Small Groups Are Communities of Repentance

small-groupsSmall groups are a risky ministry. Cramming a dozen people together in someone’s living room invites and exposes sin. Communities can have the real potential to tempt us with sin, but they also have the potential to produce healing. The Scriptures teach us that community is the place to work out our issues. It’s a place where we can find support and accountability. The Bible also teaches us that it’s the place to confess our sins (James 5:16). Small Groups, then, ought to be communities of repentance.  Confession of sins within the context of community is important for several key reasons.

Confession of sins within communities first of invites others to pray for us. Sin is not simple, and addiction to sin means that we can’t handle it all on our own. We need the help of others. James tells us that we should confess our sins to one another for the expressed purpose of gaining the support of their prayers. He writes:

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. (James 5:16)

Confession of sins allows others to know how to pray for us and, as the disciple writes here, the prayers of others can be effective. I want people to pray for my sin struggles, because their prayers may be what I need to help gain victory over it. God has ordained that our prayers make a difference, so we pray for one another’s struggles. If I am going to know how to pray, however, I need to know what struggles you have. Confess your sins that others might pray for you. Small groups are a great context for this because it allows us to be honest about struggles without having to divulge sensitive information to a thousand people. We can get more focused help and we can deal with sensitive issues in a sensitive way.

Confession of sins within communities also invites accountability. By sharing my temptations with others I am also inviting them to help me fight against it, to hold me accountable to my habits, routines, and spiritual growth. If I confess to having a bad temper but make no effort to fight against the temptation to “blow-up,” then my brothers should come and confront me and help me work on a plan for resisting that temptation (Gal. 6:1-2). Small groups are a fantastic place for accountability, because the members of a small group will have the occasion to know each other more intimately than the rest of the church. We will see each other regularly, we will be able to follow-up regularly on struggles and temptations, and we will be able to confront one another within the larger context of an intimate relationship. When we challenge and confront each other we are not doing so as just some random religious person, rather that confrontation comes as part of a larger relationship where we have spent time demonstrating love and concern for one another. Friends confront friends, and that’s what makes Small Groups an ideal place for confession and accountability.

Confession within communities also allows us to be transformed. Far too many people within the church are looking for conformity. They want to appear like everybody else. So if our church appears to be full of “perfect” people with happy, rosy lives, then many will attempt to play the part. Small Groups don’t allow us to play the role of conformity as easily. Of course it’s possible, but it’s harder. The closer the group gets, the more time it spends together the more exposed we will eventually become. We want to help people own their failures, be honest about them, and so find true transformation. Conformity does not breed transformation, confession does. Small groups lend themselves well to ferreting out attempts at conformity.

Finally, confession within community allows us more opportunities to live out the gospel. As we confess our sins to one another we also have the opportunity to express the compassion and grace of Jesus to one another. As I share my sin I find people who do not judge me or condemn me but who rather weep with me, challenge me, and point me again and again to the gospel of my salvation. Other people’s messy lives allows me to develop patience, humility, and tenderheartedness. As I share my messy life it allows others to hone these characteristics in their lives. Small groups that are saturated with the gospel invite confession, handle it well, and help people progress in godly living. We can live out the gospel well in this context.

Not all small groups are doing this, it doesn’t happen automatically, but that’s our goal. That’s what we want to shoot for, that’s what leaders want to train their groups to embrace. Small Groups are communities of repentance. They are safe, gospel-saturated, places where we can work through issues, find change, and develop gospel-centered lives. Is your small group ready to hear confessions?

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