Saturday, 24 May 2014

Community and freedom, not privacy and shame

How many times have you heard a preacher say 'if there's anything you'd like prayer about, come and speak to our prayer team. Don't worry. Everything you say is completely confidential'. It sounds very reassuring, but does it reflect how the body of Christ is meant to operate?

What I see in the New Testament is a community who knew their status before God-that they had been sinners without hope who, by the grace of God and the sacrifice of Jesus, had been wonderfully forgiven and made clean-not by anything they had done but rather completely by the free gift of God. Because of that, they did not need to pretend to one another about being perfect. James said 'Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another'. There was a recognition that they needed the support of one another to grow in godliness and to overcome temptation to revert to their past ways of living.

Paul made it clear to the Galatians 'Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens'. The emphasis was on the community supporting each other, and also the community watching out for one another so that, in supporting someone to overcome sin, someone else didn't instead get tempted themselves.

This whole approach reflected the fact that no one needed to be ashamed of confessing sin or saying they were struggling with temptation because Christ has taken away their shame..

The practice of inviting people to come and talk to a special team, on a confidential basis, unfortunately gives entirely the opposite message. Far from saying that Christ has taken away our shame, it suggests that what we have done is shameful and needs to be kept confidential so that others aren't shocked about us. Far from reflecting the biblical principle of a community supporting one another, it gives a 'me and Jesus' approach with a minimum amount of other people involved for the purposes of prayer.

Moreover, it reinforces a sense that people have all too often of 'I'm the only one struggling with this sin' when in reality three other people who've also come out for prayer have done so for precisely the same issue but, because it's all confidential, none of them know about one another.

Its important in saying this that I'm also clear about what I do not mean. I'm not suggesting that someone stands at the front of a meeting and says 'Susan has just confessed to x. Let's all pray for her'. I'm also not saying that there aren't some people and situations that need extra wisdom and support from people with particular gifts. What I am saying is that it should be a day to day part of community, and of meeting together in all kinds of ways, that people feel that its normal and they will be accepted if they say 'I am really struggling with x. I need help' or 'I am finding myself in a pattern of repeating the same sin again and again and I need your help and prayer to overcome it'.

As churches let's build unshockable communities where people lead godly lives and overcome sin because their church is full of friends who they can be completely open with and who fully support each other.