Public Confession Is Counterintuitive

by | Aug 7, 2016

Humility 8 (250x250)Whenever we’ve done something wrong, our natural instinct is to conceal, deny or minimize our guilt.

This dynamic began with Adam and Eve and is painfully evident in the current race for the White House. Sadly, it is also displayed in many churches, where both pastors and parishioners often give in to the tendency to conceal rather than confess their wrongs.

I thank God for allowing me to witness some wonderful exceptions to this pattern. One of the most inspirational was provided by a pastor I’ll call Andrew (not his real name).

After many years of serving small congregations, Andrew was called to a church that was large enough to hire a paid secretary, who I’ll call Susan. Due to his inexperience with hired staff, Andrew failed to supervise Susan well. After several months of confusing guidance and implied criticism, Susan became so frustrated that she told an elder’s wife, who I’ll call Elaine, that she was going to resign.

After hearing Susan’s story, Elaine wisely counseled her not to resign until she communicated her feelings to Andrew and gave him a chance to respond. To overcome Susan’s apprehensions, Elaine agreed to go with her when she talked with the pastor.

To both women’s surprise, Andrew received Susan’s feedback with great humility and gentleness. He acknowledged his failure to relate to her properly and committed to specific changes. The meeting went so well that Susan agreed to stay, and they went on to enjoy working together for many years.

But what made their situation truly remarkable is what Andrew did the Sunday after Susan and Elaine came to talk with him.

With Susan’s permission, he described their conversation to the entire congregation, commending Susan for her graciousness and courage as well as Elaine for her wisdom and advice.

And then he said this:

“As I’ve reflected on what Susan told me about my behavior toward her, I realized I’ve probably treated other people in our church with the same kind of pride, thoughtlessness and impatience. So I’m asking for your forgiveness today as well. If you need to talk with me about how I’ve treated you, my door is open. Please pray that God would help me to become more sensitive to how I’m treating others, and if you see me stumble, please do me the favor of pointing it out so I can continue to grow.”

Andrew later told me that everything in him resisted making such a confession. He feared he would lose the respect of the congregation and destroy his credibility as a pastor and preacher. But as he had prayed about it, several Scripture passages had come to mind and moved him to go against his feelings and do what he knew was right.

Of course his confession had exactly the opposite effect from what he feared. Instead of diminishing his congregation’s respect for him, his humble obedience to God lifted him to a new level of credibility and trust in the eyes of the people God had called him to serve. In fact, years later when visitors asked what kind of pastor he was, his people would often describe this incident as an example of his godly character.

Once again, Jesus made good on his promise: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).

May God help each of us to remember Andrew’s example the next time we’re tempted to conceal, deny or minimize our own sin, and may he also give us grace to trust his promise to bless those who humble themselves under his mighty hand.

– Ken Sande

Reflection Questions

  • If one of the candidates for the U.S. presidency followed Andrew’s example, would that decrease or increase your respect for that person?
  • Do you find it natural or difficult to admit your wrongs? Why do you think that is?
  • Think of some people with whom you find it easier to be open and vulnerable about your failures? What character qualities do those people have that you’d like to develop in your life?
  • Can you remember any of the leaders in your church specifically admitting their own sin? How did it affect your attitude toward them? How did it impact your church?

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