The Institutional Suppression of Confession

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When Colin Kaepernick took his stand, well really his kneel, during the National Anthem, it was a classic case of our post-modern temptation to blur the lines between categories. When I watch football, I don’t watch it for politics. I don’t watch it to relate to the players or to learn how to be a good father. I watch it for entertainment. I watch it to see athleticism and skill at the highest level. That doesn’t diminish the power of protest or even the necessity of protest by those who feel they have influence…it is just that most people don’t really want to know what their favorite athletes or even their least favorite athletes believe about particular issues. At least that is my opinion…feel free to disagree.

That brings us to the topic at hand. Do you want to know what your preacher or elders struggle with or would you rather be in the dark on that? Would it be helpful to hear Christian leaders share from experience and offer transparency via public confession or like an NFL player voicing political opinions, would you rather just not know?

I believe we need open environments to discuss things in our churches. One of the barriers to that is the fact that a preacher is tasked both with being authentic but not so transparent as to lose their job. The institutional, business environment developed in our churches make this sort of things difficult to pull off, resulting in people lacking healthy examples of confession. One could argue that healthy examples of confession should come from elsewhere and I would agree with that. You could also argue that people don’t want to hear things like that from the pulpit. Maybe they only want to hear about it after their minister or elder is on the “other side” of the issue…after healing has already taken place or maybe not at all. Who wants to believe their preacher is human? Instead, we put them on a pedestal and are devastated when the news breaks that the preacher is a real human being who made bad mistakes…the results are usually devastating to a congregation. I don’t think it has to be that way.

I don’t not believe all of our dirty laundry needs to be aired publicly nor do I believe that the pulpit should become a therapy session for the preacher where they spill their guts about everything in front of 500 people. I do believe there is a place for confession. There are weeks at the invitation where I feel like saying something that has been difficult for me during the week and I truly believe in the congregations where I have ministered they would have been okay with that…so maybe this is more about my own lack of openness than anything else!

So let me ask a few questions:

1 – Do you want to know what your preacher struggles with?

2 – How do you believe is the best way to go about sharing that?

3 – How can we both uphold the need for confession and transparency without turning the sermon into 30 minutes of a counseling session for the preacher?

3 Responses

  1. It’s not so much the actual struggles, but that I want to see/hear the preacher sound like a normal, imperfect human. The reason the preacher can’t confess too much is that he (since almost all were male until recently) would be incriminating himself. After all, the faults are with other people in the pews, but not him or the leadership.

    All it takes sometimes is one sentence like “I understand why people feel this way or asked this question as I have wondered something similar.” Empathy.

  2. Preachers and elders are like porcelain placed on an high pedestal that if they fall they break and cannot be put together again, so they must not fall or appear to fall. We don’t pay them to fall.
    1. I think it would be important to know what the preacher struggles with as they are human and not super-human.
    2. The way the second is usually presented is when the preacher does something un-preacher like and actually succumbs to sin, then we find out the depth of the preacher and their struggles.
    The best way to share that – have the preacher, if they dare, to express that as part of his sermon.
    3. You may not be able to. I doubt the preacher is going to do it every Sunday, so let the preacher go and say what is on his mind.
    Some of the preachers I listen to more are the preachers that aim the lesson at themselves as much as the audience and open up about their struggles. They are more relatable. And they seem to have a vested interest in their own message.

  3. Our church took a quarter of Sunday AM Bible classes for the edership to share their faith stories. It was received with appreciation by the congregation. A part of each story was the personal history and struggles that God has used to shape our relationship with him.

    Most accounts spoke to past struggles but not all. The congregation responded favorably to the expressed vulnerabilities of each elder. The elders wives, on their own initiative, did the same after the elders had completed their rotation. Again the response was very favorable.

    When done properly, sharing our burdens whether by staff, leadership or the congregation is a healthy thing.

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