By Hess Hester, National Celebrating Pastors in Recovery Director
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16a ESV).
For many years I struggled with this verse as I taught or preached through the book of James — probably five or six times as a pastor. At one point I wondered if James was saying that we should have open, public confession times in our worship services as a church. That might draw a crowd, for sure — like people who go to NASCAR races hoping to see enormous wrecks! I’d heard stories of churches that tried it, but most were about public confession times that had gone wrong — very wrong. I decided that’s not what James meant.
What James does mean is this: One of the greatest experiences you can have of God’s love and care for you is what takes place when you are willing to open your life to someone else in the Body of Christ that you know you can trust. As you mutually remove your masks and confess your sins and struggles to each other and pray for each other, you will experience tremendous spiritual healing that results in freedom and peace. You become a conduit through whom the other person experiences the assurance of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness — and you experience it through that person!
There’s no doubt: That’s the kind of Christ-centered, grace-driven, redemptive community God is calling us to be! Not private. We need one another. We are all to serve as visible, tangible expressions of God’s love and care to one another.
But as a pastor/minister, you may be thinking what I thought for the longest time. “All that is well and good for the community of the laity, but not for me. As a pastor, I just can’t take that risk!” I feared it. That’s a fear that comes naturally for pastors and can take a variety of forms. We fear confession could tarnish an image we want to pridefully protect. We fear that confessing to anyone else but God will let others down. We fear confession could lead to problems with church leadership, which, very unfortunately, can still be the case with unsafe churches out there.
And so, it wasn’t until I ventured out, during a huge storm in my life, to walk through a Celebrate Recovery 12-Step Study with a group of fellow pastors (what became Celebrating Pastors in Recovery) that I got to personally experience what I had been preaching and teaching all those years: the truth of James 5:16. As we made ourselves more and more vulnerable to one another, we gave the Holy Spirit more and more room to work in our hearts. The deeper our confession, the deeper our healing became.
Pastors truly can experience the healing grace of the Body of Christ with one another.