Note: This article has been excerpted from the SmallGroups.com training tool called Spiritual Disciplines for Small Groups.
"I have a confession to make. I have been deceiving the group about my relationship with my boyfriend. We have been sleeping together, and I'm pregnant. I am resigning as leader of our group."
Our small-group leader's confession began the most poignant gathering of our many-year history. I was taken completely by surprise. Julie (not her real name) was emotional and repentant, accepting full responsibility for her actions and not making any excuses. After she had finished her confession, our group surrounded her and prayed earnestly for her, comforting her, and offering our support. Julie's courage in confessing her sin enabled her to receive both emotional and spiritual support and enabled the group to continue to move forward in its mission.
We all know the scriptural mandate around corporate confession from passages like James 5:16 and 1 John 1:9. We see the value in such confession—the humility, spiritual growth, and community that results from such transparency. But what does it take to effectively incorporate confession into our small group meetings? Moving your group toward confession will take time, but there are some key principles that can help move you in the right direction.
Authenticity and Accountability
Effective shared confession begins with an environment of authenticity and accountability. Authenticity requires us to remove our masks when we come to the group, to be genuine with each other about our joys, heartaches, successes, and failures. A group that values authenticity places a high priority on knowing and being known. If this isn't a value adopted by all group members, confession will be very difficult if not impossible.
Accountability is another aspect of knowing and being known. When group members are accountable to each other, they give each other permission to come alongside them and speak into their lives. In fact, when group members truly value accountability, they may share items that allow other group members to help them identify a course correction that ultimately may keep them from sin. One person's blind spot may be illuminated by another in the group.
Some leaders employ something like an accountability covenant to encourage their groups to move toward greater authenticity and accountability. But leaders must be patient. While they seek to encourage authenticity and accountability, they must also let those important traits develop naturally as the group comes to value and trust one another over time.
Our group had been together for several years and had shared many experiences and deep prayer times. Our relationships began with a shared mission—to pray for the persecuted church—and continued into our personal lives. As a prayer team, we focused most of our time on the task. Deep relationships were a natural byproduct of shared vision and commitment. As our trust grew, so did our authenticity and accountability, which are the prerequisites for confession.
Confession isn't easy, whether it's done personally or corporately. As a result, your group members must see the value of shared confession if they are to follow you down this path. Individual group members may regularly confess their sins to God, but may not see the value in repeating that process in the group setting. As the leader, you need to show the value. Start by determining what your group members currently believe and practice regarding confession.