What’s worse than anticipating a root canal? Visualizing ourselves confessing sin in front of the gathered church. First, the image of dirty laundry flapping on a clothesline flashes past our minds. Second, there’s the dread of what others will think and say—and spread. And third, for many, the fear of public speaking intensifies the shudder.
Thankfully, when Scripture says, “confess your sins to each other” (Jas. 5:16), it does not say to do so in front of the whole congregation. Rather, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it in Life Together, “A confession of sin in the presence of all the members of the congregation is not required to restore one to fellowship with the whole congregation. I meet the whole congregation in the one brother to whom I confess my sins and who forgives my sins.”
Yet done properly, uncoerced, and under the right circumstances, one anothering in a Sunday meeting may include public confession. In Curing Sunday Spectatoritis, I include the following FaithStory by Rachel Bichler, who is part of Northwood Church, a congregation of about 500, in Maple Grove, MN. While containing far more than just “confession,” her story does include admission of taking a wrong turn and then returning. In a sense, she tells the story of a prodigal daughter:
Have you ever had a sneaking suspicion that you just weren’t good enough? That no matter how hard you try, you just don’t have what it takes? I know I have. It’s something that has haunted me for my entire life. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with the idea that I’m somehow lacking. As a child I felt awkward, unable to connect with my peers. I was sure I could never be as relaxed and confident as the other kids appeared to be. At home, even though I was always quite sure that my parents loved me, I never felt quite sure that I deserved it.
Those very same misgivings also applied to my relationship with Christ. I became a Christian at a very young age. I’m not even sure just how old I was; only that it was a long time ago, in a Sunday school classroom, joined in prayer by a teacher whose name I no longer remember.
I was very lucky in that way, to be raised from infancy in a Christian home. My parents were also regular church attendees. Some of my earliest memories are of time spent in Sunday school. As I got older, I became active in youth group, went to Christian summer camps, and participated in missions work. I got to know other Christian kids my own age and made some good friends.
And yet, the older I got the more I felt like a fraud. I couldn’t escape from my continuing sense of inadequacy. I was certain that I was not as good a person as those around me. If they only knew my secret thoughts and secret sins I was sure they would recoil in horror. I often wondered how Jesus could love me when I couldn’t even love myself.
Then, in my teenage years, I began to surround myself with people that didn’t make me feel so inferior. I found people who had no place for morals or judgment. My new friends drank alcohol, did drugs, partied, lied, stole, and slept around. Eager for acceptance, I joined in their lifestyle with hardly a backward glance. And although I continued to think of myself as a Christian, I avoided attending church. I couldn’t help comparing myself to the others there and thinking they would all look down on me. After all, I wasn’t living a Christian lifestyle. My season of disobedience, self-loathing, and perpetual running from God lasted for more than 10 years. At the end I found myself divorced, and living back at home with my parents, and feeling utterly lost.
It was then, at a time when I was more broken than I had ever been, that I began to turn to God for healing. You see, even though I had spent many years running from him and his judgment, he was never far away. In fact, throughout my long rebellion, he never once gave up on me. He was just waiting for me to be broken enough to realize my need for him.
My return to faith wasn’t easy. It didn’t go perfectly. I struggled and backslid more than once. The biggest hurdle of all was my shame. I knew that God offered perfect love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, but I had a very hard time accepting it. More than ever I knew that I could never be good enough. But, with a will surely strengthened by God, this time I didn’t give up. I read my Bible. I started attending church more regularly. I practiced confessing my sins and asking God’s forgiveness. Slowly but surely I began to feel the presence of Jesus in my life.
Then I met my future husband, Matt, a seeker like myself, and things began to snowball. I could feel the hand of God gently pushing us together. We began attending Northwood together and in it found a welcoming place where we could grow in our rediscovered faith. When we were married a year later, we committed ourselves to regular church attendance and raising our children to know and love Jesus.
Since that time, my faith has continued to grow. Every day I come to rely a little more on the power of God’s sustaining love. As for my feelings of inadequacy, the truth is I still struggle. The difference is that I no longer have to struggle alone. I know now that I can take my weakness to Jesus and that he will use it to make me strong. I know that even though I will never be good enough in this life, God will still love me and forgive me and continue his work in me as long as my heart remains open to him.
When we regularly include authentic stories from the scattered-church lives of God’s people, some of those accounts will include divulging wrongs. Hearing such forthright reports goes a long way toward restoring the connection with reality that can so easily get lost in our church gatherings.
True-to-life FaithStories, like this one from Rachel, can cut through the time-encrusted layers of religiosity.
(To listen to an audio recording of Rachel’s story, click here.)