More meaningful confession: four ways to keep it fresh

Matt Fuller | May 4th 2017

I suggested in my previous post four reasons why it is vital to retain corporate confession in church services. Namely, that confession is at the core of the Christian life; it prevents the ever-present temptation to self-righteousness; the Bible models; it and the Lord delights in it. This is the reality of the Christian life: we are justified and forgiven, but remain sinners.

Here are some suggestions for making our times of confession more helpful.

1. Vary when and how

One major objection to confession I’ve heard is that it’s easy for people to drift off mentally when you say something out loud by rote. Well, possibly. But don’t forget that people can drift off in singing, they can drift off during a Bible reading, in a conversation, and, sometimes, even in a sermon! You can try and help by introducing confessions in a varied way, changing whether you sit or stand or kneel, and by varying at which point in the service you do it.  Sometimes it’s an appropriate way to respond to a sermon.

2. Keep it serious but ultimately joyful

Confession shouldn’t feel gloomy—it should feel real. And confession should always be followed with hope-filled words of assurance that through Christ, all our sin is forgiven. In our church we often follow the confession and assurance with a joyful song focusing upon the cross and our forgiveness. It reflects the pattern of healthy Christian living to have a corporate confession and then words of gospel assurance.

It reflects the pattern of healthy Christian living to have corporate confession and then words of gospel assurance.

3. Make time and be varied

If we are convinced that corporate confession is important we’ll want to give it appropriate time—not just a segment to get through before we move on to the next song or the notices. Our sins are many and varied, and so our confessions can vary too. We sin by omission (things we haven’t done) as well as commission (things we have done). We sin as individuals, but also as a whole church. We sin against God, and against others, and against God’s good creation.

Why not give some proper time to silent personal confession, and focus your suggestions on a specific area of life: our tongues, our consumption, our prayerlessness, etc. I’ve found that simply listing—in general terms—the things I know that I have failed in has often resonated powerfully with my congregation.

4. Source widely

There is some advantage in using a single form of confession—we learn the words, and they can burrow deep into our souls. But any prayer can wear thin over time, and become something that bypasses our minds as we say the words. So, to keep it fresh, why not hunt out some new ways of confessing.

a. From the past

Using some well written prayers from the past is good for us. The language can be startling and profound. The confessions from The Book of Common Prayer, or the Puritan prayers from The Valley of Vision or on this site can be useful.

b. From the Bible

Use sections of penitential psalms like Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 or 143. Or paraphrase other Bible confessions such that of Nehemiah (1 v 4-11). Or create a confession from some selected verses from a chapter of Proverbs.

c. In song

There are some terrific songs and hymns that can be used as confessions. God made me for himself is an example of a traditional hymn that can be sung seated or kneeling. There are many others that you can use in a similar way.

Explore more about how to think, feel and act as those who are both perfect saints and wicked sinners in Matt Fuller’s new book, Perfect Sinners: See yourself as God sees you.

How do you do corporate confession in your church? Join the conversation and comment below. You can also like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to our YouTube Channel, and download The Good Book Company App straight to your phone or tablet.

Matt Fuller

Matt Fuller is the Senior Minister at Christ Church, Mayfair in central London. Before working as a minister Matt was a secondary school teacher teaching history and politics. He is married to Ceri and they have one son Nathan.

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