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Indispensable Leadership Skills #3: Let’s Get Honest About Confession

At a prayer conference, the speaker, Daniel Henderson, instructed the participants to break up into groups of three and confess to each other a personal sin with which they were struggling, then pray for each other. What caught my attention was that Daniel himself stepped down into the crowd, grabbed a couple of guys and did the same. He later shared about how he wanted to keep himself from letting pride dominate his ministry. No better lesson about the importance of confession could have been demonstrated.

Confession in the Bible actually comes from the legal language of Roman times. The word ‘confession’ means ‘to say the same thing.’ In court, when the judge states what I have done wrong, confession means agreeing with him that I have done what he said and that what I did was wrong.

As simple as this is, both public and private confession is hard for leaders. Public confession is hard because we are self-protective. We do not want to lose respect or authority or possibly our family or even our jobs in the church. So there are several methods we adopt to avoid the humiliation of confession.

One is to change the subject with a good smoke screen. A friend heard his pastor state a lie publicly. In private my friend went to him and asked where this lie was coming from. The pastor’s response was to aggressively recount the health of his ministry, his home life, his parenting, even his sex life. Exploring where this lie came from—no way! He was healthy enough. Or so his self-protecting mind told him. This was a mind-your-own-business smoke screen. Self-protection tells you that confession shows weakness, so stonewall anyone whom God might use to speak into your life. It allows you to avoid becoming healthier. James instructed about confessing sin so you can be healed (James 5:16).

Another smokescreen is confessing a lesser sin so you can look like you’re in the game when the real issue is much deeper. This form of self-protection has the aim of making yourself either the hero or victim of your story. But what this person may not be telling you is that a much deeper issue is going on inside, one which makes the confessable sin pale in comparison. He may confess, “Yes I did ‘accidently’ touch a woman inappropriately and I am sorry. I was jostled and lost my balance” But what he is hiding is a long-term pornography addiction. Or he might say, “I know I should not have spoken that way to my son in public and I promise not to do it again,” hiding the fact that he regularly curses and strikes his children in private to the point that they are afraid of him.

Private confession is also a challenge because even though you know nothing is hidden from God, the effects of the Fall are on you. You probably find it hard to accept the reign of God over certain areas of your life. Or maybe because you have not yet come to the end of yourself over particular sins, you are not ready to confess them as wrong. So you give half-hearted confessions. “God, you know I did not mean to hurt anyone.” “God, I have done this all my life and do not think it is wrong now, but forgive me if it is.” Or maybe frantic confessions hoping to stave off consequences. “God, I did wrong but please do not let me lose my job—my ministry—or freedom—or family—or life—over this. I will do anything (except surrender) if you would help me.” Need I say it? This kind of confession is not the kind that brings transformation.

Mastering confession means going for broke. You become willing to look at the sin in me choices of appetite, anger, envy, greed, lust, pride and sloth that you have used to comfort your woundedness and confess that they are not only destroying you, you have no power to stop. They will continue to color your world until you confess this and submit them to the Spirit’s work in you to free you.

Catch what I am saying. Confession is not about hanging yourself out to dry in the heat of people’s disgust and distrust. It is about freedom and health. It is less about being a leader and more about being a child of God. Mastering confession makes you realize that you are on the same level before the cross as everyone else, even if you are a leader.

One of the transformational leaders who influences me is Ford Taylor, who trains business leaders through Transformational Leadership. He teaches the six-step apology, which is an effective way that people confess sin to each other or to God. By following these six steps, you can master a means of confession that will not only bring freedom but will also heal broken relationships caused by your sin. And this process is easy to teach to others as well. The six steps are:

  1. I did it (name whatever the sin is).
  2. I was wrong.
  3. I am sorry.
  4. Will you forgive me (when you are able)?
  5. Will you hold me accountable to not do this again?
  6. Is there anything else I need to deal with that you know about in my life?

This last step is daunting. In asking it, you are perhaps opening yourself up to an unexpected journey. But God plans our steps and uses everything that is in our lives for His purpose—to conform us to the likeness of His Son. So do not fear it because it will lead you further into freedom and spiritual health.

-Steve Smith