reading: Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, John Stott, Confess Your Sins, Tim Challies, The Practice of Confession, Ryan Griffitth, Confessing Our Sins Together

Jacob Wilson is the Campus Membership Pastor at Saddleback Church Rancho Capistrano. Jacob was born in Santa Ana, California and raised in Huntington Beach, CA. He graduated with a Bachelor’s in Biblical Studies from Biola University and received a Master of Arts degree in Bible Exposition from Talbot School of Theology. Jacob’s personal impact from community-driven groups has fueled his passion to help cultivate authentic relationships within the body of Christ. When he is not working, you’ll find his nose in a book or spending time with his wife, Jourdan, and their two ridiculously beautiful children, Elijah and Emery.