By Rick Lowry
John is bored. Spiritually bored.
It’s not that John is not hungry for God. He has always desired the deeper spiritual things. And so, John faithfully participates in all the activities his church tells him are important to Christian growth. He attends worship and participates in a Sunday school class weekly. He has joined a small group and has found a place to serve in the church. He tithes. He reads his Bible and prays every morning.
Yet John feels no deeper in his relationship to Christ than he did 10 years ago.
Christians who have been in the church for many years often find themselves in John’s situation. The shine has worn off of their enthusiasm for Christ, and they long for something more.
For some who desire to take their relationship with Christ to the next level, a serious focus on confession of sin has brought renewed spiritual focus. Confession, combined with accountability to follow through on changes that need to happen, has helped many Christians experience a fresh depth in Christ.
A friend told me about growing up in a church that encourages confession of sin in a formal setting with a clergyman. The clergymen who helped him the most were the ones who approached this time of confession as an occasion for advice and counseling and even offered to become partners in accountability.
I liked the spirit of that idea, and tried to think of an application for our movement of churches where we focus more on the ministry of all believers. God has placed Christian friends in the body of Christ around us who are competent to help us. When we are vulnerable, when we confess our struggles to appropriate people in appropriate situations, we can receive the blessing of obeying the Bible’s command to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16).
Confession and Men
I’ve been leading men’s discipling groups for many years. These are groups for men like John who want to go deeper in Christ. I have watched men come back to life, spiritually speaking, after confession of sinful struggles, combined with accountability about letting go of their sin.
As we encourage each other to confess sins, we begin with the familiar guideline of James 5:16. We confess our sins to one another, pray for each other, and begin to experience healing. Two additional verses have been helpful:
I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another (Romans 15:14).
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
I’ve been amazed at the readiness of men to do this. I heard about a man who began confessing at the very first meeting of his men’s group. He told of his secret adultery during the first year of his marriage. He had confessed to his wife and to God, but had never talked about it with anyone else.
It was a rallying point for that new group to gather around and affirm Jim. His openness allowed others to slowly release their stories over the following months, and the group quickly reached a meaningful place of sharing.
Most men have never had a place where they can share their struggles. Where in our culture do people go to reveal their naked inner selves and still be accepted? This is especially true about us guys. Women seem to have an easier time building the kind of intimate relationships where confession of sin is possible. It’s tougher for men.
Don sat across the table from a friend he’d known for 30 years. After many years in the ministry, Don’s wife recently had left him and filed for divorce. He lost his ministry and was broken. He confessed his confusion and failings as a husband, father, and a spiritual leader. The whole story took more than an hour. And when he finished, Don said to his friend, “I’ve never said that to anyone.”
Countless times, I’ve observed the weight lifting from a man’s shoulders as he finally confesses some hidden fight with darkness. You can just tell he is ready to move on to better things, no longer consuming the energy necessary to hold the guilt and pressure of that sin at bay.
In the men’s groups I lead, confession of sin occasionally happens in the larger group. But I’ve found that one-on-one is the most productive setting for confession and accountability.
At the beginning of the year, each man writes down a few “spiritual goals” he’d like to accomplish. These goals are really a form of confession. “I’m not spending time with God like I should, so I hope to start spending at least 15 minutes with God in the mornings, at least three times a week.” “I’m going to install a porn filter on my Web search engine.” “I’m going to stop yelling at my kids.”
Then we assign “prayer partners.” My prayer partner is the man I’m building the deepest relationship with, so that eventually I am comfortable confessing my sins to him and asking for prayers of help and healing.
At least twice a month at our group’s weekly meetings, we break off in pairs all over my house and hold each other accountable for the spiritual goals we set at the beginning of the year. These relationships often extend outside the group gathering. Two men, who had both expressed need to spend morning time with God, began calling each other at 6:00 am to make sure the other was out of bed and opening the Bible. Other men schedule regular lunches or weekly tennis games together. Anything works that builds a strong relationship where brothers can confess sins and confront each other in love. No crisis may presently exist, but spending time together is good preparation for the next serious struggle a man might go through. When it happens, he’ll be assured he has a friend to turn to.
As a minister, this isn’t just a program I lead and encourage other men to do. I also need confession and accountability. I regularly meet church leaders who tell me they’ve never been able to build this kind of relationship with anyone. I have discovered I can’t survive spiritually without it.
I need someone to set me straight when I have not been loving to my wife, Becky, and when I’ve been too hard on my kids. I need someone to confront me when I am so task-oriented I fail to see the people in need around me. I want someone to set me straight when I get too cynical about the problems in our congregation—the church for which Christ died. I need confession to keep me growing as a Christian and as a leader. I need to be serious about confession because if my growth stalls, so does the growth of the people I’m shepherding in the church. And I can’t keep growing without confession and accountability.
A mentor of mine challenged me many years ago to make my 70s and 80s my most spiritually productive years. To that end, I have resolved to make confession and accountability a part of my normal Christian life.
Rick Lowry is community life pastor at Community Christian Church, Newburgh, Indiana.