Working through a well thought out and planned small group agenda is a difficult task. Trying to integrate fellowship, discipleship, and a missional focus takes a lot of prayer and scripture searching. One aspect of discipleship that has been the most influential in my life has been accountability. For roughly the last decade, God has surrounded me with men that love Him and that have been faithful friends. Men that I could confess my failings to and point me to our High Priest, Jesus Christ. They also asked poignant questions pertaining to the particular sin or struggle I have had. From this experience, I started asking if confession in accountability is something peculiar to the life of a small group or is it something vital to the life of the small group?
My immediate response would be it is absolutely necessary for the life of a small group, but on what grounds? or on what basis? So I started thinking through some suggested pro’s and con’s of confession in the life of a small group.
- Causes new members to be uncomfortable.
This seems at first to be a genuine concern. I know the discomfort I felt the first time I joined a men’s accountability group. They had known each other for a while and shared openly and fairly bluntly. I had never been around that kind of brutal honesty about sin and struggle.
- Confession without repentance
I have seen in my own life that this can happen. It seemed like every week I would come with the same confession and not much change in life and behavior.
- The potential for the spread of gossip
I know that the sins in my life are likely to perk ears. It can be worrisome to confess a particular sin to people you didn’t know all that well.
- The potential to turn people in to mediators
A good friend brought this to my attention and I really never thought about it in this way. There can be a feeling that once you confess your sins to others that you’re absolved from all sins. That is dangerous. There is only one mediator, Jesus Christ, and your responsibility is to confess your sins is to Christ primarily.
- We are called to “bear one another’s burdens.”
We are to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2) and to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:15) We cannot do this successfully without open communication within the life of a small group.
- We are called to “confess our sins to one another.”
James says “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”(Jas 5:16) When we confess our sins to one another it brings that particular sin into the light and allows for others to pray for you in that struggle.
- We are called to “speak the truth in love.”
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15) As we confess our sins and lay our burdens before our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are giving them an opportunity to speak Christ-saturated truth into our lives.
Organic or Organized?
Another problem arose when addressing the issue of confession and accountability. Should accountability and confession come organically through genuine fellowship and the building of friendships or should there be an organized group session? I think the best answer to that is yes to both. I should start off by saying that maybe it would be best to think in broad and narrow categories.
It may be that for a short period of introduction that the group deal in broad sin categories (i.e. lust, anger, selfishness, etc.). It doesn’t get to the heart immediately, but it can create a more comfortable atmosphere for future “narrower” confession times. The more an accountability group meets and shares the closer the relationships become. Then the possibility for the organic to become a reality.
Once that culture is built within a small group where confession and accountability are a normal part of it’s culture then it can come to a more intimate time of “narrow” confession on the particulars (not leading the family, yelled at spouse, etc.)
I know the importance of accountability in my life and the dangers of trying to life the Christian life isolated. I think there is enough biblical precedence to make accountability and confession an integral part of the life of any small group.